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.