School Pictures Day

Green was Winston Durdle’s least favourite colour and today he was forced to wear it. It was School Pictures Day and the only clothes his mother set out for him to wear were the ones he received last Christmas from Aunt Trefina who – without fail, forethought or consideration – always sent a couple of items for Winston in her Christmas care package to his family. The clothes had two unremarkable yet consistent qualities.

First of all, they were green. And not even a very nice shade of green, like forest green or jade. Moreso it was the green of moss, or frog, or excremental. Winston hated the colour and almost never wore it with the exceptions being to try on these green clothes from the care package or during the mercifully brief visits from Aunt Trefina and her family.

And Number B, the clothes were ill-fitting in size and to Winston’s mind, in style. The verdict was never in doubt for him, and despite his mother’s best hopes, the green sweater, pants or turtleneck never failed in one respect of being too small. Again.

To Winston, it seemed that – in the mind of his Aunt – he had not grown or changed, or even dressed in any other colour but green since she had seen him the year earlier when he obligingly wore the ill-sized outfit she‘d sent the previous Christmas. Abundant though her care packages were, Aunt Trefina did indeed lack the vital ingredient to make Winston happy with a new set of threads, that being the “care” aspect.

Trefina always sent clothes, because she didn’t believe in giving toys to children.

“They always just break,” she’d say, never having bought any herself to test the theory.

Trefina’s family was a working family. Her husband was a fisherman, and all hands – in her case, six pairs of them – lived off the sea and were expected to help with the catch. Her home was one of practicality and survival. There was no room in the store or the stage for imagination.

Yet Trefina was the only Aunt who bothered to send any gifts at all at Christmas time. Other relatives sent along a card or a letter, but Aunt Trefina could always be counted on to send a giant box of gifts. Winston was genuinely excited by the receipt of it each year because it seemed so full of potential. A large, brown-papered package of mystery. Like all mysteries where the hero solves things in the end, Winston would unwrap the puzzle that was Aunt Trefina’s gift selection process only to discover it was green, mis-sized clothes…(again).

His mother wanted to say, “You’ll grow into them,“ but she stopped short of that. Winston, being a chubby boy of 8, might more likely, shrink into them. But his mother would never see a child starved, so the clothes remained tight.

However, being a chubby boy of 8, he was indeed growing and not just out, but up a little too. He was very familiar with size “Husky” at the Simpson’s-Sears Boys department. So, to contrast his tight green shirt, he would shlep outside the changing rooms in a baggy pair of brown corduroys. These cords were now laid out for School Pictures Day, joining the green shirt made of the finest synthetic materials 1977 could conceive, with it’s paisley-style front framed by long, tight, solid-colour sleeves and back.

His hair had been shortened, albeit a touch uneven after a fresh trim from the drunken barber in town. Today, the individual hairs had not yet agreed upon a consistent direction in which to fly off.

The school photo was that annual assessment of change to which the children of St. Augustine’s elementary were required to submit. Some were intensely camera shy while others were eager to smile and be pleasant about it all. For Winston, the photo session almost always caught him off guard. Yes, he heard the teacher mention that the school photographer would be coming around. Yes, he brought home the consent form for his parents to sign. And yes, he saw the other kids queue up outside the library. But he still found himself surprised to be standing in front of giant backdrop of a mill and nearby river – something he’d never seen in his town – and surprised to be grabbing a giant wagon wheel with one hand placed at 11 and the other at 2.

The photographer was a man in his 40’s dressed in black pants, a brown suit vest, and a shirt which probably strived to yellow at some point, buy settled for something that wasn’t quite white, but certainly cleaner than beige, surely. His slightly frayed collar revealed a shirt he’d lived in for these years of less than impressive school portrait work. It could safely be assumed that a young man’s goal of becoming the next Karsh had fallen well short of completion.

Endless sessions with nameless children he’d never get to know. Endless developing of an 8×10 and 12 wallet size prints for relatives of today or in the decades to come, whom he would never be concerned or care about.

His enthusiasm did waver depending on the efforts that the child and/or the parents showed in getting ready for School Photo day. Smart looking ones got a “Oh, that’s fantastic!” from him. This was followed by what might be mistaken as genuine interest in the child as he smiled brightly, saying, “OK, big bright smile now!”, and the camera flash would contribute its own exuberant “Poof!”

“And that’s it. We’re done! That wasn’t so bad was it? OK, you run along to class.”

The less quaffed and more photogenically hostile of the bunch would get a more defeated, bordering on the sarcastic, “Oh fantastic. Big, bright smile now, OK?”

The camera flash let out an exhausted “Poof”.

“Alright, that wasn’t so bad, was it,” the photographer exhaled, not sure if he was talking to himself or the poor miscreant in from him.

Commissioning relief in both him and the child, he offered, “OK, you run along to class.

On his turn, Winston entered the library and was immediately taken by the musty smell of the books which always got to him. It was a sharp musty scent of old and outdated volumes on shelves, many too high for him to reach and too shy to ask for. He once found some illustrated adventures of the French mouse, Anatole on a lower, reachable area and he devoured those. However, he couldn’t find any more beyond than the four on the shelf, and having deemed the other books uninteresting (i.e. no pictures), he had little desire to come into the library and encounter its smell or discover its opportunities.

Furthering his lack of readiness for the photo shoot was his upper lip. Winston always licked it out of nervous habit and after the winds of November that blew over his island home of Rosecastle, they assaulted his lip leaving a thin, moustache-like line of irritation. On a more handsome child, one might have laughed that Winston looked like a young Clark Gable. However, for a round, doughy faced Winston, he was more like a young Fatty Arbuckle. With a moustache.

He kept licking it because it was irritated and that made the photographer develop his own form of irritation. Just as the camera was ready, out would come Winston’s tongue for a quick lick. For the heavy-set 8-year old, it was just one more thing to be self-conscious of on School Photo Day.

He stood, trying not to lick, his hands at 11 and 2 on the wagon wheel, hoping that the moustache couldn’t be seen. He was just starting to be ready to keep still when the photographer noticed the necklace around Winston’s neck.

It was a cheap thing. Might have been plastic, might have been metal, but definitely lightweight and painted in a shiny shade of the colour blue. Winston’s favourite. He fell in love with blue, specifically a royal navy blue, when he saw a picture of a 1974 Pontiac Astré in the brochure a car salesman handed to his father. Claude Durdle was getting a new one to replace the ‘68 Vauxhall Viva which was a faded red and rusty. The new Astré was bright and bold and blue. Winston kept pointing at it and suggesting that his father get that one. But the Astré Claude Durdle bought that day was A) affordable, B) ready and C) lime green with a dark green interior. By every account, Winston was becoming jaded.

So, this blue necklace was Winston’s attempt to have that colour with him. He got it at the “Kelligrews Soiree”, that town’s version of the county fairs or village fete. Winston rode nervously on a pony that day, worried it would throw him off for being too heavy for its back to bear. He threw three baseballs with such care and accuracy that he managed not to topple a single milk-bottle. He giggled with jolly fun over being hit constantly by the other kids in the bumper cars. Why, he barely moved an inch himself before someone else would strike.

He did win at one game, though. It was at a game of chance where a vendor offered trinkets in exchange for the correct amount of currency. Winston was close with his guess, so the vendor took pity on him and gave him back the difference. Winston picked out a blue necklace which had a heart attached, flat in dimension and the size of a quarter. The vendor looked at Winston and said, “Would you like me to engrave a name on it for you?”

Winston didn’t think long, but a short list of names flew through his mind. Bunga and Reg came first, his school friends but they poked fun at him, and this one time, Reg locked him in a shed and told him there was a dead rat in there. Mom was next and she took care of him except for the times when she’d get in a row with his father and then storm out of the house saying she was never coming back. His teacher, Mrs. Davis was nice to him, but he often found it off-putting that while she wrote on the chalkboard, she’d shove her free hand down the back of her snake-skin print slacks and rested it there while she wrote out the lessons.

In the end, he picked a name he thought others might like to know about. Truly, it was the name he could best rely on. And additionally remembering his mother’s advice about accident readiness and the need for proper ID, he looked at the necklace and told the vendor, “Winston”.

At School Pictures Day, though, his heart-shaped “Winston” necklace was in the way. It was merely hanging there and minding its own business when the photographer spotted it through his lens. Deciding it messed up the colour composure of Winston’s light brown hair, light brown top lip and the green polyester shirt, he couldn’t move on while that flash of blue was present.

The photographer looked at the ruddy-faced boy in front of him and gestured toward his neck, motioning for the necklace to be tucked inside, a “Ah, could you…? Thanks.” punctuating the move.

Winston tucked it away under the collar of his shirt. His little piece of blue, the one thing he had that day that was his own, safely removed from offending view. He turned his gaze toward the camera lens and the final result was not so much a smile but a smirk of resignation. He wasn’t asked to re-do it or smile nicely one more time.

“OK, you’re done, “ the photographer said. “You can go back to class.”