Perusing store shelves for photo frames the other day, two things struck me: One, the people pictured in those frames sure seem to have perfect lives; and two, the dang things sure are expensive!
I mean, call me cheap, but $8 or $10 for a very plain, plastic, cheaply made 8 by 10 picture frame seems a bit much.
On the first point, though, I suddenly feel as though my life must be a failure so far.
I know they're just examples of photos you could place in the frames for sale, but these depictions set the bar pretty high.
I saw a man and a boy paddling a canoe at sunset, smiling and apparently loving life and enjoying a father/son bond of perfection. I noted two girls with painted faces dressed up for some event and grinning like they just won the lottery.
I saw a couple in perfect clothing at some non-American destination smiling as if they had not a care in the world and have been traveling to faraway places for years with nothing but fun on their agenda.
Well. I'm doing something wrong. Or I'm just a critic.
First of all, neither "father" nor "son" had a life jacket on. Humph! Don't they know: "Safety first"? They could get spilled from that craft and drown!
And no part of the picture showed just how tippy a canoe can be, or how they often have spiders and spiderwebs after being stored a long time, or how the paint fades over time if not touched up. And they certainly weren't floating around the perfect lake pictured in a beaten-up aluminum canoe that most people I know would take out.
Who are these mysterious people?
Perhaps the girls are sisters, but the photo here, again, didn't show everything.
It didn't depict a sister hitting her sibling on the back (hard!) when she got mad at her -- I have three sisters, so if I don't mention names, I'm not being libelous here. Besides, I gave almost as good as I got, back when.
Surely the story behind this photo of pure joy doesn't include the classic, "Mom, she's looking at me!" complaint, or the spats over sharing a room, or snooping through each other's dresser drawers, or reading the other's diary, or tattling to the clearly superhuman parents who gave birth to this pair.
I saw no stress or even a ripple of mild disagreement in this perfect couple traveling abroad, in their neat, expensive clothing and the ideal setting somewhere in a great city like Paris or Rome. Nowhere was there a hint of lines or wrinkles in their faces brought on by struggling to pay bills or keeping up with the kids, which they must not have, or the perfect children would be perfectly dressed alongside the perfect couple in that perfect setting.
I mean, I guess I've been wrong all these years.
I always thought traveling might involve things like lost luggage, crowded public transportation, and sometimes iffy meals in rundown little cafes.
Now, based on photos like these, I'm assuming my lack of travel has caused me to miss quaint, culture-laden eateries just off the main thoroughfare in a historic European town where everyone smiles even though all the tourists can speak is English.
I guess there's none of this image I had in my mind of a hopelessly lost couple holding a map upside down on a busy street corner where they almost are run down by traffic amid the bustle of the city as they try to decide which way to go.
Apparently my life hasn't been picture perfect yet. Hm.
I mean, Dad and my sisters and I -- even Mom, once -- paddled on Lake Shelbyville in kayaks, but we wore life jackets and I never saw a sunset as perfect as the one depicted via this in-frame "example" photo.
My sisters and I share a great bond, but our Halloween or other dress-up consisted of things we had on hand -- certainly not face paint, back in the day -- such as an old sheet to make one of us a "ghost," or old clothes and charcoal from the fireplace -- rubbed on my cheeks -- to make me look like a "bum."
I certainly have never been part of a couple with perfect clothing exploring a foreign land -- or any land -- without so much as a smudge on my shirt. You're more likely to find me at an area lake with worm guts and dirt under my fingernails and the smell of fresh fish on my palms, but no bucket of big catches to show for it.
"Catch and release" -- it was always my dating policy, too.
Of course, I know the photos that come along with frames up for purchase in the store are put there give the customer a good feeling about life, imagine the stellar photos they'll put up for display, and get them to buy frames and head home, happily humming to themselves, ready to put their own pictures into the frames and hang them proudly on the wall.
The perfectly staged photos in my photo frames turned into one view of my fat, imperfect self on a motorcycle all geared up -- can't tell who I am under that helmet -- and ready for a ride. They show not-big-enough-to-brag-about results of a couple of fishing trips. They expose faces with some wrinkles, some age spots, ordinary eyeglasses worn out of necessity and not for fashion, and wind-blown hair, too.
But you know what? All those faces are smiling.
I don't expect I'll ever see the perfect sunrise or sunset. I'll be too sleepy eyed in the morning to appreciate it, or fighting mosquitoes in the evening, or viewing either one from the limits of town. Probably there'll be too many cloudy days, or day-to-day life will get in the way of me taking time to stop and just look at nature's beauty as long as I should.
My sisters and I get along great most of the time, but you won't find us in matching outfits leading the way at a dress-up contest. And no one will take our photo and put it forth as perfection in a for-sale picture frame.
You and I in our lifetimes won't ever be part of that perfectly dressed, perfectly coifed, perfectly perfect couple having a perfect time abroad in the most beautiful places on earth.
But you know what? I enjoy having that dirt under my fingernails for a couple of hours. I don't feel a need to be photographed on the back of the perfect motorcycle with my amazingly intact hair blowing a bit in the wind, looking like the tom boy version of Mary Poppins.
The day will come when I can't do even the ordinary things anymore. And the memories -- real ones, not perfect -- will be just plain old good stuff.
Now, by golly, I'm going to go home and put that pre-made frame collage of practically perfect scenes on my wall. Maybe it'll fool a few visitors.
Oh, I'm kidding. Perfect people kind of tick me off anyway.