My niece Mollie was home recently for a visit. She and her boyfriend Blake, traveled from NYC to spend a few days in Vacationland, a final farewell before departing for a grand tour of their own design, a year-long, around the world adventure, chasing poker tournaments (Blake is a professional poker player), and bucket lists, all before the age of 35. My niece is a special person, sweet and humble with an old soul and a gypsy spirit. More like a daughter than a niece, we have been close since the day she was born, and although we only see each other once or twice a year, she is never far from my thoughts.
One of the many benefits of being the youngest in a large family is early Aunt-hood. Mollie was born when I was 13, I loved her immediately and took her everywhere. She went to high school games and parties (sorry about that, what did I know, I was only 16?!), we shopped and colored and watched movies together. When I was 17, I met my future husband, AKA Tiny. She accepted him and allowed him to join in on our adventures. Later, she acclimated to all of the apartments we rented through out the early years of marriage, sometimes sleeping on the couch, sometimes sharing a bedroom with our daughter. She came nearly every weekend and for most of the summer. Our household didn’t feel complete unless she was in it.
There aren’t many photos of the two of us together during that time, but I love the ones I do have, especially this one, taken when I was 16, and she was three. In it, we are at my mother’s house on her steps. The paneled walls and orangish carpet scream 1976 which means that it was already outdated for 1988. I don’t remember why I was sitting there, or why she snuck up behind me while someone snapped a photo, but I love how comfortable we look together. It just captures our relationship so well.
When she came up this time, I had an idea that I wanted to take a picture of us, in the same pose, looking as close as we could to our younger selves, 29 years later. I’ve seen recreated pictures on Facebook, family photos from the early 80’s, with children in various poses, sticky smiles on their faces next to the adult versions, 20 or 30 years later. Grownups with sailboats on their shirts, ice cream grins and arms akimbo. I love looking at the differences, and adults in kid poses are usually pretty ridiculous. So, I was happy that she didn’t mind humoring me in this potentially humiliating endeavor. I thought it would be easy, I had a brownish sweater somewhere, I still wore bracelets and I knew I could fix my hair to somewhat resemble how it looked that year. Fortunately for me, I was in a “granola” phase at the time. I listened to the Doors and The Who and eschewed the Aqua Net hairspray that the year before I could have bought stock in. However, this must have been only a year-long fad, because the next year, my senior picture shows me clearly having a love affair with aqua net once again. I will not be recreating that picture, although my husband is in it, if only because I never want to see him sporting a pimp-like moustache like this that ever, ever again!
Anyway, we managed to get the picture taken although the whole production quickly turned into a movie-set like affair, starring Mollie and me as mere doll-like props, Blake as the cameraman, Nana as the producer and Tiny as the director. The cameraman gamely snapped 1000 photos using my phone while Nana, doubling as an assistant blasted a phone flashlight in our faces after someone noticed that we were back-lit by the window at the top of the stairs, which necessitated a blanket be hastily thrown over it, thus plunging us all into darkness. The director and the producer, squinting at the original, grainy photo and back to the live set, offered helpful instructions and comments that were tossed about like confetti; “move her arm, it looks like a T-Rex”, ” Mollie you are smiling too much”, “bring your hands down more” and “Sue, put your chin down,” Obviously this instruction went unheeded as it was lost among the other commands. Unfortunately, in their quest to get the details right, the pros did not notice that Mollie, in an effort to seem even smaller than her 115 pound adult body, was hunching down in all but like, one photo. After about 10 minutes of quivering smiles on our end, and several readjustments on Nana’s part, the cameraman handed over the phone to us, “I got tons of them” he said, as he wandered off. He probably did not expect to hear squeals of disapproval as we flipped through hundreds of hunchy photos. The crew dispersed and Mollie and I were left to sift through 999 terrible ones until we found one that we both thought acceptable. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. Mollie claimed that her head was disproportionately large compared to mine, but I reminded her that just the other day, Tiny had requested that I cut my hair short because “it makes your face look bigger”, proof that I was the one with abnormal head size. This prompted a ridiculous but not atypical veer off topic and a name for our future fictional company; Small Face/Big Head productions.
Digression, and its cousin procrastination, is a family trait, one many in my family come by honestly and may account, at least in part, for the lateness of this post. It has been a week and a half since they left and finally today, I have made myself sit down and write. Mollie, for her part, got right to work and with some hired help, magically plopped us down on those 1988 steps, darkened my hair, lightened the color of my sweater and may or may not have widened my face. There have certainly been some changes in 29 years, some that are evident and some that are not. But, our relationship remains the same. We do not see each other every day, sometimes one of us texts and the other doesn’t answer for days, even weeks. But, when we are together, nothing has changed. We pick right up where we left off, an easy companionship forged over years of laughter and carved from a thousand conversations. I am so grateful for the time we have spent together and the relationship we have. 29 years from now, we will have to do another one, I will be 74 and she will be 61, no doubt still small faced and big-headed, but together, and happy, nonetheless.