Friday, September 29, 2006

Frozen in time

My sister surprised me with the best birthday present ever: She took her free time (of which she has nearly none) and scanned some old family slides, which she then e-mailed to me!

Our dad was known for his love of documentation. He wanted to record everything from family events to church events to everything in between. For instance, he delighted in being able to pull a notebook out of his file cabinet that had documented every light, gas, and water bill they had had for decades. Want to know what they paid for that washing machine? It's there. Want to know what the hospital bill was for Mom's appendectomy shortly after they got married? It's there, too.

As a choir director, he didn't want to repeat hymns too often, as he wanted lots of variety, so in his personal hymnal, he would jot down the date each hymn had been used. In another book, he recorded the choir's anthems and the dates they were performed. Oh yes, if you needed to know some family or church information, no matter how trivial, our dad was the one to go to.

His most important documentation legacy, though, was not trivial at all. He wanted to document our growing up, mostly with reel-to-reel tapes, slides, and home movies. Years ago, we had the home movies transferred to VHS, which, of course, still needs to be transferred again to digital media. My sister has from time to time transferred some reel-to-reel tapes over to cassettes (which, again, needs to be transferred into digital at some point). Thanks to scanners, we are scanning old photographs to digital, and now we are finally getting around to the slides. A digitalized version of these slides is my wonderful birthday gift.

There we are, two sisters, frozen in time. Professional photographs are truly cherished, but these candid photos taken in our home in Memphis tell so much more. The picture above was taken in what was supposed to be a "den," but was our bedroom, because our elderly paternal grandmother was living in the extra bedroom of our small house. (Joy and I always shared a bedroom until one of us left home.) The window behind us looked out into the front yard, and on hot summer evenings, our parents would turn on the attic fan and we'd open that window and get the refreshing breeze that the fan extracted from the outside.

Joy and I are a year and 9 months apart, so we have always been close. It is a pleasure to look at our two faces, a snapshot of happy childhoods, close family ties, and those 2-piece pajamas that snapped together.

I remember that once before Dad died in 1980, I asked him about the new-fangled "talking home movies" that were coming into the technological realm. "Oh," he smiled, "that's great, but I'll leave those for y'all." I can also remember how early on, Dad tried to teach us how to "pan" the movie camera slowly, to avoid the hurried, dizzying feature that was one of the trademarks of the amateur home movie enthusiast.

When a new reel had been developed, you'd think we were in a big Hollywood production company reviewing the daily footage. We wouldn't bother to put up the big screen for those; Dad would just set the camera on the dining room table and projected the movie onto the wall. It wouldn't be long before we'd see Dad sitting at the same table one evening, using his splicer to edit the new movies and attach them to the appropriate large reel.

As fun as the movies were, we got used to them. We knew every scene, but they never got boring. It was endless fascination as we watched ourselves grow, commenting on the stupid-looking clothes, or our excited expressions.

The slides, though, were seldom seen, because it was such a long process to get the slide projector set up along with the big screen. So that's what makes this birthday gift even more precious.

Thanks, Dad, for the memories. Thanks, Joy, for sending them to me.


Tif said...

I love you!

Cuidado said...

My niece recently sent me a whole lot of scanned photos of my brother and I who had passed away when he was 21. He would have been 50 in August and I had been talking about him a lot. The photos were a real surprise and so precious to me. I truly know where you're coming from in this post.

okmt said...

Carol, my sister recently completed scanning over 20 years' worth of family slides (literally thousands!) onto CDs--I know what a treasure that gift is! -- okmt