I was watching an old segment of “Mad Men” today, and it included an ad campaign for Kodak Carousels.
Remember those wheels of slides? They were a staple at our house. Make some popcorn, line up on the living room floor with the cousins on a summer night, and let the show begin.
Actually, we were a shy bunch, so we were never willing participants for Dad’s Brownie camera. But that didn’t stop him. Every occasion began with a grumpy line-up of kids. Even if it meant we were late for midnight Mass or a graduation or a First Communion. The carousels also contained a record of all our family trips: the Rocky Mountains, New York, the Black Hills, Minnesota’s North Shore and overcrowded cabins on Lake Okoboji.
On my last visit home, I sorted through two dozen of Dad’s carousels, now stacked in the basement where the film images were being eaten away by mold. I pulled out my favorites and promised to get them scanned and returned. Six months later, the project is half-done.
Why? Because the magic of the carousels is gone. It’s back there on the living room floor surrounded by squirmy kids laughing at the goofy expressions and making shadow animals on-screen every time a slide got stuck in the projector. It hung in the silence as Dad swore steadily under his breath when he realized that every slide was upside down — again.
It echoed in moments when one image of a perfectly shaped hill rising above the flat South Dakota landscape always meant suppressed giggles, until my uncle would ask, “What’s the name of that hill again?” And my Dad would answer, on cue: “Squaw Tit.” And then we would break out in guffaws. And even my Mom would laugh, after first saying, “Oh, Jerryyyy!”
Nostalgic? For sure. That’s why those bits of color pressed between cardboard were about the only thing I wanted to preserve in that mildewy basement. But even now, I realize it’s not the carousels, but those summer nights I wanted back. And those pictures reside only in my memory.
P.S. That “Mad Men” episode is amazing, by the way. Here’s Draper’s pitch for the Kodak Carousel, which he has filled with slides of his “perfect” family life. (After the presentation, he returns home to an empty house.)
“This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”