Tuesday, January 15, 2008
There is an annual Burnett Christmas Picture. It is always the same. It a picture of Jordan wearing a 1930’s night gown and robe, sitting on a 1940’s chair. Behind her is a Steel gray backdrop. Sometimes she wears a hat or has a flower in her hair but the accoutrement is peripheral to the idea—which is to show friends, family and colleagues show she has grown over the last twenty years. Once David takes the picture, in black and white, I hand color it and then he takes a picture of my work and we print and send it.
Taking the picture was a painful process when we started to do it. Jordan was a small and was certainly used to David shooting pictures of her but they were always candid. The act of getting her to sit still and pose wearing old duds did not have great appeal for her. I acted as stylist and kibitzer. If I must (and of course I must) say so myself, I was pretty good at both, but not good enough to make it a joyful experience for any of the Burnetts involved. As I recall there was lots of head throwing, accompanied by body stiffness and, of course, the prerequisite tsk tsking. On one occasion I was reduced to doing a body block to prevent escape—but we still got a picture.
Over the years there have been good photo days and bad, but for the last few years, because she is a professional actor, the sessions have been without incident. Unless she’s just in a foul mood – but we can usually dance her out of it or if I threaten to sing “Secret Love”, she rethinks the attitude. I mean once a year for an hour is not too much to ask of a kid whom you have supported (in a style often becoming a princess) for almost 22 years. Anyway, she is usually a good sport and ultimately we get a lovely Christmas pic.
Twenty years later we have quite a collection of Jordan a la 30’s character. What’s really interesting is that we have friends who actually have kept the entire collection. As a matter of fact, when we can’t remember which year is which, we call pals who claim to have saved all the shots and even included the year they were taken. This is above and beyond even our requirements for being an excellent friend. And although there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing the changes in kids or parents we love, (Paula’s boys are gorgeous, Kimberley’s girls adorable, the Balin kids, handsome and grown, Kimmy’s crowd blonde and beautiful—looking more mischievous every year, and we learned from a wedding photo that Michael had remarried.) I can’t name everyone but it’s always thrilling to see the changes. Sometimes the cards come with a page or two of explanation about the previous year, but my ADD prevents my concentrating on a prose update. And actually, I prefer to see the picture and use my imagination about what happened to the family. Frankly, I don’t think I have saved many, or for that matter, any of the snap shots. Although, there was a time when I put some on the fridge, but when we bought a stainless steel model that eliminated anything that needed to be attached with a magnet.
When I think back about all those years of picture taking I often make a leap to the people who were our lives at the time. Most of them remain because I can’t bear to part with anything—especially people, but like on all of those end of the year news shows, I do my own little summary of who’s gone. And they don’t have to be dead to be gone—although among my favorite comebacks when someone refers to a person who has gone to a better place, (not the Bahamas) as being the ‘late’ so and so, I want to scream, HE”S NOT LATE -- HE”S NOT COMING”. But that’s not my point (part of my charm is the amble). When people leave your life, say when they move, it becomes more difficult to keep up with what’s happened or is happening to them. Each of our lives keeps moving forward—sometimes it’s steady and sometimes there are big fat potholes in the road we need to get around. But unless there is a reason to connect, we seldom do. It’s like when I was traveling on the road with the Udall’s. Seth and Allan were in one place having a normal life that kept moving forward, but I, like most campaign people who travel, just lived for the campaign. And while I visited so many places I can never remember what they were, my real life (with my family) didn’t go anywhere. It was exactly as it was when I left for each trip. I think this is one reason why campaign people like to talk to one another rather than people who they left behind—it’s just too hard to explain that a million things happened but really, nothing changed. What’s even funnier is that campaign people don’t necessarily know about the lives anyone else left behind. I remember when my friend Eli Segal died and I called to send my love to Phyllis, his wife – with whom I also had a relationship, just not on the campaign trail. I was reminiscing with her about adventures and places I had been with Eli and she was amazed. She knew we were great political friends but she had no idea that we had a campaign history that developed over thirty years, because regardless of how close we had all become, none of us ever talked about events on the road. We didn’t think the participants in our real life would find it interesting.
Back to the people leaving your life. We find becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with large numbers of people because we don’t stay too long in any one place and no one seems to have the time it takes to make a physical meeting work. And when we confess that this stinks and we are going to try harder it doesn’t seem to happen with the frequency we would like. So, whenever old friends call and say they are not going to do a Christmas/Hannukah/Holiday card, I am very disappointed. I count on this card being the substitute ‘visit’ with people we love, miss, and enjoy and really do wish we could spend some time with. This card, picture, story, has a special place in the Burnett household and even though we may not keep them on the wall or the fridge, the people who send them remain forever in our hearts. We’re just sayin...Iris