When I was a kid, one of the yellow-vinyl Golden Records that I loved to play on my portable record player was Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade.” I knew all the lyrics. It described, as only Berlin could, the tradition of New York’s high society promenading up and down Fifth Avenue on Easter Day dressed in their new spring fashion. I loved that song’s word, ‘rotogravure’, even though I hadn’t a clue what it meant. (I know now, of course, that it referred to the magazine section of the newspaper.) I especially loved Berlin’s poetic reference to “the Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it.”
The Easter bonnet was part of my own traditional Easter outfit. My mother, who had marvelous fashion sense, delighted in carefully selecting an adorable new spring dress trimmed in lace or eyelet or tiny flowers and black patent leather shoes for her little girl to wear to church services that day. And always, atop my head of soft curls would be placed my Easter bonnet. Unfortunately for my mother, I was not as thrilled with this endearing attire and would have much preferred my cowboy hat to the delicate straw or linen bonnet embellished with flowers.
In my Easter Sunday best, I looked as pretty as a picture. Or so my father must have thought. Being the photographer he is, he saw it as an opportunity to capture on film this rare occasion of his little girl thusly dressed. But one year, in particular, I was not a willing model.
I was about five or six-years-old. I undoubtedly was anxious to head home after church that Easter so that I could eat some of those marshmallow peeps or the chocolate bunny that I found in my cellophane grass-filled Easter basket earlier that morning. My father, however, had another plan. He wanted to stop at his studio first so that he could make a portrait of me while still wearing my lovely baby blue dress and crescent-shaped white bonnet with blue flowers across the top. My mother and aunt had styled my hair so that I had a fringe of soft curls circling around the nape of my neck. I must have looked like a little angel. At least to them. At least until we arrived at the studio.
Once in the camera room, my father slid the film into the holder on his 8×10 back portrait camera and set the modeling lights to perfectly fall on the little subject standing on the box centered in front of the camera. But I had no intention of modeling for him that day. I stubbornly refused to cooperate. It became a contest of wills–mine against theirs. Finally, my parents’ patience wore out or they must have been hungry for dinner as well. One of them picked up the little plastic toy hand crank guitar that my father kept on hand in to use as a prop for children and gave me a little swat on my backside. I honestly doubt it was a very hard swat but tears swelled in my eyes.
Resigned to defeat, I stood before the camera just as I had been kindly asked to do beforehand while my father got the picture of what appears to be a very prayerful, solemn little girl in her blue-flowered Easter bonnet and matching blue dress. He made a ‘light oil’ print made of it–a technique used to hand-colored images in the days of black-and-white only photography. The finished print was entered in the state’s Professional Photographer Association’s salon that year and received high marks and a ribbon for my father. He was proud of the portrait, but not so proud of the method he and my mother employed in order to get his model’s cooperation and my reverential expression that day.
I’ve long forgiven them of course, and admittedly probably deserved the swat. The portrait still hangs in my parents’ home, a bittersweet reminder of one Easter long ago.