Look at a photograph of your family. What memories does it bring back? Focus on one of the memories, trying to recall sounds, smells, and other sensations, as well as what things looked like. Spend ten minutes writing about what you remember.
When the ten minutes are up, decide whether you want to keep writing.
Flipping through my old photo albums, I came across several pictures taken at Christmas, probably some time between 1976 and 1980. Christmas was always such a big deal at our house. Mom loved all the cooking and baking and decorating, and the house would be filled with wonderful smells – fruit cake baking in the oven, shortbread cookies ready to go in next, and my favourite (mincemeat pie.) She made it magical for us kids, and the anticipation grew every day until by Christmas Eve it was at fever pitch. It was the tradition in our family that we would open gifts from the family on Christmas Eve, but we had to wait for Christmas morning to open gifts from Santa.
As we grew, so did our extended family. Boyfriends became husbands, and then fathers, and at the time the photos were taken, Mom and Dad’s house was bursting at the seams on Christmas Eve.
The first picture I looked at was a shot of my brother and his wife (she became his ex-wife before too long) sitting on the couch with my niece, Lolly, my sister Nina, and at the end was Aunt Winnie (Mom’s sister.) My brother’s wife was the only one in the picture who didn’t look very happy. Knowing her, she was probably ticked off because (a) she wasn’t the centre of attention, and (b) my brother Wayne was having a good time.
Wayne was sporting his Tom Selleck moustache at that time, and he had a big goofy smile on his face. Lolly was sitting next to him with her arm around his shoulder, and Nina was sitting forward, probably watching the kids on the floor with all their presents. I can still hear their over-excited voices as they ripped the wrapping paper from their gifts and threw it into the air. Aunt Winnie was perched on the arm at the end of the couch, taking it all in. Aunt Winnie was a widow by then, so she usually spent holidays with us. What a dear old thing she was – always happy, smiling and laughing. She was high on God and devoted her life to doing His work. She was unable to have children of her own, but she loved all the little children she taught in Sunday school at her church, and she was always there for us.
The next picture was a shot of my other niece, Carla. She was only about three years old at that time, the cutest little thing all dressed up in a sweet little dress… which she had pulled up to her shoulders as she walked through the archway to the living room, displaying her diaper and undershirt to all, grinning like a little imp.
Then there’s a shot of Mom, her face glowing, opening a present very carefully, as she always did, so she could save the paper for re-use next year. Mom was “green” before the term was ever coined. Not too many years after that picture was taken, Alzheimer’s began to eat away at my Mother’s brain.
Then, a couple of pictures of Dad. He was a hard man to buy for, so that year I had bought something for him that I thought he would get a kick out of, and I was very anxious for him to open it. Someone at the office was selling them – it was a knitted “Peter Heater”, formed to fit over the male genitalia and keep it warm in winter. I snapped the picture just as he was holding it up to show everyone what it was, and he was laughing out loud. My Dad loved a joke.
Finally, a picture of Dad playing his violin. Every day of my life I heard my Dad playing Scottish fiddle tunes. The picture shows him with the violin tucked under his chin, holding the bow on the strings and looking up at me from under his eyebrows, that same look that he would always have when I was sent to call him to supper. He wouldn’t stop playing, he would just look up at me just like that, then toss his head as if to tell me to go away. He’d finish playing that piece before he came to the table. I, of course, (the “good eater”) would already be seated at the table, and he would swat me on the back of my head as he walked by. “What was that for?” I would sometimes ask. His reply: “Just in case you did something I haven’t found out about yet.”