A Family Portrait

September 2, 2010

Lost in the project, head down, a green crayon in my hand, I didn’t know where I was. Above each of the five children in the photograph I drew a balloon on a string. I had drawn them each a lollipop too, which they held in their right hands. All except for the baby. She was too little for hard candy.

I sat back on my feet, dreamily examining my work. The lollipops and balloons looked the same. A circle and a line. I was a five-year-old minimalist and didn’t know it.

There was noise in the living room. I looked up. Caught my breath. I was in the kitchen, sitting at the table. On the table was a photograph. A portrait of the five siblings. What had I done? The world spun.

I picked up the photo, ran to the back hall, pulled open the bottom drawer crammed willy-nilly full of papers, stuffed the portrait into a file, and shut the drawer.

That night my dad lined the five of us up in birth order and held up the portrait. “Who did this?” Each child down the line denied it, including me. But my explosion gave me away “I DON’T KNOW!” Tears. Dad sent me upstairs.

I never learned how my he found the portrait. He didn’t discuss it further. I just remember my sister’s words as we readied for our bath that night: “I didn’t think you were that kind of girl.”

I laughed as I typed those words. So serious coming from my nine-year-old sister. So scary in that moment. I thought I had been condemned to Hell.

Today I see the whole as a kid spacing out, getting scared, and doing the first thing that came to mind. I see a replaceable portrait and a teachable moment.

And… I really want to know how my dad found that photo in his big messy file cabinet.

A nice thing… going back in time to grab one’s self by the hand and have a little talk.


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4 Responses to “A Family Portrait”

  1. Jeff B. said

    “I didn’t think you were that kind of girl.”

    It IS shocking, though I’m impressed that you knew a lollipop wouldn’t be appropriate for the baby. Picturing you lost in concentration with the green crayon, doling out balloons and candy; definitely a nice thing.

  2. I didn’t think you were that kind of girl, either. And of course you were going to hell. Thank goodness you wised up.

  3. Dale said

    My wife tells of the time, when she must have been about the same age, that she saw the loaf of bread placed on the table for dinner, and it looked so inviting that she took a piece of the inside, the non-crusty part, to eat, and it tasted so good she took another, and another, and another until, finally, all that was left was the crusty shell.

    Personally, I think your dad should have taken the hint and brought you all a balloon.

  4. OwlSaysWho said

    “. . . a kid spacing out, getting scared, and doing the first thing that came to mind. I see a replaceable portrait and a teachable moment”

    Yep. Been there, done that . . . growing up ain’t easy. Mind you, I wasn’t as generous as you, with the balloons and lollipops. Love the way you drew the story though . . . nice pace.

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