Dad turned off the light that dangled from a beam in his small darkroom under the house. When he switched on the red light it became a magical place, at least in my little girl’s thinking. It smelled of the chemicals that filled several trays on the table. A string of photographs dried overhead. Dad worked with a machine called an enlarger. He lifted wet sheets of paper in and out of the trays. I peered wide-eyed as images slowly materialized on the paper.
For twenty-five Christmases he decided on a design, took the black and white photos with his 35mm camera and developed the negatives, then cut and pasted, printed and hand tinted our family Christmas cards, all before computers and digital cameras and Photoshop.
Dad must have been dreaming when the second year he pictured us sisters peering through a window framed with snow laden flora. As far as I know California’s central coast has never had a white Christmas.
Our cat Sam made his debut one Christmas and the year he died Dad pictured him with wings flying away from us. Over the years the photos changed as siblings were born or left home to raise their own families. The last cards pictured Mother and Dad alone, one showing them pretending to talk on an old crank telephone, keeping in touch with the kids and grandkids and friends, no matter the distance.
I keep an album of the cards. They are a reminder of Dad’s labor of love and that family is a gift to cherish.