Three generations of Benhams pose for the annual Christmas card. Back row left to right: Katie Oliver, Hunter Oliver, Herbie Benham, Sam Benham, Thomas Benham. Front row left to right: Sue Benham, Herb Benham, Andrew Oliver, Lauren Benham, Nora Benham and Alisha Didio

Last week, we took the photo for the family Christmas card. Although it sounds simple, given the digital pool of pictures from which to choose, a good family photo may be more difficult to produce than getting into vet school.

Most people settle for, “It’s not that bad,” rather than “good.” They accept “at least everybody has their eyes open.” They make peace with “no one looks too mad.”

Every so often, you either get lucky and take a winning Christmas photo, or receive one where the picture is almost perfect. The perfect picture people are a higher breed of humanity. They are better people. Their families are nicer, their children rarely misbehave and they are photogenic to boot.

A great family photo may also have been preceded by a period of distress. An hour of shouting, tears and the shaking of raised fists by people who, although are generally better than you, may not be right then.

The ideal soil for the perfect family photo may be a family close to breaking up and who is never speaking to one another again. At the moment of total meltdown, the sun can break through and form halos around everybody’s soon-to-be-immortalized heads.

People were in good spirits this year, which may have been one of the reasons that taking a good photo proved challenging. The kids have grown up, were amenable to the 4 p.m. Wednesday start time and pretended as if there was no place they would rather have been than in the backyard standing under a Japanese maple knocking their heads against the two red empty glass bird feeders hanging behind them.

“Richard is going to come over and take the picture,” Sue said, mentioning a family friend.

The photographer is important. He has to have graduated from sixth grade, know how to push a button, sooth fraying nerves should the session take longer than advertised and be able to engage in lightweight banter should one or more people struggle with looking as if they are amused.

“Richard, hold on,” Sam said. “I have to relax for a minute before I fake smile.”

Nothing wrong with a fake smile. A fake smile says, “I’m trying my best but it’s not easy because I’d rather be inside watching the Cowboys game.”

The kids were willing, but the grandkids were a mess. Two and a half, 16 months and 4 months. They were new to the family photo ritual and probably hoped it wouldn’t last.

We changed cameras. Used Katie’s. Sometimes when you change cameras people’s moods improve. Sometimes they don’t.

Richard snapped a bunch of pictures. He kept the banter lively. He did everything a backyard photographer could other than serve drinks and hang a pinata.

Two days later, through the miracle of Shutterfly, we looked at the Christmas card on the computer. I looked at myself first hoping that we could limit the collateral damage by shifting attention elsewhere. I looked like I had the fadeaways and as if I would be the next addition to the endangered species list.

Sue looked 10 years younger, the kids were robust and the grandkids were lodging their first protest. It was perfect, or as perfect as we can manage without being better than we are.


My favorite concert of the year and one of the best things about living in Bakersfield if you like music.

The Master Chorale Christmas Concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at St John’'s Lutheran Church, 4500 Buena Vista Road. 

This is the 85th year. The 80-voice chorale, under the direction of Dr. Robert Provencio, sings Christmas music from around the world as well as our favorite carols.

Advance tickets are $15, $20 at the door and $10 for students. They are online at bakersfieldmasterchorale.org or available at California Keyboards, 2408 Brundage Lane. For information, call 831-1735.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 395-7279.

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