They tell the tale of our first few Christmases with children, capturing perfectly the naivety of young parents and the inevitable conclusion when heightened expectations of the holidays meet reality.
The photos were taken with Santa Claus at Phipps Plaza in Buckhead. In the first picture, Thornton, who is now 12, is dressed in a nice holiday sweater and cords and is barely 1 year old.
There is the round, elderly gentleman with the white beard, bright red vest and red pants, a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, looking straight into the camera. He is attempting to hold up a bow-backed, screaming child who is desperately looking at his mother as if to ask, “Why are you giving me to this odd man? Do you even know him?”
My wife Lori and I, flustered and apologetic, considered going through the line a second time to get a better picture but time was against us.
The next year it was again just the three of us, and we again took young Thornton to see Santa at Phipps. This time we did some coaching and he seemed to be up for it, right up until the moment we placed him on Santa’s knee.
Same result, only with slightly more hair, a different outfit and a wee bit bigger. Santa — the same Santa — has the exact same look while poor Thornton’s mouth is wide open and tears are streaming down his face.
When Virginia, now 9, came into being, and Thornton was just starting to comprehend how Christmas worked we returned to same mall to see the same Santa. Little Virginia, not yet 1, wore a plaid dress and a bow in her hair, and little Thornton had his long list of things he wanted. But as we approached the incredibly patient Santa, Thornton took off like a shot.
It was the last thing his mother and I expected. The line was long and we didn’t have time to chase a 3-year-old through the mall. It was then Virginia decided she wanted nothing to do with this, most likely sensing the rising stress of her parents.
With a shrug we handed Santa the screaming child. With the same glint in his eyes, same smile, head tilted just so, he held a screaming Virginia. I had to chase down the AWOL child, who was doing his level best to escape the mall.
Of all of the things that come out of the attic each Christmastime, those first three photos are my favorites, especially the one without Thornton in it. It elicits a little smile to think of him running full speed through Phipps to get away from Santa Claus, of all people.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at email@example.com.