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The photo story  uncovered — at last

Sometimes stories have to sit around a while before they can be told, and this is one of those stories.

It all began the day a friend of mine — we’ll call her “Polly” — pulled me into her office and exclaimed, “Have I got a story for you!!” But then she added, “You can’t write it yet!” As you can imagine, it hasn’t been easy keeping my lips and computer clamped shut all these years but finally she has given me the green light. Now I can tell you the story of the photo.

One day, Polly was in the local stationery store looking for an anniversary card when suddenly a certain photograph on one of the cards jumped right off the page at her. The picture? The rear view of an older couple, holding hands and strolling down a beach toward the sea. What’s so earthshaking about that, you might ask? Well plenty, if you recognized the couple, they were your parents, and oh yes, they were stark naked.

She just knew instantly that the tall lanky man and the small woman who had that odd habit of turning her shoulder a certain way, were her parents. Then for added proof, when she turned the card over she saw that the photo was taken on the same nude beach in New Jersey that her parents sometimes frequented.

Now these people were not lifelong nudists — far from it. Let’s just say that they dabbled in nudism. It was only after retiring and looking for new interests, that her father suggested they try out this new and out-of-character pastime. Her mother, skeptical at first, went along with it and the rest is history.

Polly, who happened to be a Woman of the Cloth, took a quick look around to see whether any of her parishioners happened to be in the store. Upon seeing none, she scooped up every single card bearing that photo, paid the bill, and flew out the door.

Being a born researcher, she fired up her computer the minute she got home, determined to learn something about this photo and the person who snapped it. It turned out that the photographer had a rather large and lucrative business. His photos were everywhere. Not only that, but she discovered that this image of her parents walking down a beach naked as jay birds was not only on greeting cards, but on the covers of — and inside — several books.

And it got worse. Would you believe refrigerator magnets and key chains? All across America and beyond, people could now get a gander at this au natural couple every time they opened the fridge for a cool one or turned the key in the ignition to start up the family car. Oh yes, there are coffee mugs too, in case you wanted to begin your day at the breakfast table with Polly’s parents.

One day not long after the photo came to light, Polly received a phone call from a relative. “I am in Bloomingdale’s in New York and looking through a volume of this year’s prize winning photos. Guess who is in one of them,” she exclaimed, “and guess how much the photographer was awarded for it? $20,000!”

By now, Polly’s usually unbounded sense of humor was stretched to the limit. She knew it was legal to photograph people without their consent as long as their faces were not shown, but making money on these unsuspecting people seemed unethical to her. Especially when those unsuspecting people were her parents.

Over the years, Polly would laugh heartily whenever we reminisced about the photo story. The delay in publishing it, of course, was in deference to her parents, who were devoted to each other to the end — still holding hands until the day her father died. I was able to meet her mother not long before she passed away. She was a tiny, smiling, sweet woman who, though completely deaf and barely able to speak, had a definite lively sparkle in her eye. Such a sparkle in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me that if she had gotten a look at that photo, she’d have smiled.

And now for the end of the story. When it came time for Polly and her sister to honor their parents’ final wishes — scattering their co-mingled ashes in the Atlantic — they met on the Jersey Shore one day, boarded a boat and set out to complete the solemn task. The captain, not new to this routine, knew just where to cut the motor.

“This is about where folks usually seem to scatter ashes,” he said. Then, gesturing toward the distant shore, he added, “I hope you don’t mind, but we are actually directly across from a nude beach.” The two sisters looked at each other, then replied, “No, we don’t mind. In fact, we don’t mind at all.” And they smiled.

Joann Snow Duncanson, former Peterborough resident now living in Greenland, is the author of “Who Gets the Yellow Bananas?,” co-author of “Breakfast in the Bathtub” and author of her latest book, “Eight Crayons - Poems and Stories by an Almost Sane Woman.” Reach her at www.jsnowduncanson. com or email ourbooks@ worldpath.net.

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