Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I admit I get a little crazy in the spring, oohing and ahhing over every little proof that winter is gone and won’t be coming back until next November. I get excited when I see green grass; I turn cartwheels when I spot returning robins and finches.

You may have been misled to believe that the culmination of this springtime fervor was Pink Day when the flowering crab tree bloomed—that now I could stop being excited about spring. Wrong. You forgot about Lilac Day when the row of lilac bushes next to our house begins to flower. It becomes another day to get the camera and corral anyone within the sound of my voice to line up for a photo shoot.

“Shannon!” I shout, grabbing my camera. “Stand in front of the lilacs!” She has lived around me long enough to know it’s useless to argue. So she stands in front of the lilacs. “Look happy!” I encourage, twisting to get the right sun angle. She squints directly into the sun and gamely tries to look happy in a lilac-sort of way. “Another one!” I urge, and this time I catch her unprepared, so her eyes are closed, trying to protect what’s left of her retinas. “One more,” I enthuse, and this time she strikes a pensive pose, trying to look like she’s recalling Walt Whitman’s poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed.” I think that’s what she was doing anyway—either that or trying to figure out how to escape. Four shots later, she steps away from the lilac bushes, all shot out.

“Tom!” I call to my reluctant husband, suddenly breaking into a sweat of photographic fervor. “Stand next to Shannon.” He stands still for only two shots, and then he’s had enough. After almost 36 years of marriage, he doesn’t have to pretend to be polite any more. Both shots show father and daughter bathed in direct sunlight coming in from an unflattering angle. I really need to take a photography class.

Tom takes the camera from me. “Now YOU stand next to Shannon,” he orders bossily. Oddly, when I want people to be in pictures, I sound cheerful and persuasive. Tom just sounds cranky. He takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r, as usual, trying to get the shot framed just right. By the time he finally snaps the pictures, we impatient posers are feeling more than a little hostile toward the photographer.

Shannon moves away from the bushes. “Now you two stand next to the lilacs,” she commands, reaching for the camera. Ah, the second generation of camera Nazis has begun. Tom sighs and moves next to me. I force him to stand closer to me, even though he doesn’t really want to.

By the time we’re done, we have taken eleven pictures of various combinations of the three of us, standing in front of the lilacs. Eleven.

I now know how Walt Whitman felt when he wrote the incredibly mournful, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed.” He probably wrote it right after he had finished with a family photo session.

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