What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories. ~George Eliot
It seems like every Christmas there is one person in particular that is receiving something of real meaning and importance, the big gift of the Christmas. This year’s winners were mom and dad! What was this victory gift? Where did the idea come from? How did it come together?
It started with when I was perusing boxes upon boxes of old photos, looking for a few to scan and upload to my blog. I came across this image of a group of kids from July 1985. The children, ranging in ages from 12 years to about 18 months happened to include Ryan, Nicole, our cousins, from mom’s side of the family and myself. Upon closer examination I noticed that three of my cousins weren’t even born yet. This was one of those rare pictures. The unplanned kind, that only one person seems to have the photo, no one has the negative (yes back then there were negatives) and no one remembers taking the photo. Later on, I asked around for another such picture that included everyone but alas no such luck. My Aunt Irene, who is the queen of pictures and organization never saw another photo like the one I had. By all means, this newly discovered photo didn’t include ALL the cousins, but a majority of us that have grown up around each other. My Uncle Frank’s grandkids, my cousins Denise and Matthew were not present, just to name a few. However, most of my life they lived closer to the Philadelphia area. So we never really grew up around them like we did the Olczaks, Bobincheks and Milligans.
Something struck me about this picture, maybe because I actually remembered the day it captured. We got together and met at Twin Lakes Park for a picnic. Only later, did mom tell me that we were there celebrating my cousin Lisa’s birthday. Believe it or not, I remember mom driving us up to the party spot in dad’s red truck. My attire included a Madonna T-shirt, which I remember showing off to everyone, it’s pretty prominent in the picture. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Aunt Irene (my godmother) welcomed us as we arrived and was ready for a serious picnic adventure.
Now, I really don’t recall what we did the rest of the day, but I remember getting there and snacking, and believe it or not the picture being taken. If my memory serves me correctly, I can hear someone yelling for all of us to look over at the camera and say “cheese.” Who the photographer was, is still a mystery. But as I sat perched front row, I can still feel the worry for my, then little, cousin Mikey falling backwards off of the picnic table. Again proven in the photo. Mikey was maybe 18 months old, being born in 1983.
Now, really getting to the point of this mystery photograph. As I scanned the picture into the computer and started cleaning it up, I couldn’t help but try and imagine each of my cousins in present day. Then it hit me! The idea which would be the big Christmas gift surprise of 2012. I thought it would be great to get all the cousins together and get the picture taken again, at the same location, in the same seats. My idea didn’t just stop there. I thought it would also be nice for everyone, to get a picture of the cousins with their spouses and kids. A huge family photo. Boy do I know how to dream big!
As the brainstorming was starting to solidify in my head all the way to reality, I began to spread the word to each of the 11 cousins, my sister and Kyle. Originally, I talked about the idea with Casey and later with Elizabeth and Marla before sending a private Facebook message along with the picture, to get everyone on the same page and to get their buy in. Then, I created a group email to make this process easier. It took a little bit of back and forth and a lot of planning and moving schedules around but I did it! I got a day and time. Mind you it was a very short window of time, but enough for a few pictures. It was set! Everyone was available over Labor Day weekend, that Sunday. Keep in mind Casey and my sister were the two from out of state, and the ones I worried about the most trying to get them in town. Unfortunately, my grandiose idea of having the spouses and kids involved was a bit too aggressive. So I had to settle for my cousins who were all grown up. I was happy with that!
Just when it seemed like everything was going my way, the photographer was on board, all the cousins were organized, God threw me another obstacle, or potential obstacle as it sat. Our area was going to be hit with part of hurricane Isaac, moving up through Western Pennsylvania. Yikes! Are you kidding me? Nope, it was all true. I simply emailed everyone and said, no matter what, we were going to get this picture, instructing the group to bring umbrellas. My thinking was, push comes to shove we could get a cute picture with our lot under multicolored umbrellas. Whatever was thrown at me, I was going to make this work, especially after all this back and forth and planning.
Houston we have another problem. The Friday before the picture was to be taken, Nicole called and said she was sick and she couldn’t make it up. What? Really? Are you kidding me? Not on my watch. I instructed her to drive up from the D.C. Metro Area anyway, after all it was only four hours (sarcasm). She could get her picture taken and go back home. Needless to say she was not very pleased with me, and she was slightly bitter about the situation on the day of the picture, but it had to be done! This picture was meant to be! The show must go on.
Keep in mind all this was done under the radar of mom and dad, not that dad pays much attention to anything non-hunting and fishing related. That Friday, before speaking to me, Nicole called mom and said she wasn’t coming home. Naturally, after mom picked Kyle up off the bus she told him that his Aunt Nikki wasn’t going to make it back. Kyle was in on the mission and he was also aware that it was a big secret, mom and dad were to never find out. While mom and Kyle were cruising home, and I was at work, Kyle called me and said, “Aunt Heather we have a problem, Aunt Nikki isn’t coming home this weekend. What about the picture?” I said, “Kyle are you sitting in the front seat right beside Gigi?” He reassuringly said, “Ya but she doesn’t hear me and she doesn’t know about the picture.” All spoken at full volume! In complete shock, I said, “Kyle! What did you say to Gigi? And yes she can hear you, she’s not deaf.” He said, “O, well I did say ‘I guess we can’t get the picture taken then’ when Gigi said Aunt Nikki wasn’t coming home and she said ‘What picture?’ but I didn’t tell her about it.” Really? Is this conversation happening? Is was playing out right in front of mom! Trying to get Kyle off the phone and drop the conversation I assured him that Aunt Nikki was coming home and not to worry about it. He started to insist on talking about her absence as if he knew more than I did. I quickly defused his worry and changed topics.
So basically, Nicole was still a possible no show and Kyle pretty much spilled the beans. This all happened within minutes from one another. I managed to keep this Christmas gift under wraps for roughly four months and it unfolded in the blink of an eye. Everyone knew this picture was only going to happen with all cousins present, including my sister. The only person missing was Ryan and Kyle was sitting in for him.
The day of the shoot…went pretty well. Nicole did manage to get home. She almost puked in my car on the ride to Twin Lakes, but as long as she didn’t get any on her cloths, I didn’t care. As we gathered to get into position, the rain let up. The last roadblock came from my cousin Stacey, also the youngest one of the bunch. She slept in and lost her car keys. But no worries she was close-by and her sisters stepped in and retrieved our missing link. We remained a little behind schedule, but I think it worked in our favor since it gave the sun a chance to make its appearance.
Getting the finished piece from the framers also proved to be a challenge. The day I was suppose to pick up this masterpiece, I happened to get the stomach flu and missed the call. So now what? The framer was gracious enough to meet me the next day, a day before giving the gift, taking time out of her schedule to do so. The finished piece turned out really nice, I went to i frame it! in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.
Anyway, after all this planning and running around, the gift was finished and delivered, sitting in my mom’s hands. Kyle gave the pictures, which were now matted and framed, to my mom. I expected a big hurray, but alas all mom said was, “Kyle I can’t really see what I’m looking at, get me my glasses.” Yes, I never took into account that mom would need her glasses to see the Christmas gift. Naturally, no one knew where mom set her glasses, so while Kyle ran around the house looking, mom sat there and squinted at the pictures trying to make out what she was looking at. Once her sight of vision was clear, she really liked seeing everyone together, all grown up.
It took 27 years for the photo to be retaken, well past due. How I wished Ryan was present, but I guess he was in spirit. He gave us the best stand-in, Kyle! We added the pictures to the walls of family photos spread throughout the Piper household. It’s really a nice addition!
Thank you to all my cousins who participated! I really appreciate it!