Every summer, under a crisp, sunny summer sky, serious faces study programs, debate odds and circle sure winners in the racing form. There are a few minutes to post as my family mills around, each one with an ink pen at the ready. It’s our annual Uncle George Day at the horse races. This group of about 20 is focused on how to parlay two dollars into two hundred. Everyone, that is except me. My winning ticket involves capturing this moment with one snap of my digital camera. Corralling chickens is easier.
Hours earlier we set up lawn chairs and spread blankets on Del Mar’s trackside apron in preparation for a picnic of sandwiches, fruit and chips. Gathered alongside my husband, Nick, are our kids and kids by choice. Sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins and long-time friends join in the fun. No one is interested in the future importance of photos chronicling our outing to where the turf meets the surf. More attention is paid to an over-sized bag of kettle corn propped against the cooler.
Nonetheless, I remain undaunted and perhaps a tad annoying. It’s not every day this group, spread over hundreds of miles, is together. Hoping to placate me — and have a chance to get their bets in before the windows close — people slowly shift into frame. A few even smile. I smile back as I take the picture. “Oh, don’t move,” I say. And the voice of any of my sons replies, “We’ve got to take two.”
With the images safely stored on my smartphone, everyone moves to their original places. The sound of a trumpet blares in the distance. A few scurry to the betting windows, seemingly mesmerized by names like Briarpatch Betty, Countyourwinnings and Pappaspepper. The younger kids scamper toward the metal fence surrounding the track and watch the horses and their jockeys trot to the starting gate. I breathe a sigh. Another family memory captured for eternity.
My gang doesn’t realize it yet, but someday these random snapshots, converted to digital data, will become family treasure. We moms, know. That’s why many of us assume the role of family photographer/historian, with the same seamless leadership and commitment we exhibit as family party planner, nutritionist and chauffeur. And this usually means we’re not in the picture — at least most of the time. That’s a small price to pay in exchange for the satisfaction of having the images of those we love preserved on a sheet of photo paper, tucked into a family album or captured on a computer slide show.
I wasn’t always a fan of digital photography. I mistrusted anything I couldn’t drop off at the drugstore for developing. It took nearly a year after receiving a digital camera for Christmas before I traded in my insecure attachment of film rolls for the convenience, efficiency and quality of a digicam. I fell in love with knowing instantaneously whether the photo was good or not. No more waiting days or weeks to find out I had blinked, someone had looked away or one of my sons (or their pals) had photo-bombed the picture.
Later that day, while everyone else gathers around the dining room table recapping their winners and losers, I sneak off to my computer to download the candid shots snapped in between races. I linger a moment and after a few mouse clicks, I open a digital slide show of other family events. One son’s first day at kindergarten, their grandmother’s 80th birthday, the sweet smile of a new bride, the joyous birth of a grandchild. It doesn’t matter where the pictures are stored — in an album, on a hard drive or at a photo sharing site. Or whether my face is among the group grinning from the image. I’m part of the moment and the emotion that only a photo can preserve.
I smile as the pictures glide past, reminding me of forgotten occasions. Like the sleepy Saturday morning I had awoken everyone early for a family portrait. The professional photographer insisted the light at Coronaod beach was best before the clouds disbursed. Sometime around 7 a.m. Complaints and protests — mostly Nick’s — echoed in my ears. “Why are we up earlier than the sun?” he moaned, as he and our young sons trudged barefoot through the wet sand to reach a sea wall.
Wearing rolled-up jeans and white T-shirts, our fivesome posed casually, while the photographer captured our smiles forever. It’s a great portrait. And that time, I was in the picture.