When I was a baby my father purchased a Kodak Super 8 movie camera. This was a very big deal in our family but I guess to understand what a big deal it was you first have to understand a little about my father.
My dad was born in 1923, a child of the Great Depression. He grew up in a small row house in north Philadelphia sharing, not only a room, but a bed with three brothers. His father worked as a trucker, supporting a wife, six children and an ailing brother-in-law who lived in the attic. The sons in the family quit school around 15 and went to work as well. In his house they made things last, repaired stuff instead of replacing it, and never wasted anything. Luxuries were few and far between.
As a result of his upbringing my father grew into a man who was the epitome of frugal spending. My mother’s phrase was ‘he squeezed a penny so hard you could hear Lincoln scream!’. Choosing to buy something as frivolous and unnecessary as a movie camera was very out of character, especially since he also splurged on a portable movie screen to go with it! Maybe it was because by 1965 life was getting more comfortable. Dad was a member of the Teamsters union making a middle class income. He was living the American Dream with a wife, four children and a nice new ranch house in the suburbs. He still worried about money but maybe not as much. He also really loved gadgets-power tools, radios, engines and motors of all sorts so when Kodak came out with the new Super 8 cameras he probably saw them as the ultimate gadget!
This new gadget became a much used toy. My brother and sisters, born in the 50s had their early years recorded on photos. My childhood, for the most part, is on film. From the first 4th of July parade I attended in my carriage, to Easter morning, to Christmas Day, and each birthday along the way, my life was preserved in celluloid. Dad even created title boards at the beginning of each reel saying things like “Christmas 1969” with red and green felt letters.
Some of my favorite memories growing up were the nights I convinced my parents to haul out the movie projector and show the films. We would set up the screen at one end of the livingroom and the projector on the ottoman at the other end. Dad would thread the film and I would listen for the click, click, click of the end until the film caught on the empty reel and began to hum. Mom would switch out the lamp and I would sit on the floor underneath the light beam swirling with dust motes listening to my parents narrate the events on screen. I remember that there was always a distinct smell in the air on movie night. It’s hard to describe. I think it was a combination of the metal and vinyl screen and the heat from the projector bulb against the film. Whatever it was, years later, when my husband and I brought out the old films to show our child, that same smell was in the air and it instantly took me back to my childhood.
My brother Jim inherited the Super 8 movie camera after Dad passed away in 1994. The projector and all of the films are in my possession. Each 50 foot feel, was painstakingly spliced into 5 inch 200 foot reels, each film canister carefully labeled in my father’s neat handwriting – 4th of July 1965 (when I won first prize for my Miss Liberty costume); Philadelphia Zoo Summer 1966 (where the cow at the petting zoo ate the back of my dress); Nancy’s 4th Birthday December 1966 (when the poorly planned paper carousel on the cake caught fire!)- so many life experiences that predate my actual memory. I only “remember” them because I’ve seen them in film.
I would love to watch them all again and share them with my now grown children but the bulb in the projector burned out many years ago and a replacement has been difficult to find. Maybe this will be the year I have them transferred on to DVD. I know it is a better way to preserve the memories before the film becomes too brittle and faded but I keep hesitating. Popping in a disc and watching them on the TV just won’t be the same. I want to sit in the dark, listening to the clicking of the projector and watch my childhood unfold on a crisp white screen. To me, that’s how it’s suppose to be done although if my Dad were around he would probably really appreciate a machine that could change his old films into nice new DVDs. Talk about a really cool gadget! Maybe I need to keep up with the times? 😊