Saturday, February 24, 2018

Second Light

The story of this photo might be the best thing you read today.

When our twin daughters were born, Karen and I joined a “Mothers Of Multiples” club. Fathers were welcome, too, but that would have ruined the acronym. It was a while ago; our girls are all grown up now.

Parenting more than one same-aged kid at a time is hard, and the club was a great source of support, commiseration, and what today would be called “life hacks.” Once in a while we’d all get together for a picnic. When Laura and Robin were about 18 months old, a reporter and photographer from our local newspaper, the Press Democrat, joined the party to do a feature story.

No big deal. The club included a family of baby quadruplets, and we figured the article would focus on them. So we were surprised to wake up the next morning and see a photo of us taking up half the front page above the fold. We enjoyed being celebrities for a day and bought an 8-by-10 print of that photo from the PD, which we hung happily in our family room until it burned down last October 9.

After the fire, my daughter Robin tried to find the photo for us. As an archaeologist, she has access to a nationwide database of old newspapers and found the right date, but of course the quality of the digital copy was far too poor to reproduce. She emailed the PD but didn’t hear back. Roadblock.

Meanwhile, I wrote and drew “A Fire Story,” which the PD published in a beautiful two-page spread. So when Robin told me what she’d done and where she’d gotten stuck, and asked if I knew anyone at the PD, I sent Features Editor Corinne an email with the subject line “A Favor.”

Corinne replied that she had very little hope a photo that old had survived. Not only had the paper changed hands since then, resulting in a thorough housecleaning, but the entire field of photography had transitioned from film to digital. But she said she’d try.

The staff photographers told her there was no chance. As a last resort, Corinne sent administrative aide Dominique down to the archives. And in an envelope in a folder in a file cabinet in a dungeon entombed in lead type and pulp-paper dust, she found a strip of negatives shot that day at the picnic.

Corinne called it “an overdue karma payback.” We agreed that some archivist back in the day must have taken one look and decided it was just too adorable to throw away. I think the universe decided it owed us one. This photo will look great on our new wall someday.

However, our happy story has an ironic twist ending.

The photo above is NOT the picture published in the paper. It’s almost the same, snapped moments before, but not quite. The negative for the published picture is still missing. I think I know what happened to it.

My theory is that our negative wasn’t in the envelope with the others from that shoot for one reason: because all those years ago, we bought a print of it. The photographer took the negative out of that very envelope to make our copy and didn’t put it back. We can't have it in the present because we already had it in the past. I lived in an O. Henry time-loop paradox for decades and never knew it.

If so, that’s almost a better story than finding the right negative would have been.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like things are finally starting to move, albeit slowly, along. Yesterday I found a picture online of my relatives. I don't know if it was taken at a shelter or at their temporary abode, but they all had good smiles. I still can't really fathom having to completely start over. My best to everyone in the area who is rebuilding emotionally and literally.

Anonymous said...

As I was falling asleep last night I thought more about my prior comment. My relatives lived within easy walking distance of you. The picture was posed, but it was of the whole family and their pet. The background was sparse and nothing like their formerly tastefully decorated home. They are wearing casual clothes they can do hard work in. They were in what I think of as the peak of their lives, established in their careers, had a solid number of years paid on their mortgage and were leading a good family life. Here they are in their prime and having to rebuild and start over. Here I am trying to downsize and get rid of stuff I can't figure out why I bought in the first place. The irony of it has struck me often since the fire. Life ain't fair. The photo showed me their resilience, determination and spunk. I liked it because it was positive. It gave me the reassurance they will be able to do this.

Brian Fies said...

Thank you for your very thoughtful, compassionate comments. I appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

You are welcome. Mutual respect for your comments.