The Vest

The knob of the front door rattled behind me and the screen door closed. It wasn’t the mail. That had come a half hour earlier. I put down my laptop and got to the door as the van backed out of the driveway. I opened the door and pulled the white shopping bag off of the knob and waved as Sheryl drove off.

Sheryl had offered to sew Elena’s last badge on her Brownie vest and drop it off. Along with the vest, Sheryl had left us some pictures of Elena’s last Brownie meeting earning her dance badge. Later Kim and I looked at picture of Elena learning the Macarena.

We have a big picture of Elena in our living room that is Elena and yet it isn’t. It’s her school picture. She’s very aware of the camera and she’s got a forced smile on her face. You can read her emotions at that moment and so it is very Elena. In fact, it looks a lot like my poses every time our wedding photographer staged a photo instead of just taking a picture of the moment.

But last week I interviewed a photographer in London and he said that the best pictures come from when the subject is totally engaged in whatever they are doing. His advice to those being photographed was that, if they notice their picture is being taken, go back to doing whatever it was that caught the photographer’s attention in the first place.

Elena always knew where the camera was. I had to learn to wait her out until she went back to whatever she was doing. Eventually she learned that I wouldn’t take her picture until she ignored the camera.

This dance picture was like that. It caught my breath. It was a picture of Elena in action. Free. Engaged. Dancing. A happy and beautiful little girl. What a wonderful way to remember her.

Kim held the vest out. It was covered in badges. I used to ask Kim why they got badges for every little thing. Maybe I misremembered, but I thought in Cub Scouts you didn’t get a badge until you showed proficiency in something. The Brownies got badges for attendance.

But you know what? It means that this vest captures what Elena did during that year at Brownies. Here’s the badge when we went to the annual dance. There’s the badge for going on a hike. It’s a time lapse photograph of Elena when she wasn’t looking at the camera. Activities in which she was engaged and happy.

What do we do for those non-Brownies and Scout moments? We need something – a picture, a note in a journal – something to serve as a badge for each of those moments. We need something – a scrap book, a dvd – something to serve as the vest on which we store all of these memories.

Something that takes us back to these moments long after we think we’ve forgotten them.

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 7:32 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi. If you get time, send an email to

  2. Daniel,

    This blog is the “vest” for your memories of Elena’s life. It is so beautiful and generous of you to share it with so many of us that you don’t even know. Thank you.

  3. Daniel and Kim,

    For months, I’ve been thinking about sharing something with you, and now feels like it might be the right time. A few days after Will started Kindergarten last year, he came home and told me he saw “his friend” in the hallway. I asked him what friend he meant, and he told me “our neighbor across the street.” He couldn’t remember Elena’s name at the time, but he certainly remembered her. A few months before that, Will, Elena, and Claire were playing together at the block party. At one point, all three of them ended up in your house, with Will using your bathroom. 🙂 Anyway, I remember the three of them running and riding bikes up and down the street that afternoon, having a great time together. When Will referred to Elena the next month as “his friend” his choice of words struck me because I had never heard him refer to anyone with that term before, much less a girl whose name he couldn’t remember. He told me that he and Elena passed each other in the hallway during lunchtime, and Elena spoke to him. I could tell he felt very proud about knowing an older girl at school, and from then on, he and Elena spoke regularly when they’d see each other coming and going throughout the day. When he called Elena “his friend” I remember feeling so happy that he considered her a friend. I’m not naturally a big child person. Of course, I love my children and others who are particularly close to me, but I’m not one of those adults who just naturally loves all children. But, ever since I met Elena, I always felt that she was such a neat little girl, and she always made me smile when I saw her. When I would pick Will up from school, I always enjoyed saying hello to Elena and Maggie as they came outside. Will always enjoyed it too. So I looked forward to Will getting to know Elena over the years, living across the street from her. When I heard that she had died, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, not just because she was a little girl, but because she was Elena in particular. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her. I will always be grateful for the short time that my little boy was able to connect with your little girl. Thank you for that gift.

  4. Of course, the best photographers are the ones that can catch the truly candid and unguarded moments. A good candid photographer is one that is almost invisible. No one is every truly gone, until the memories of them are gone.

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