Family photos. We all want them, of course. To document, to remember, to recall the great times, the special times, smiling faces, pretty places.

As I looked once again at our Christmas cards, I felt a touch of envy for those who were able to gather their families together and take group pictures, each one special and meaningful.

There was a Christmas many years ago when we decided we’d do a family photo, professionally staged and documented.

The children were at a particularly fetching age, all three of them somewhere between 12 and 15 years old, malleable, smiling, cute – in other words, photographable.

The photographer arrived around 10 a.m. The boys looked adorable in their blue blazers, button-down shirts, striped ties, khaki pants and top-siders.

The family gathered ’round the roaring fire. We thought we looked quite grand.

But not a single child had socks on.

The photographer wanted socks. So did the parents.

Fights ensued. It got ugly.

We dismissed the photographer and suggested he come back in two hours and all would be well.

During that two-hour period, Bloody Marys were poured. Generously.

Remember, this was all about the photograph, the document, and the occasion. Any port – or in this case, vodka – in the storm.

The photographer returned. Still no socks. Entire family in various stages of disarray. Happy, yes, but definitely not photographable.

Pictures were taken but never purchased.

That was decades ago.

The last family photo was on the beach, just a few years back. It was a beautiful night. Everybody wore what they wanted to wear. We walked barefoot on the beach holding hands. No one needed to tell us to smile. We couldn’t help but smile.

Who wouldn’t be happy, walking the beach at sunset with the ones we loved best, a breeze blowing, a little wine in a few, if not all, tummies.

Sure, we failed Documentation 101, but we finally got one great family picture.

Sallie Collins enjoys living on the banks of the May River and writes about it in her blog,, from which this article is taken.