Storm: What's the big idear?


Sunday, October 8, 2017

I had to have my photo taken recently. I generally try to avoid this sort of thing, aware as I am that time can be unkind to the middle aged face. Still, I am hoping to visit my sister who scored a job and Italy and that means I needed to renew my passport. A photo was a necessary evil.

I dashed out to a local photo shop one day when I was feeling plucky, and the nice man there warned me not to smile while my photo was being taken.

“You need a neutral expression,” he explained, so I arranged my face in what I hoped was a dignified manner. Alas, when the photo came back to me, I looked far less dignified than grumpy. Extremely grumpy. So grumpy in fact, I wondered if some poor Italian customs agent might be startled by the sight of my scowl and turn me away at the border.

The funny thing is, I recognized the look on my face, It is the same look my mother used to give me and my siblings when her patience was at an absolute end. A native of Vermont who spent a great deal of time in Massachusetts, my mother had a very pronounced New England accent, and this particular look was generally followed by her favorite saying:

“What’s the big idear?” 

My siblings and I heard that particular phrase thousands of times while we were growing up, and it was never a good thing. I understand it doesn’t sound particularly threatening on the printed page, but my mother had a way of snapping it out like a gunshot across the living room. The more annoyed she was, the more that New England “r” on the end of “idea” was emphasized. If we were ever asked what the big idearrrr was after knocking over a lamp or failing to complete our homework, we would be falling all over ourselves to make things right. If Mom stood up while she said it, we spent the rest of the night whispering and contemplated sleeping in the treehouse.

There are many things I wish I had inherited from my mother, including her intelligence, her charm, her courage and her artistic skill, but I never really coveted the big idear glare. Every time I gaze at my passport photo, I feel as though I am accusing myself of some misdeed.

What’s even worse is the fear that I am inadvertently giving that look to people around me. Heaven forbid they might think that I am going to scold them and send them out to the treehouse for the night. That look isn’t conducive to winning friends as much as it is to making people walk in a wide circle to avoid eye contact.

Still, if there is an up side, it is that when I really am annoyed I will be able to transmit that message with barely a lifted eyebrow. That is a certain amount of power in the big idear glare that, if used judicially, might limit bad behavior in my presence. That’s a comforting thought.

And maybe, just maybe, that look will get me through the customs line a little faster when I finally get to Italy. 

“You haven’t stamped my passport yet? What’s the big idearrrr?” 

“OK, grumpy lady. You’re in. Your glare reminds me of momma.”

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.