I beg, and they put me off for weeks but finally acquiesce.
Dad digs out the projector and the boxes of slides in one Kodak box after another. Mom has me climb the step stool to reach up into the crevasses of the highest kitchen storage cabinet to fetch the old green monster for making homemade malts.
She pops the popcorn on the stovetop into big metal bowls and we each receive a thick kitchen dish towel as a heavy-duty napkin. (No wonder, then, that I nearly swoon when my husband pops stovetop popcorn. I consider it some kind of hidden talent reminiscent of a secret society.)
Dad sets up the screen in the basement, with the last fading light of the Pacific Northwest sunset fading into the western sky as we draw the blinds and darken the room. The screen itself is a screeching green metal contraption, and the carousel slide projector tends to overheat.
Finally, we settle in to begin the show.
There are slides from Arkansas, Vietnam, Germany, South America. My grandparents and parents appear younger than I can fathom. Vivid, foreign places flash before me and I want to visit them all.
We switch from slides to the occasional and coveted reel-to-reel, and I love the whirring and the sound effects, the smell of the overheating components. I love the moments of silence and complaint when the reels come apart and have to be spliced back together, and the pockets of time when a dysfunctional slide appears in the line-up.
I stare at an overgrown train yard in Vietnam, at European fountains with my twenty-something mom in matching heels and handbags posing hopeful in the middle of the 1960s, at the
apartment from their earliest married days in Germany where I envision the fate of a storied cake that went over the balcony rail. I listen to the silence as my parents pause momentarily at the switch to stare at each slide, grasping: identifying the meal on the table or the company they were in or the pet at their feet so that they can jointly piece together enough of the past to tell me a brief story of that captured moment.
I soak it all in.
Do we know? Do I even grasp now, decades later, as a parent myself how much these tiny, everyday details matter? It seems as we age that every scrap, every moment of our past, every faded photo, every memory of our parents’ early years together and our own childhoods become like liquid gold.
We seem to want to patch together the past to help form our future path. What else is there, though, but to grip firmly what we know while we set one quaking foot down in front of the other to move forward, ever slowly?