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Relics of Christmases Past
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Written by Suki Wessling   

After my parents moved into their farm in Watsonville, I started taking yearly group photos on Thanksgiving. The first one shows a small family of adults with some friends. The only grandchild is far away in Canada.

Then my older sister and I are hugely pregnant and one grandchild is hanging out, gap-toothed, at the edge of the photo.

Then there are two babies, one of them mine.

In another photo, all of the adult siblings have moved within a day’s drive of the farm, and we pose five in a row.

More grandchildren arrive. There are dogs that have been convinced to looked at the camera.

In one, I am in motion, trying to grab the dog who has decided that there are much more interesting things to do outside the frame.

The grandchildren multiply. One family moves to Michigan so they can’t make it for Thanksgiving.

One year everyone is there but a grandchild who’s with her mom.

Another year, Grandpa is in the shower when we’re yelling to get everyone together, so I paste him in later, wearing a red velvet crown. (Don’t blame me—that setting sun wouldn’t wait for his shower to end!)

None of this was planned. Life happens in happy accidents, and then we look back and search for a pattern. In this case, the photos multiplied, and I started doing little projects using them. One year it was a cookbook. Isn’t it cute that my older brother and his wife submitted fancy, gourmet recipes made at leisure? Three years later they had a toddler son and twin babies—no more gourmet North Beach breakfasts.

Another year I made an ABC book for the kids. D is for the dog on the farm. F is for your enormous, growing family.

Through the years, the photos have been used for posters, flip books, a video, and an accordion book. Some of the projects were rather silly, most serious. Their artistic quality was debatable, but I can swear that each one was heartfelt.

This is our last year on the family farm. My parents are busy getting things fixed so they can sell it. Not that there’s much to fix. My mom told me that the house passed its inspection with flying colors. My Midwestern dad isn’t one to let a squeaky door stick or a loose board wiggle.

There’s a fair amount of pressure to make this year’s yearbook a doozy. The problem is, I’ve never actually planned the yearbooks ahead of time. They develop as the year takes shape. The years I had babies, there were lots more pictures but lots less work put into the finished product. Some busy years it seemed like I forgot to take pictures at all.

This year has been the year of sorting photos, and trying to remember to take all the photos I might want in the future. I keep reminding myself of all the photos I didn’t take of the house and town I grew up in, places I may never see again. And if I did visit my hometown, it wouldn’t match my memories. The last time I was there, they’d laid fancy brick sidewalks downtown. My memories match the photo I still have, taken on my futuristic Kodak Disc Camera, of Lil’ Pear Kitchen Shop, blurry and tilted sideways. I think I must have taken it by accident.

It’s much easier to produce homely heartfelt memory books when there’s another one coming next year. Each year I’d pass one copy of the fruits of my labor to each family, and we’d fade pretty quickly into end-of-the-year champagne and getting dinner on the table.

Life is punctuated like this:

Generally, you don’t know if anything important is happening. You’re out riding your bike and… You go to a college class you didn’t want to take and… You decide not to go to work one day and…

But then you have times that you know in advance to be momentous, and in a way it’s awkward. In time, it will hopefully make more sense. We’ll look at the picture book, drink the champagne, go off to our homes, my parents will find a new, smaller house, and we’ll find things other than harvest at the farm to fill our Octobers.

But the punctuation looms in front of us, fuzzy and undefined. Is this a comma, a semicolon, or a period?

Heck, this could even be an exclamation point!

I wonder how we’ll all feel looking back at it, and whether this year’s momentous project (with help from my sister-in-law) will commemorate it properly.

Time will tell. 

Suki Wessling is a local writer and musician. She is the mother of two teenagers. Read more at www.SukiWessling.com.

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