chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Before we smiled

1940s Tobias et alThe photo is not dated, but my mother’s hair style, her cigarette and her voluminous fox jacket suggest that it’s mid-1940s. This is Dorothy’s family: her father’s brother, Uncle Tobias, her cousin Goldine, my grandmother Elsie, Aunt Sally, and Sally’s sister, Evelyn. My mother’s brother, Bob, is probably behind the camera. No one is smiling. Maybe they all smiled for the next picture, but in this one they’re not quite posed, still talking, brushing the lint off the coat, waiting.

I’m glad for the dust-up regarding the candidate’s smile. It’s something I’ve thought about. Perhaps the epidemic of smiling can be directly traced to the popularity and portability of cameras. A century ago, a photograph was as serious and rare as a painted portrait, something that might happen only once in a lifetime. It meant sitting very still for quite a long time. No one smiled. But move closer to the present and more and more people are saying cheese.

Some people are smilers. My mother was one. I am too. I probably learned it from her. Smiles are a social lubricant, an encouraging mirror. What bothers me is the command to smile, regardless. The “you’re so pretty when you smile” that barely conceals its opposite message. What bothers me is photos of children with their pasted-on grins, knowing that an adult is demanding a smile from a child who might be uncomfortable, tired, angry, shy, unhappy. As if that unhappiness is unimportant, impossible, as long as there’s a smile.

We’ve learned to smile. Perhaps we need to relearn what it means.

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4 responses to “Before we smiled

  1. kristin March 20, 2016 at 8:11 am

    Sometimes those pasted on smiles remind me the aggressive face of a monkey. Do not like pasted on smiles. Would rather see a regular face. I do now paste on smiles and often look half crazed.

  2. marsha addis March 20, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Judy — This reminds me of when I showed a photo of Chloe (then about 4) to Mother’s psychiatrist at Mother’s funeral. His comment: “Her smile is so real.”

  3. jik March 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Wow. From the mouths of babes, real smiles.

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