in Columns Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times

33 Christmases: A Mother-Daughter Portrait Every Year


Asheville Citizen-Times 12/20/2015 – Ted Alexander, Columnist –

The idea wasn’t original. Dads all over the world have pictures taken with their daughters. But one father in particular stood out to me.

His name was Frank H. Chadwick, and the pictorial documentation of himself with his daughter, Marion, year after year, graced the pages of Life magazine, beginning in 1922. The series of chronological photographs taken at the beach — his wife was the photographer, using a Brownie camera — began with Marion at age 1, and continued for decades, until she was 33 — more than 30 years of pictures.

When I first saw the photos in an old Life issue, I found the series to be powerful and moving, so when my daughter Paige was born, I decided to do something similar, just not quite the same way. Rather than the beach, I’d use Christmas, rather than father and daughter, I’d make it mother and daughter, including my wife, Portia.

The series began when Paige was 6 months old. She’s now 33. I recently spoke with her about the whole process. Her response was thoughtful:

“They’re more than just pictures to me. I can look back at the red dress I was wearing as a little girl and see my Uncle Mark, who has since passed away, bursting through the front door and, unasked, jumping into the picture with Mom and me, sending us all into a fit of giggles.

“Then there was that big gap in my front teeth. I’m instantly taken back to the third-grade awkwardness and my time spent with an orthodontist.

“There was also a stretch of pictures in the college years where I couldn’t be bothered to change out of sweatpants, so I would wear some festive, normal-seeming top with those old sweatpants hidden below.

“As a kid, the whole photograph series concept didn’t resonate with me. It was an annual chore — and each picture was only one piece of a puzzle, one chapter of a much larger book. Now, as an adult, I can stand back and admire the overview.”

My wife Portia’s overall reaction to the photos was similar to our daughter’s:

“Each Christmas, taking the photograph was a ritual, as important as trimming the tree or attending church. Sometimes it was taken on Christmas Eve, sometimes Christmas Day. It didn’t matter as long as we didn’t forget … and we never did.

“I didn’t appreciate the full impact of the photographs until I first saw them together in a framed grouping. And viewing them that way triggered a series of memories, wonderful memories. The photographs hang in my office and I smile each time I turn in my chair and see them.”

I realize now that I was a little obsessed making sure a photograph was taken each year, but it was an honest endeavor. My goal was to travel through the decades and freeze individual moments, those brief splashes of time that appear and are quickly gone.

I wanted to remember where it began and observe the changes as they slowly moved by.

I didn’t want to miss the parade.

Next year, for the first time, the photo will contain a trio, with my daughter’s 8-month-old baby girl joining the twosome.

A new generation.

And it could have been yesterday when the photographs began.

Amazing.

While I have the opportunity, I want to thank you all for your kind words this past year, and from my family to yours, wish you the brightest of holiday seasons — memorable moments filled with love, joy and hope … moments to forever enrich your lives.

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. His second novel, “After & Before,” came out in October and is available at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café and online book retailers.

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. Contact him at TedMAlexander.com/contact.

Learn more about the author and the novels online at TedMAlexander.com/Books.html.