The signature yellow and black logo featured on the Kodak envelope is as familiar to me as my own reflection once was. Inside are 36 images, and I feel my heart sink just a little when I realize there is not one picture of me included in the developed roll.
It was 17 years ago.
Other than I was the one with the camera and the month was December, there isn't much I can tell you about that night. There are no tell tale clues to help me read what my mood was; fatigue, joy, even youthfulness, all must have been part of it because my youngest was just days old.
Did I even think about my age -- or the ages of my husband and children -- then?
I highly doubt it.
No, I bet the only thing on my mind was taking pictures. Something, anything, that would pass for holiday card material. You know the kind they belie the frantic effort made by the photographer to capture wiggly kids before the baby grew restless again.
I know she had cried earlier because there is a photo. A time worn image that reveals the curled-under newborn lips and her face bright with outrage. It's as if I can hear her wails even now.
Yet the room is silent and the reality is I can't recall the last time I heard or saw her cry.
Shirt sleeve tucked over my knuckles I swipe the back of my hand across my eyes as if doing so could rewind the clock, and once I am able, I focus on my husband.
There he is eternally captured at 33. Our daughter is cradled in his arms and he is bookended by our boys, they too are arrested in time. His expression reminds me, that even then, he knew we'd be together for life.
I close my eyes against the past and wait until I can gather up an image of what he looks like today in my mind, and once I do, I allow my eyes to return to the photographs.
With effort I pull myself from the well-worn carpeted floor and clear space on my desk. Then, the way one might deal cards with a snap, I flip the pictures onto the wood-table-top face-up.
I had no idea how fast the years would speed past -- of course people said they would -- but I didn't believe them.
They stare back at me now, my children, halted in all their youth.
And in the way an archeologist might scour the dirt while digging, I examine them. As if sketched on tracing paper, I now see bits of the people they are today in each of their faces.
Back then I couldn't picture what time would later sculpt into the jawlines of my son's boyish faces, nor the intensity that would pierce my daughter's eyes.
No. My children simply were.
Happily I was not able to encumber their innocence with all that living would bring.
Determined to find my younger self I root through the box marked, "Misc. old pictures," until I find one of me from that era and add it to the flipped up photos. What time would unfold all these years later at the edges of my eyes and lips eluded the camera, and me, then.
Now there are moments when I catch a glimpse of my reflection; a backward camera feature intended for selfies, a bathroom mirror, the car window, even sometimes the screen of my laptop -- each have left me wondering when I began to look more like my mother and less like me.
For comparison I reach for my iPad and pull up pictures of a recent family portrait. There we all are in the glow of the digital photograph and I can't help but marvel over how we look now.
And I love the now ... just as I loved the then.
Curiosity, playfulness, love, wonder, even pain, all etched in our faces. This is now, oh how I celebrate it, lines and all.
Without hurry I gather the 4 x 6 images from years gone by into a neat stack and though it won't be the last time, fast as a flash, 1997 is slipped back inside its black and yellow envelope.
Life is a series of moments, each, when stitched together, reveal this extraordinary thing we call living.
Cherish the now.
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