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May 9, 2021

Sears Portraits and Mother's Day, circa 1997

"All I want for Mother's Day is a picture of my kids," she told us.

Well, that's simple enough. Plus, we had spent a good decade-and-a-half under closely guided training from my dad on how to honor my mom on the days that belonged to her. One of the top rules: if she makes a request, honor it.

We compiled our money, my waitressing dollars and Rob's funds from DJ-ing weddings and birthday parties, and we went to some real high class portrait studio at the mall one afternoon after school. I'm pretty sure it was called J.C. Penney or Sears.

The photo package came with something like "25 portraits of your favorite pose for $9.99." Of course, the business plan is pretty brilliant because parents will bring in their photogenic babies, and the photographer will capture dozens of priceless and fleeting moments. The parents will be unable to choose just one pose, and they will end up spending four thousand dollars on Christmas cards and a montage for the hallway.

But we were seventeen and fifteen, and we needed one photo. One. We could so beat the system AND make Mother's Day happen without a single flaw. We coordinated our outfits, chose the neutral background, smiled pretty, and got our one shot.

But of course the session came with a full dozen more shots. Well, what were we to do with those? How many times could we smile pretty without some degree of irony?

My brother, already an improv actor at the age of fifteen, grabbed a prop from the collection for toddlers.

He said, "Let's have a photo with the crayons."

The brilliance of it all was that the photographer couldn't tell if he was serious.

"The crayons?"

"Oh, yes. Definitely the giant crayons. My mom loves crayons. Loves, loves, loves crayons. Especially big ones."

 

In our friendly and charming way, we brought her right into our shenanigans.  In the era before photo booths were trendy, we kept our faces just straight enough to make her believe this was the plan all along.  We tricked her into thinking we weren't wasting her time.

We're not buying these pictures, lady. The rules are the rules, and you have to take twelve pictures. We already got the one offered in the ad, and the rest of the hour is ours, I'm pretty sure.

We filled the next ten frames of our allotted twelve with absolute chaos and ridiculosity. Rubber ducks. Fire trucks. Stuffed animals. Giant telephones.  Parasols. And for the grand finale, we piled them all into the picture with us.

Including a boa and a fern.

IMG_5887

Yep. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

We bought copies of our one pose, stiff and polished. Perfect for Mom's office or maybe above the mantle. The last professional picture of our childhood, professionally immortalized.

As a bonus, we took home a sheet of "proofs": micro images of our silliness, and evidence that it had happened.

Mother's Day came, and Mom loved the formal picture. I'm pretty sure there were tears involved. We gave her just what she had asked for.

Then we showed her the secret page, and before the day was over, she had called Sears and ordered the real ones.

True to the business plan, the photographer had captured a dozen fleeting, priceless moments of who her children really were.

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