Blame Canada

Identity Crisis

I’m having an identity crisis and it’s the government of Canada’s fault.

Why? I had my passport photo taken yesterday and they gave me someone else’s. The lady in that photo looks like a dour sourpuss, someone you’d leave off your party invitation list for fear she’d bring the mood down. The face belongs to a pessimistic, glass-half-empty, stick-up-your-a@@ woman – certainly not light and lively me.

Harrumph. I just don’t understand. The photographer pointed the camera at me, clicked, and afterwards gave me that photo. How could this have happened?

That woman is me

Thinking back … I remember sitting down, ready for the photographer to snap the photo. I asked if I could smile and she looked at me, with pity in her eyes, and said, “Sorry, no teeth.” When I asked why, she said the government doesn’t think we look like ourselves when we smile.

Hogwash. I look like me when I smile. My smile is part of me. The lady in the passport photo stole my smile!

As I stare at the image in the photo I see the problem. It’s her lips. They’re thin and they curve downward at the edges. That seems to be the root cause.

Oh dear … I thought. That woman is me. Maybe I do look that serious. Maybe the person I think I am is not the one the world sees. My, oh my, oh my …. O Canada, it’s all your fault!

Or maybe it’s mine. Perhaps it all goes back to the year I turned 10.

A difficult year

I was 10 in 1967, Canada’s Centennial year. It was a celebratory year. That year when everyone in Grade 5 got a New Testament from The Gideons, it had a gold cover. Many of us embarked on Centennial projects to commemorate the year. And there was Expo 67 in Montreal. But shadowing the memory of Canada’s 100th birthday celebration was the fact that my parents divorced.

Back in the ‘60’s, divorce was uncommon. In addition to the trauma of losing my father as a daily presence in my life, there was the shame of being a child of divorce. I was a sensitive kid and it was an unhappy time.

On the last day of Grade 4 I got my report card. My eyes darted to the bottom of the page where the name of Grade 5 teacher was. Oh no! It read “Mr. Tully”. I can’t remember where I got the information from, but somehow I got the idea that having Mr. Tully for a teacher would be a fate worse than death. I was crying as I lined up outside his room to meet him. Someone asked if I was crying because I failed. No, I said, I was crying because of Mr. Tully.

Stupid Vow

Mr. Tully wasn’t a bad man. He was a good teacher. One thing I remember him doing was reading a chapter from a novel each day after lunch. As he was about to finish for the day he would take his lovely green wooden duck bookmark and slip It on the page.

Yet I was convinced that Grade 5 would be an awful year, so I did what any reasonable 10-year-old would do: I made a vow not to smile for an entire year.

After a while Mr. Tully cottoned on to the fact I never smiled: not at his jokes, not at funny things my classmates did, not at anything. He started to make it his mission to make me smile. But I didn’t crack. I remained stoic. Ne’er did a smile cross my face that year.

The good news is: I kept my vow. The bad news is: it was a stupid vow.

It was stupid because I missed out on healing laughter during a tough year.

And the joke was on me if not smiling for 365 days was what caused the downward curve of my mouth. Talk about “biting off your nose to spite your face”; in my case I “bit” off my smile.

Ah well … what’s a gal to do? Apart from plastic surgery, which isn’t in the budget, I’ll have to live with it, and every time I think of my passport photo, spite it by smiling.

And five years hence, when I have to get a new passport photo, I suppose I could try “The Joker’s” fancy lipstick look, without the teeth of course.

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