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Lost Journal: Photographing Family in the Backyard is a Post-church Safari

Sep 112011
 By , September 11, 2011

By Tim Mollen

Journal entry:  October 7, 1973 (age 4)

This morning, the doors of our green, wood-paneled, Ford station wagon burst open before the car even stopped in our driveway.  Mass had gone long at St. John the Evangelist Church, and Vine Street was in need of six Mollen boys to replenish the troops playing basketball (Jerry and Jim), football (John and Bob), and hide-and-seek (Dan and me).

But just as the first racing feet were hitting the porch, Dad’s booming baritone rang out.  “Hold on, boys!  I want to take a few pictures while we’re all still in our church clothes.”  Instantly, steps slowed, shoulders fell, and groans rose and fell like those of a nauseated boys choir.  I thought I heard a woman’s groan among those of us boys, but when I looked at my mother, her smile was quick – if a bit weak.

The Sunday march into the backyard for family photos is something of a ritual for our family.  I don’t really understand it.  None of us ever looks like we do the rest of the week, and I thought photos were taken so we could remember later what we all used to really look like.  As is the case every Sunday, there was no hiding my four oldest brothers’ long hair.  But their hair had been wetted, combed and plastered into semi-respectable submission.  Only my brother Jim, the non-conformist, was not wearing a tie; but even he was fidgeting away in a corduroy jacket.  Dan and I are too young for grown-up suits.  Instead, Mom likes to put us in peculiar outfits that are reminiscent of either English foxhunters or French sailors.  Today, I was looking more “tally-ho,” despite the fact that I had to go “oui-oui.”

Dad told Jerry and Jim to stand in front of the picnic table, on either side of our mother.  Bob and John were directed to sit on the picnic bench in front, with Dan and me on their laps.  When Dad is behind the camera, he gets what he wants pretty quickly, spotting every untucked shirt and wiseguy smirk.  In the name of family harmony, any spontaneous gesture is squelched – although I hesitate to call Jerry’s familiar attempts to place “rabbit ear” fingers behind his brothers’ heads “spontaneous.”  We made it through a few shots with admirable restraint.  Like most photos of Mrs. Mollen and the boys, I’m sure today’s will come out nice and orderly.

Then Dad handed the camera to Mom, and joined us for a series capturing seven manly men in their natural habitat.  Quickly, elements of the Wild Kingdom began to crop up.  As Mom clicked away, Dad was too busy telling her what to do with the shutter settings to notice that Jerry was now frowning, Jim had fallen asleep on his feet, John was tickling me, and Bob was looking at the now spastically writhing Dan with a look of utter contempt.  “This is more like it,” I thought to myself, as I did something to make John regret having tickled me at this particular time.

I think I know what pictures I’ll want to look at later.

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Buy your copy of "Lost Journal - the Book" at Each Lost Journal column is a journal entry written in retrospect. In other words, Mollen chooses a different day from his past, and writes about it as though it were today. The date may be last week, Halloween 1980, or the day he was born (May 4, 1969). Some of you may be asking, “But how would he have been able to write a journal entry on the day he was born?” To you he says: “Lighten up. It’s a humor column.” Mollen is a nationally syndicated columnist and actor, and he is available as a speaker on writing and humor.

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