The story of this photo is the best thing you'll read today.
When our twin daughters were born, Karen and I joined a “Mothers of Multiples” club. Fathers were welcome, too, but that would have ruined the acronym. I won’t rat out my daughters’ ages by saying how long ago, but they’re full-grown adults now.
Parenting more than one kid at a time is hard, we were young and dumb, and the club was a great source of support, commiseration, and what today would be called “life hacks.” Once in a while we’d all get together for a picnic. When Laura and Robin were about 18 months old, a reporter and photographer from our local newspaper, the Press Democrat (PD), joined the party to do a feature story.
No big deal. The club included a family of quadruplets, and we figured the article would focus on them. So we were surprised to wake up the next morning and see a photo of us squatting while our kid defiantly pours a cup of water onto the ground taking up half the front page above the fold. We enjoyed being celebrities for a day and bought a print from the PD, which we hung happily in our family room until it burned down on October 9.
After the fire, my daughter Robin tried to find the photo for us. As an archaeologist, she has access to a nationwide database of old newspapers and found the right date, but of course the quality of the digital copy was far too poor to reproduce. She emailed the PD but didn’t hear back. Roadblock.
Meanwhile, I wrote and drew “A Fire Story,” which the PD published in a beautiful two-page spread. So when Robin told me what she’d done and where she’d gotten stuck, and asked if I knew anyone at the PD, I sent Features Editor Corinne Asturias an email with the subject line “A Favor.”
Corinne replied that she had very little hope a photo that old had survived. Not only had the paper changed hands in the interim, resulting in a thorough housecleaning, but the entire field of photography had transitioned from film to digital. But she said she’d try.
The staff photographers told her there was no chance. As a last resort, Corinne sent administrative aide (I read that as “copyboy”) Dominique down to the archives. And in an envelope in a folder in a file cabinet in a dungeon entombed in leaded type and pulp-paper dust, she found a strip of negatives shot that day at the picnic.
Corinne called it “an overdue karma payback.” We agreed that some archivist back in the day must have taken one look and decided it was just too adorable to throw away. I think the universe decided it owed us one.
However, our happy story has an ironic twist ending.
The photo above is NOT the correct one! It was shot moments before the one published in the paper. It’s almost the same, but not quite. The negative for the published picture is, at this date, still missing. I think I know what happened to it.
My theory is that our negative wasn’t in the envelope with the other negatives from that shoot for one reason: because all those years ago, we bought a print of it. The photographer took the negative out of that envelope to make our copy and didn’t put it back. We were characters in a decades-long O. Henry tale and never knew it.
If so, that’s almost a better story than finding the right negative would have been.