“Say Cheese!” The photographer shouted his command at me, which made my cat’s claws sink deeper into my shoulder. Mom warned me that taking Prissy to be photographed was NOT a good idea. I thought her negativity revolved around the fact that Prissy would shed all over my sweet JC Penney velour pantsuit, not the fact that Prissy would rip me to shreds under the harsh lighting and crying babies at our local Olan Mills studio. I insisted we take the temperamental Siamese cat who was famous for not playing well with others. But what did I know? I was only 11.
I love looking back on that picture and remembering the outtakes: me holding Prissy at arm’s length as she turned into one of those cartoonish balls of movement – scrambling so fast that you could only see lines and color – kinda like Andy Capp when he fought with his wife. I just know I turned my head to save my eyeballs from corneal damage, or better yet, actual loss. She was NOT a happy cat. We traveled back to Olan Mills two weeks later to look at the proofs, which only documented her severe unhappiness. If you put all the pictures together and thumbed through them at top speed it would make for a hysterical “flip book.” I scratched around the bandaids protecting my healing flesh wounds as the photographer begged us to choose “the best one”. A “best one” didn’t exist. But since this was a Christmas photo – I had my sweet velour pantsuit on – we had to choose one in a timely fashion. We went with the one of me looking like I was about to get my eyes scratched out with Prissy’s claws embedded into my vest, a look of pure evil emanating from her eyes. I learned my lesson after that session: NO MORE CATS IN PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS. But I have to admit that I’m glad to have proof that I lived through yet another crisis. And, I think that’s the only picture I have of Prissy.
I love pictures. I have thousands of them. Even before I had children I was a shutterbug. I especially love my photos from the 70’s. I took a lot of pictures of my best girlfriends while having one of our famous sleepovers. Nearly every single party had at least one girl running off to the bathroom to cry over something somebody said. I was always right there to comfort them (early proof that I would eventually go into social work) and then once everyone made up I’d take a picture of all of us. It was a weird little ritual but pre-teenage girls ARE weird. Ugh. I’m reminded that I’ll have a pre-teen shortly. Anyway, I loved gathering my group of buddies and yelling out “Say Cheese!” before snapping a pic.
In going through my pictures from days gone by I love coming across photos of people who have died. It’s always bittersweet and overwhelming when I realize just how many friends and family members I’ve lost. But how wonderful to have the memories preserved to remind us that there was a time when we could smile when someone asked us to “Say Cheese”. Before the heart attack. Before old age. Before suicide. Before cancer.
In my mind, when I look through these pictures, it reminds me I have to keep living. I have yet another day to “Say Cheese.” And that is priceless.
Thank you, Laura Lukacs, for CHEESE. I know it didn’t go along the lines of curdling and molding and all that jazz, but my mind rarely operates that way! While I didn’t know Laura at school, we both attended Watkins Memorial, and both of us have moved far away from “home”. Her favorite quote is “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” I couldn’t agree with that more! Thank you for sharing, Laura, and thanks for supporting me on my new journey. <3