Family Portraits Are an Art
By Jeff Newberry
We dressed in Sunday best: my mother in a polka-dot dress, my father in a jacket and tie, my brother and me in little-boy sweaters. The church directory meant a family photograph, the only one I remember. For a brief moment my father was sober, his mind now addicted to the fundamentalist interpretation of scripture. He said It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to go to heaven and Money is the root of all evil. In the church’s Fellowship Hall (a large auditorium for post-service dinners), we posed in front of a gray-blue backdrop and smiled as though my mother hadn’t hidden bruises with makeup, as though the frown on my brother’s face was mere shyness. The photographer cajoled me to smile, called me handsome young man and asked What do you want to be when you grow up? At 11, I wanted one thing. Money, I said. No worries about rent. No creditors calling. No pretending we weren’t home when someone rapped the door. My father beat me later for showing my ass at church. I thought he didn’t like my joke, tasteless in the House of God. By the kitchen phone, the envelopes were stacked, their edges sharp and smudged. In the portrait, you can’t see my father’s job or his wallet. You can’t see the rented home. You can’t see the loan officers. In this frame, we are just an American family.
Jeff Newberry tells stories in poetry and prose and teaches others to do the same as a core faculty member of the Writing and Communication Program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. In 2018, WordTech Editions will publish his newest book, Cross Country, a collaboration with the poet Justin Evans. Find him online at jeffnewberry.com.