Dear Gloria (on the day your portrait was taken, circa 1959),
Mom probably made a pretty big deal about getting the hair off your face and out of your eyes for this picture. Little do you know that dealing with your hair over the coming years is going to be a pain in the ass. You’ll flatten it, curl it, dye it, tease it, streak it, cut it, grow it out, cry over it and repeat these activities on a regular basis. At 58, you’ll still be wrestling with it. Sorry.
You’ll wish later on that you had stuck with your piano lessons and maybe even the cello lessons. Telling Dad there’s “no way in hell that I’m going to end up having to work as a secretary to put my future husband through graduate school!” is really not a good reason to pass on a typing class. It could have been over and done with in one year during high school, and you wouldn’t have turned out to be a hunt and pecker, which is sort of like being a freak of nature here in 2013. Also, when people agree to let you discontinue French and/or Spanish, whack ‘em up side the head.
I think it’s a good thing you already have a camera and that you carry it around a lot. Don’t get mad at Mom and Dad if they don’t always put film in it for you. You’re getting some mad skills just by holding that Rocket Brownie up to your eye and looking carefully at the world around you.
And dude, don’t get so hung up on the fact that there are nasty people in the world. Some of them will actually look down at you because you’re a Jew, because you’re a girl, because you’re from Kentucky or because you’re not Ivy League smart or Hollywood pretty. Mean people suck, but they shouldn’t get in your way. Ever.
People you love will die. You will get sick. When the time comes, you will die, too. In the meantime, though, there will be color TV, personal computers, soft-serve yogurt, phones that fit in your back pocket, spandex, Prozac, post-it notes, luggage with wheels, birth control pills and microwave ovens. Roll with the changes.
Try not to have regrets. You’ll make bad decisions. You’ll have boyfriends who aren’t good for you and girlfriends who talk behind your back. You’ll miss opportunities to have fun or to learn something new. You may take the easy way out. You might not tell the whole truth. You might not do as well as you hoped. You might even fail. Well, if you want to know the truth, you will fail. You will not be perfect: you will get some poor grades; you will hurt peoples’ feelings; you will get speeding tickets and rejection letters; you will smoke; you will steal makeup from Woolworth’s; you will lose races; you’ll never be good in math; you will say cruel things to people you love; you will drink too much.
But, please, give yourself a break. Now… and five years from now and twenty years from now and fifty years from now and (god willing) eighty years from now.
Dad will bring home two big empty oil barrels from his scrap yard one day shortly after your 15th birthday to teach you how to parallel park. He’ll make you practice over and over again. He’ll start with the barrels spaced far apart and move them closer together as you start to get the hang of easing the car between them and close to the curb. He’ll spend most of the weekend working with you. You’ll get it just right, and then he’ll schlep the barrels back to the yard.
And then on another day you’ll teach your own kids how to parallel park. And then maybe you’ll even get to share the “Baker Secrets to Successful Parking” with your grandkids.
Life is full of circles like that. Embrace them.
Anyone who cares about you will tell you life has good parts and bad parts. I’m not certain, of course, but I hope that if you’re kind to yourself and those around you, you’ll have more lovely days than rotten ones. I do know a few things for sure: you’ll question yourself a lot and you’ll doubt yourself even more. You’ll think you don’t measure up. You’ll take criticism to heart and you’ll be tough on yourself. You’ll hate yourself sometimes and wish you were prettier or smarter or thinner or more articulate, artistic or accomplished.
When you get home from this portrait session, hang that cute little Peter Pan collared dress in your closet and put on some pedal pushers and your Cincinnati Red Legs t-shirt and go out in the backyard and toss the ball around with your big brothers (you will never be accused of throwing “like a girl”) and let your hair fall in your eyes and your toes sink into the grass and take a deep breath and look up at the big expanse of Kentucky sky and whisper a little “thank you” for the sweet life you have and the people you have in it. You’re cool, Glo.
[This is my response to my own assignment recently given to the breast cancer survivors I photographed for Shawnee Mission Medical Center. I asked the women to consider what they've learned from their experience and to share some words of wisdom with their younger selves. Thanks, Eddie, for taking my recent portrait.]