Formal Portraits

Formal portraits, each child framed within the professional school photographer’s perfectly aligned lens. The entire class precisely organized on one page. Twenty-four freshly laundered regulation white shirts. Twenty-three freshly laundered regulation white blouses. The boys had an open collar. The girls rounded collars were demurely buttoned-up with a western looking, bow tie at the neck. The faded black and white photos of Michael’s fifth grade class stared up at her from the dog-eared, water-stained album that his mother organized and put together some twenty years ago as a gift to her son.

The class of 1963-64. St. Anselm’s School. Sister Mary Agatha Rose, Principal. Miss Meehan, Teacher. Faye remembered Michael telling her about Miss Meehan, “Yes! Her name was pronounced Miss MEAN! And she was! Looking back, I’m guessing she didn’t like kids or maybe it was just boys. She even made Jimmy Wheeler cry. He was one of the toughest guys in the class, and she MADE HIM CRY! One day, Ms. Meehan was driving along in her car and caught Jimmy, Larry and me leaving the school grounds on our way to Bing’s to buy some candy, a strictly forbidden activity. When she discovered us, we were petrified and feared for our lives, literally! I’m not exaggerating!” Faye smiled at the memory of Michael’s wide and expressive sparkling blue eyes as he told her the story.

Michael’s class picture. Forty-seven cherubic Catholic souls looking so winsome. No longer babies but real little people with all the trials and tribulations that life had to offer. Faye’s thoughts drifted as she studied each face closely. Then, in the fourth row, second from left, she found Michael’s photo; his happy smile with a haircut so short it looked as though his ears stuck out from his head. Faye loved his ears. They were small for his head and had perfect conformation. The photographer must have had his ‘staging’ set at just the wrong angle, casting shadows and making most of the boys look as though they had large, protruding ears.

Faye felt an overwhelming rush of protective love for all the children on the page; particularly the one that stole her heart. Looking into their open faces, she couldn’t help but wonder what happened to each one of them. Did they have a happy childhood? Some of their eyes looked so serious, stressful, even sad. Was Destiny kind to them? How did each child’s unique and wholly personal thread come to express itself in adulthood?

Ten years old. In 1963, their lives were just beginning. And now, some thirty- five years later, questions crowded Faye’s mind. How many of them were still alive? Who had they become? Did any of their childhood dreams come true? Where did they live? What did they do? Who did they love? How many children did they have? Were they happy? Did any of them stay in touch with each other? Faye knew the answers for one little boy.

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