By E. Adam Porter
Editor, News of Sun City Center & South County
Every year, for Christmas, I make something for my wife. Not because she’s hard to shop for, but because she would rather have something meaningful than something expensive. This year, one project became two: a new cedar chest and a new canvas photo collage for our stairwell.
With our oldest son back home for Christmas for the first time in a lot of years, we’ve both been a little more nostalgic lately. Or, maybe we’re just starting to feel the years going by a little faster than they used to. Whatever the reason, she’s been looking through photo albums a lot more in the past few months.
So, this year, working with my youngest son, we created a memory collage she wouldn’t have to open a photo album to see. Many local photo places will take your pictures and print them on canvas, suitable for framing or hanging on their own. Every year or so, I put together another collage to add to the collection on the wall parallel to our stairs. This time, we focused on Christmas memories.
Telling my bride we were hunting for photos for our Christmas cards, my seven-year-old and I “recruited” Shel into helping us choose her favorite photos for the collage. We picked the pictures and made the card, with her none the wiser. Step one done, it was time to complete the actual project. I pulled the pics into Photoshop, added a frame around each to make them look like Polaroid snapshots, and laid them out for our canvas image in the shape of a Christmas tree.
The collage covered the last eight holiday seasons, and it was quite a reminder about how much can happen in what felt, at least for me, like not that much time. The starkest realization came from my co-conspirator in this Christmas secret, who asked, upon seeing the oldest photo (see below), where he was when the picture was taken. When he asked, I said, “Well, you ‘wasn’t’ in the photo, because you ‘wasn’t’ yet. You wouldn’t be born for another year.”
My seven-year-old pondered that for a moment and said, “These pictures are my whole life.”
The very next photo in the bunch, one of my favorites, underscored this: his mother, just a month after giving birth, dozing on the couch in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, our one-month-old sleeping on her chest. Now, that same boy was standing next to my office chair, choosing photos from what had been less than a decade of my life, but his entire life. As we flipped through the photos, he definitely changed the most. His mom and I had added a few more wrinkles and a few more pounds, but he went from cuddled in my arms in front of the giant Christmas tree at Christmas Lane, to being in charge of the giant bag of kettle corn at the Christmas tree farm, just a few weeks ago.
His older brother, my middle son, transformed as well. In the earliest photo, he was on his big brother’s shoulders, grinning in front of our new Christmas tree. In one of the most recent photos, he’s wearing work gloves, helping Dad carry this year’s tree up the stairs. Comparing the pictures, I smiled when I realized his mischievous grin and wide-eyed, wonder-filled take on the world has not changed a bit.
In that first photo, the biggest brother was still in high school, about a year away from early enlistment in the USAF. Fit, lean, and eager, he looked ready to ship out at any moment, but still holding onto enough of his childhood to be excited about Christmas. As I look at that photo and compare it to the image of his 25-year-old self captured this past Thanksgiving, it’s my fervent hope he never forgets what it feels like to be a kid at Christmas.
It’s my fervent hope he never forgets what it feels like to be a kid at Christmas.
One of the consensus favorite photos of the bunch almost didn’t happen at all. The Wednesday before Christmas this year was “PJ day” at my nine-year-old’s school. The kids wore their favorite “Christmas jammies” and enjoyed a day filled with movies, cocoa, and holiday crafts. That morning, I had been sipping my morning coffee on the porch swing, when I came in to find my two younger boys, still in their pajamas, messing with the train circling the Christmas tree. My camera happened to be stashed on a nearby bookshelf, so I snapped a couple of photos just because.
Later, I thought about how close I was to missing out on that memory completely. I could have just found a spot at the breakfast table and finished my coffee. I could have turned on the news or perused the morning paper. Instead, I paused, just for a second, to capture a single moment in time.
That moment, which I almost ruined by grousing about them not being ready for school yet, ended up being our Christmas card this year.
That’s how fast the opportunity to make memories can come and go. Whoever said “time is fleeting” was dramatically underselling it. Life is a collection of blink-and-miss-it moments, daily distractions, scheduling, and planning in the service of greater ambitions. It goes by so fast, sometimes it’s all we can do just to hold on. The routines of the day try to hold us in line, shield us from moments we may never have again. Routines and schedules are necessary, certainly, but maybe not quite as set in stone as we pretend them to be.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for a guy’s whose career has been defined by deadlines. The present seems so fleeting, and the cares and worries of today can feel so all-encompassing. When we get caught up in that, it grabs hold like a riptide dragging you into the current. We get so caught up, we don’t really see what’s passing us by.
As I flipped through those photographs, two things came into sharp focus. The simple, happy moments are what really matter… and we should stop and enjoy them every chance we get.