From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Reel Event

Remembered joys are never past; at once the fountain, stream, and sea, they were, they are, they yet shall be.

James Montgomery

“Do we have to watch that one again?” I pleaded as the rest of the room erupted in laughter. There I was at nine years old, dancing in front of the camera, with gangly arms and legs, straight bangs and a wide grin showing an embarrassing gap in the front of my mouth.

“Look at you, B.J.! Your two front teeth are missing!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said to the room filled with relatives. “You say that every time.”

Watching those old home films was like watching the Wizard of Oz before they added color. And there wasn’t any sound, either. Dad had the camera in his hand at every Christmas, birthday, picnic and family event. When it was turned on, everyone seemed to be possessed. They jerked around like marionettes on strings, pulling their lips wide with their fingers and grinning up close to the camera, or putting two fingers in the shape of a V behind their sister’s or brother’s head just to make Mom yell at them to stop. Nothing missed the eye of the camera, not even Uncle Frank walking out of the bathroom trailing toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

Later, when color film came out, we’d howl with laughter as we watched Dad in his plaid, polyester pants and thick, black-rimmed glasses. Mom was no slouch in the fashion department, either. Dad captured her perfect 1960s image in a teased, upswept hairdo with her version of plaid played out in shorts with matching blouses.

It took Dad a while to get everything set up the night of our big movie-showing event. He lugged out the heavy projector and placed it on a card table, then used books under the feet to prop it up just right. We walked around the room pulling the shades down and closing the drapes. Dad tested the square beam of light as it hit the living-room wall where just moments before a picture of the Grand Canyon hung. We gazed in amazement as he moved the card table forward then back, getting the image to just the right size and the focus as clear as he could make it.

These nights were as special as the movies we came to see. The ladies brought cold cuts, potato salad, pickles, olives, cut-up veggies and brownies for dessert. While Dad reloaded the projector between flicks, we could sneak into the kitchen to reload our plates. “Come on!” someone would shout from the living room. “It’s starting!” The cold-cut grazers would dash to the doorway as the characters flickered to life.

We shared laughter and tears while we watched reel after reel of film showing old pets, old houses and old friends. The threads of our lives were captured in each metal can with a white label on top. There was “Connie’s First Birthday,” “Joey’s Baptism,” the “Family Vacation to Disneyland.” But the one we all clamored to see was the one labeled “Station Demolition.” It was the razing of Dad’s old building on his corner lot to make way for a new building. He stood across the street and filmed the implosion. The first time we saw the building crumble down as it played out on the wall, we let loose with oohs and aahs. But then someone had the bright idea to play it backward. Throwing the projector into reverse, we all watched as the building rose from the pile of rubble to become whole again. Oh, it was great, and we all hollered, cheered and clapped. “Play it again, Daddy!” And he did, first forward with oohs and aahs, and then in reverse with cheering and clapping. Dad showed incredible patience, but finally ran out after the fifth or sixth time, so we watched the building collapse and it stayed that way.

It was the saddest part of movie night to hear the final reel play out with its flap, flap, flap as it spun until the projector was turned off. “That’s all, folks,” Dad would say as he shut it down for the night.

Each round, metal can held yards of memories and were treasured, as family mementos usually are. Kept in a cardboard box tucked in a corner of the basement next to the projector, we always knew right where they were for the next time movie night rolled around.

Then one day the pipes burst, and water flooded the basement. “Oh, Dad, all our movies are ruined. We’ll never see the station demolition again!” I cried.

“Don’t you worry, Sweetheart. We can replay that movie forward and backward right up here,” he said, tapping the side of his head, “right up here.”

It’s been many years since that day we lost all our old film, and many more years since Dad died, too. Even though we may lose something we treasure and love, even when we cannot touch it or feel it in our hands, it is still there—in our minds and in our hearts. Now that’s a REAL event.

B. J. Taylor

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