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Zockoll Thanksgivings: The Saga of Taking the Family Holiday Photo

November 15, 2016


It was below freezing outside, somewhere near the twenty-degree range.  We woke up inside of our sleeping bags, fully bundled in boots, ski caps, and jackets.  Not so unusual, since it was November.

What was unusual is that we were indoors.  In our bedrooms.

The heat had gone out.  Again.

Brent woke up and groaned.  I could see his breath across the room.  “I have to use the bathroom but I don’t want to get out in the cold.”  He rose up to one elbow.  “How’s the pigeon?”  I had found an injured pigeon outside of our window and brought him inside last night, putting him in an old bird cage until we could figure out what to do with his broken wing.

I tapped on the cage.  No answer.

I tapped again.  No response.

“He’s dead,” I said.  “Stiff as a board.”

“Wow,” roared Bruce from across the room.  “He froze to death!  He had better chances outside!”  We middle-schoolers laughed the laugh of weather-beaten Eskimos.  We’d been on the edge of survival and scoffed at death.  We were warriors.

We were also ready for that Thanksgiving meal at noontime. Another new family memory: a house full of cryogenic Zockoll waifs!

Yes, another typical holiday for us.

Through the years the memories of my childhood Thanksgiving holidays are ones not so much of tender recollections as they were spit-out-the-coffee-and-guffaw realizations that we were a very strange household, even in holiday mode.

The one subject  that I want to share is of Taking the Family Photo.  We tried to make Thanksgiving that very tender, special day that we took the family photo for the upcoming Christmas season.

With a 110 camera.  Remember those?

Tender memory?  It was actually similar to a Marine obstacle course.  Someone would be injured, someone would cry, but eventually we would all make it.

Let’s proceed, explaining each step through the use of family dialogue.

Obstacle one:  What to Wear

Mom: “Oh, Bruce, you’re not going to wear that.”

Bruce:  “But, Mom, I like Led Zeppelin. And this T-shirt only has two holes, not like the others.””

Mom: Snarling, looking for the Fli-Back paddle  

Bruce:  Running and changing


Obstacle two:  The Scene 

Mom (carrying an oversized comb, like the kind you buy at fairgrounds – about a foot long.  This was for quickly combing the girls’ hair)  “Okay, let’s line up on the steps, oldest to youngest.”

Gwen:  “We did that last year.  Remember when Sheila fell down the steps?”

Mom:  “Oh, yeah.  Okay, everyone out in the garden, next to the cement bench.”

Wendy:  “It’s thirteen degrees out, Mom. My legs will stick to the concrete.”

Mom with giant comb: Thwhack  “Don’t get fresh.”

Wendy:  “Owwwww.”

Mom growling:  “Now, smile for the camera.  Say ‘cheese‘.”

Us: “‘ Freeze‘.”


Obstacle three:  That Wasn’t Quite Good Enough – Let’s Take Seventy More

The wind is howling.  Trash cans are rolling down the street.

Mom:  “Okay, everybody hold still.”

Gwen:  “…Mom, you can take the picture?  I think Brian has frostbite.”

Mom: “No, Wendy doesn’t seem to want to smile.”

Wendy (through chattering teeth) “I am smiling, Mom.”

Mom: “That doesn’t look like a smile to me, missy.”


Mom: “Listen, if you’re all going to stand and giggle, we can just do this all day.  Is that what you want?”

Mom: “Brian, quit whining.”

An icicle forms on Sheila’s eyelid.

Mom:  “Brad, you’re not facing the lens.  Bruce, move that ladder.  It looks like it’s growing out of Gwen’s head.”

Mom would stare through the lens for, oh, about three days, and take a picture where inevitably Tammi was yawning, Kandy blinking, Bruce kicking me or Brian actually in the first stages of frostbite.

But, by gum, we had our picture that went along with the Family Christmas Letter.


It was all delightfully weird, and in the end we got inside and ate, and the turkey was as good as ever, the laughter was as loud as always and the memory was as powerful as can be.

I find it fascinating that Thanksgiving has no official theme song or “carol” – it makes this holiday stand out among the others as still having somewhat of an unretouched uniqueness about it.  It’s not been commercialized.  It’s not been hammered into a mold. Family gatherings follow a tradition, yet no two get-togethers are unique.  God in His great humor allows us the gaffes of faulty heating system, a poor family photo, or another strange incident to keep our memory banks diverse and enjoyable, if only we have the right spirit.  That’s the way our household was.  It was always a strange time – but we found humor in virtually everything.

Well, we found humor after we had eaten our fourth piece of pie.




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