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Family Magic

Family Magic

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to PINCH

Jan 20, 2010

     One of the things I loved most about the Harry Potter books when my children were reading them, was the idea that photographs in newspapers, books and magazines were living images. The people in the magical photos moved, coming and going, talking, laughing and smiling at whoever was looking at them.

      Sometimes, when I walk past the framed black-and-white and sepia-toned photos that hang on my bedroom wall, I think about that. They are, for the most part, snapshots and portraits of my children taken when they were very young.  And most, although I’ve only just realized it, were taken in summer.

      I remember the moment each was taken...

The way the the cool, damp, grass felt on our bare feet as I chased my son across the meadow at the botanical gardens.  In the photo of the two of us, I have just caught him and swooped him up, a sturdy three-year-old in curls and overalls, and I’m holding him on my hip. Laughing, I turned to look at him just at the photographer snapped the picture.

      There is a formal hand-tinted portrait of my first child, taken when she was 6-years-old, her red curls caught in a big white bow. And there is one of my youngest child. She isn’t smiling, but instead has cocked her head, looking up at as if to say, “Is this necessary?”

      In another photo I am holding my third child. Another daughter. And the day was one of those sticky, humid, Southern days. We were sitting by the big azalea bush in the front yard. The wriggling 5-month-old, probably uncomfortable in the dress I’d put her in for the portrait, pushed against me with her right arm. Her tiny fist resting on my collar bone. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the weight of her body in my lap, the press of that little arm so near my heart.

      There is another of that daughter when she was four or five. Again, at the botanical gardens, a place we visited often. She’d knelt down to examine a flower, her face turned away from me, and there is poetry in the composition.

      This year my oldest daughter gave me a gift, another frame to hang with the collection. She arranged four snapshots in a big mat and frame.  There is one of her with her new husband, broad smiles on both of their faces. Over that is a photo of me and her father.  On either side are two snapshots of all my children, my three daughters and my son, now three adults and one lanky teenager, taken last summer in my backyard. They’d all made their way home that weekend and I’d grabbed my camera. They stood in front of the climbing roses that covered the fence with blooms and the moment I pressed the shutter I knew I’d captured something special. And it was. I just have to see it to remember they way they laughed and teased one another.

      Now, deep in winter, when I look over at the wall filled with photos taken in  summer, I see my own kind of magic. The images move and breathe and whisper to me. They carry the scent of babies and the feel of sun-warmed grass on bare feet and the sweet sounds of love and laughter. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.