At Blendon Woods, a metro park outside Columbus, the Olan Mills photographer directs us to run up a small embankment toward him. We stop at the top, smile, lean forward as if we are mid-step into some great family adventure. It is 1971. We all roll our eyes. Through a clenched smile, my sister says, “Oh, my fucking God.” Claudia, my father’s girlfriend and the woman responsible for this sibling portrait, can’t hear us grumbling. She shouts encouragement down to us while she stands at the photographer’s side.
We scramble up the hill, losing our footing, hindered by dress shoes Claudia insists that we wear. I pull at my too short dress. My brother Gerry struggles to keep his glasses on, cursing. We get to the top, freezing motion as soon as the photographer holds up his hand; we grit our teeth and smile. Snap. The photographer says:
And again. Snap, snap. And one more time. Snap. Gerry, climb up and sit on the lowest branch of this tree. Peter, stand with one leg on that log. Meggie, look up at Gerry. Ann, look across at David. David, stop. Don’t move, just smile. Snap.
This is a special circle of hell reserved for single-parented kids: your father’s first steady girlfriend since divorce and her romantic vision that mates the Von Trapp family with the Brady Bunch. We are neither.
The photo is her surprise gift for my dad. She offers him a moment in time, a memory. No one anticipates that when my father marries—not Claudia but Pam— five years later, the photo will disappear from his dresser and into a drawer, replaced by portraits of their new life. It resurfaced decades later, after my father died and my step-mother gave me a box of memories belonging to the time before their marriage.
My brother and I shared a “damn you, Olan Mills” moment on Facebook, which, I’ll admit, made all the grumbling we had done worth it.
I have several unflattering Olan Mills portraits shoved in a drawer somewhere. Truly the calling card of the 70s. Fun to laugh at them now!
Yes! I just can’t imagine thinking that getting 5 children together for an outdoor photograph is a wise thing. At the time, I wanted to punch something; today, it is hilarious.
What a picture and the story/day behind it. Somethings like this one are to treasure and you have made it even more valuable by penning that day’s feelings. Enjoyed reading your post.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Parul!
This is a fantastic use of the prompt. I love how you kept it short but packed with detail.
A belated thanks, Michelle! <3
Great use of the prompt. Been missing you on the NF grid. Who IS Olan Mills anyway? Laughing all the way to the bank, I bet.
I learned recently that Olan Mills has merged with some Christian photo company. I was amazed it is still around. Thanks so much for reading. It’s great to be writing again. Missed you.
every house I’ve ever been to in Columbus has a 70’s Olan Mills picture in an ugly gold frame
Mike, you’re a Columbusite too? Yeah, pretty much every house I’ve been to there has an Olan Mills photo. If I recall correctly, they had a studio at Graceland that we used. Thanks for reading!!
Really cute vintage picture!
Magica atmosfera quella degli anni 70.. è sempre un ricordo che la ex moglie le ha conservato.. volessino stare così uniti tutti in famiglia fra le colline di questo luogo fotografato!… lieto di conoscerla.. venga nel mio blog.. grazie.. saluti dall’Italia..