Bob Garner: Life of a photo
Sunday, May 6, 2018
We only get one life to live.
For better or worse in today’s world, a photo often has many thousands of incarnations. But it only takes one to add a spark to our own all-too-short earthly journey.
I’m thinking of a photo that still makes me laugh, even though I only saw it twice in a quarter-century.
The instant polaroid print that developed itself before your eyes after being spit out of the camera was quite a novelty when I was growing up. Color film versions were still very common in the early 1970s. As newlyweds, my wife and I kept a Polaroid she had used in college.
Not long after Ruthie and I were married, she was reorganizing her trousseau early one evening and came across a short nightgown that was amazingly modest and non-revealing by Victoria’s Secret standards.
It was utterly opaque, but it had a lovely sky-blue tint, some lacy stuff around a venturing-but-not-plunging neckline and spaghetti straps.
She mischievously put it on, piled her long hair on top of her head and, striking a fetching pose, called me in.
My first thought was of that Polaroid camera, and she was also clearly primed for a gag photo. I snapped one shot, we snickered as we watched it develop and she went back to her repacking.
Fast forward 25 years. Ruthie is now reorganizing our chaotic photo collection, which has become a jumble after the births of a second and third child. She has come across that random picture.
Sniggling over the pose, she was caught flat-footed when a neighbor knocked on the front screen door, announced herself and entered. Ruthie quickly opened my Bible on a nearby end table, thrust the photo randomly inside and quickly closed the cover.
Potential embarrassing moment averted.
Several months later, our entire family was sitting in church — Ruthie and I on one row and our three children, all in high school or middle school, immediately behind. The pastor asked the congregation to turn to the New Testament chapter of Romans.
I found the passage and was instantly taken stunningly, awesomely and cosmically aback by the Polaroid image of a nightie-clad Ruthie pouting sexily at me from the pages of St. Paul’s epistle. At more of a momentary loss than I have ever been before or since, I let out a gasp clearly audible throughout the sanctuary.
My wife, hearing my explosive intake of breath, immediately grasped the entire situation and began shaking violently with silent, smothered laughter. And we were off.
We were laughing too hard to be able to remain upright. Tears were running down our faces. The more we tried to stifle the hilarity, the worse it got. Those seated around us were smiling tentatively but quizzically — which is more than I can say for the pastor, who was not smiling.
Our children were humiliated, of course, as they would have been by far less at that age. Faces flaming, they angrily hissed, “Y’all stop it!”
Our pastor laughed off the disruption we had caused after we told him the whole story at the church supper that evening. Our offspring never did forgive us completely.
The photo ended up lost for good not long afterward, but that one, short-lived reappearance did apparently stick in the kids’ psyches. They basically didn’t own handheld devices until after college, but they’re really strict in teaching their children not to accumulate, post or text questionable photographs.
On that score, I would say that photo’s relatively brief life may have yet another stunning, awesome and cosmic impact.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.