When I was a kid, and I mean a teeny-tiny kid, my family was fairly well off. Upper middle class in the early 'Eighties. I'd place us somewhere in the upper lower class now. I have a roof over my head, but it's slowly falling apart (every time it rains, I get nervous because my ceiling has a bunch of soft spots which I have covered with duct tape). My electrical system is breaking down. I can't afford to repair the broken garage door. I can't even fix the plumbing. But back then times were different. Back then we could actually have those awesome Christmas parties like you see only in movies these days. We would not have looked out of place at Kevin McCallister's house.
One of our traditions was for my grandfather to break out the projector and play films of Christmases past, when it was just him, Grandma, my mom and my aunt. Some of these 8 mm films were shot in Arizona, where they all lived for a while, but quite a few were shot around Chicago and then in Elmhurst, at the home we inhabited at the time. It was a grand place. Two stories, an attic, a basement and a backyard big enough to play baseball in. It was weird seeing my mom as a kid and teenager. Parents never grew up. They were born fully grown, and they had full dominion over their kids. The very idea that my grandfather wanted to keep track of these memories was kind of odd, too. He only ever kept track of Christmas. Never any other moments. That was left up to Grandma and a Kodiak camera. Or sometimes a Polaroid. Back then she smoked Golden Lights. She had a leather pouch for her cigarettes and her lighter. She hasn't smoked in decades, which makes this fact even crazier.
Christmas belonged to Gramps, though. He relished recording every moment with his video camera. This tradition continued with my arrival on the scene, as well as my cousin's birth. When Gramps showed those on this roll-down screen, it always fascinated us. That's footage of us when we didn't even know who we were! There was a kind of magic to that.
After that, Gramps, wearing his rainbow colored shirt that said, over and over, WORLD'S GREATEST GRANDPA, would screen a few other short films. We had PUSS-N-BOOTS and a couple of Three Stooges shorts. It was great. I remember laughing at each reel as if it was the first time I'd ever seen it.
About a decade or so ago, I was scrounging around in the basement when I uncovered not just the old reels of film, but also the projector. The screen was nowhere to be found, unfortunately, but we had a white wall and plenty of space to watch. First the ones of my mom and aunt in their childhood, whether under the hot Arizona sun or in the frosty wasteland of Chicago. Then out to the suburbs. To them growing up. To me and my cousin as children. Building snowmen. Unwrapping presents. It was a window in time.
And then the projector melted down the film, rendering the machine unusable. It was nice to get that one last look into a past that will be forgotten when I'm no longer here. When my cousin is no longer here.
I spent Christmas today with the few remaining. My cousin lives off in Colorado now, so it was Gramps, Grandma, my aunt and another cousin. No one recorded anything. But I remember talking with my grandfather, and I have a sneaking suspicion this is his last Christmas. He can't walk anymore. He's confined to the living room, where he spends his time watching TV and doing not much else. He no longer shaves or cuts his hair. And he's been like that so long that he no longer knows the layout of his own home. He's forgotten quite a lot. He still knows my name, but he's uncertain about a lot of other stuff.
Maybe someday I can figure out a way to clean out that burnt film, maybe replace the bulb, if they make 'em anymore. Maybe just put the old reels on DVD, or something. In my youth I was convinced that I was going to die at the age of 40. That's an article for another day. I've recently decided that I hope I can squeeze out at least another decade. Maybe two. But no more than that. Getting old sucks. I've seen it first hand. My grandfather will be 90 in a few weeks. I don't ever want to reach that age.
But I keep thinking back to the time of those 8 mm reels, and I miss it. That was before I had any brothers, meaning that was before my mom met the creature who--eh, forget it. I've gone on about that before. Suffice it to say, the John Bruni in those films was someone who had yet to get the shit kicked out of him by the world, and everyone around him was young and alive and full of hope.
To quote a great series of books, "O, Discordia!"