Thursday, December 26, 2013

That Famous Picture

Late November or early December was a painful time for the Heiss children while we were still under our parents' roof. Why? Because that was when Dad insisted on the annual family photo.

I am not sure how things worked in other families, but none of us, except for Dad, looked forward to family photo night. 

Typically, we had this torturous event on a Sunday just after church while we were still dressed in our church clothes. Our parents were wise in making that decision. It was hard enough for us kids to “willingly” consent to family photo night. But if it meant we had to dress up in our Sunday clothes on a day other than Sunday, well, good luck.

But for me, it wasn't just the pain of being in my church clothes longer than was needful; there was also the fact that I had to spend time in a confined space with my siblings. Well, I didn’t struggle with all my siblings -- mainly with Matt. He could be a tyrant. He usually set the tone for the event and that meant the tone would be vicious. So, I rarely looked forward to this time of the year.

But Dad loved it. He was impervious to the complaints, moans and groans, and predictable protestations of his children. Once he had a camera in hand we as on a different planet.

He loved his camera. There was the tripod, the wide angle and telephoto lenses, 35mm film (be it ASA 200, ASA 400), and, of course, the timer.

We hated the timer.

The timer, as I remember it, was a spring loaded device you connected to the button of the camera that actually snapped the picture. Dad would wind up the timer and he had 10-15 seconds to go from the back of the camera resting on the tripod to his pre-determined spot in the picture. The timer would make a noise that would increase in frequency as it neared the point of snapping the picture. 

As much as we hated picture taking, we are always worried that Dad wouldn't make it to his spot before the picture was taken. Even the threat of a failed picture made us miserable for it meant we would have to stand on the fireplace longer waiting for the next picture.

But the timer was less offensive that the camera's flash. The flash was our worse enemy. It seemed the flash failed about 90% of the time.

Dad would arrange the family, center the camera so all were included, set timer, and turn on the flash. As soon as he set the timer, he would run to his spot in the family formation, all the while Mom would remind us to smile.

We all put on our “Heiss” smile and waited for the camera to click. Finally, the timer clicked the button, we clung to our smiles as the shutter opened and closed, but the flash failed.


Now we had to do it all over again. Would this evening ever end?

For years, this was the torture we all had to endure. That was until the year we took this famous photo.

I think it was Matt's idea. He asked Dad if we could take fun picture at the end of the family photo shoot. Dad thought all these pictures were fun, so Matt had to explain that we needed to take one that was less serious. One where we could dress up as we wanted and not worry about the perfect smile.

Mom and Dad agreed. Now we all had something to look forward to. As I recall it, the serious portion of the family photo night went by much more smoothly for we all anticipated the fun picture.

We all smiled our best, cooperated with Dad's requests, and even got along as we each thought about how to make the fun picture great.

Matt suggested we all wear something that defines who we were. He had this cool hat. But I can't recall where he got it from.

Mom had a "mom only" wide brim sun hat made of plastic. We were all mortified when she wore it in public. But tonight, we begged her to wear that hat.

Dad, who loved airplanes more than he loved cameras, had an old pilot’s hat. We all laughed when he came to the living room wearing that tight-fitting hat over are curly hair.

I think Nicki suggested we all wear "shades", the cool word for sunglasses. I can't believe we have had enough pairs of sunglasses so all seven of us could wear one. We did. 

We all worked together to create the perfect fun picture. That was so strange. For years, we hated the whole concept of taking a family photo. Now where are all interacting trying to device the best setting for the fun picture.

No one as angry. No one was mean. We all worked together to capture this rare moment in time. 

With our costumes on, our placing set, and our facial expressions sure, Dad set the timer, engaged the flash, and we all united in hope and prayer that Dad would make it to his spot in time and that the flash would work.

Dad started the timer. Ran a quick as he could to his spot. We all put on our coolest possible faces. Matt and I flexed our massive muscles. And we waited. The timer ran down. The shutter clicked. The flash worked! History was made!

From that day forward, whenever there is a need for a Heiss family photo, even at an event as somber as Sharon’s funeral, there will always be the fun picture. The struggle now is to remember to take the serious one. That is still Dad’s job. 


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  2. Here is a brief account of what I remember. Reid is right. We all hated the family photo sessions, that is everyone but Dad. I don't know if it was my idea or not to stage the crazy photo, but I will gladly take credit for it. Maybe this is a shot at redemption. I got my hat in Ireland in 1975 when Opa and I landed there on our way to Germany. Reid forgot to comment on the Heiss Family Flag hanging behind us. Mom and Dad had been to a Know Your Religion or something like unto it, and there they heard that creating a family flag could be a way to bind the family together in a shared sense of identity. So, we did it. I think we probably needed all the family unity we could get. Each of us selected some symbol for our crest, something that we thought represented us. Mom also made smaller flags with our symbols for each of us. I may still have mine somewhere. I wish I could remember my symbol. Anyone got a photo of the flag where we can distinguish the symbols?