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China adoption diary: School picture day, nostalgia, and a paper clip barrette

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Courtesy of the Belsie family

(Read caption) Adventurous fashionista Madeleine plays with a blonde wig – an item we can only assume she was not allowed to bring to School Picture Day.

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During the month of October, our home calendar was marked in red with a special notation: School Picture Day. This semiannual rite dredged up clear memories of my own elementary school days and the importance attached to those humble photos.

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For years, our school system used only one photographer: an independent agent named Harry MacWilliams. He was a Carl Reiner type with a booming voice, a loud plaid sport coat and a 15-cent pocket-comb that he passed down the line of children waiting their turn in front of the camera. In those days, no one gave a thought to skin allergies or head lice. About as far as we got was a mention of cooties followed by hushed snickering.

The all-class photo featured “thumbnails” of deer-in-the-headlights faces that were sometimes accented with mashed or horned hairdos. If a classmate happened to miss the picture day, a small caricature filled his thumbnail space with the corny caption “Gone Fishin'." 

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