I loved the darkroom, the tang of those fierce chemicals in that small, closed up space, the glowing red timer. There was a feeling of alchemy in watching my father lift the wet prints with long wooden tongs, seeing faces swim into view. He printed 8 x 10s and 5 x 7s, clipped them to a wire to drip dry.
One year he took Santa pictures at the strip shopping center near our house. Outside of Grant's an iritable, ugly Santa sat in a outhouse-sized building, taking shivering children into his unwelcoming lap. My father, frozen, no doubt, snapped away for hours that December, weeknights and all day Saturday. Not one print caught that reluctant Santa with the hint of smile. Mostly he looked like he wanted a drink. The children were mainly oblivious, but some, you could tell, felt the chill of that creepy Santa. It was there, in those silvery prints, a uneasiness that hovered about their eyes.
Years later my younger sister would confide that the Santa at Grant's had slipped his fat, cold fingers into her panties. She was five.