I sit here this morning listening to the cold wind blowing through the corridor to my office. It’s as if the wind is calling me back, back to a time in my childhood. It was a time of Christmas joy, a time of innocence, when I didn’t care about what was happening in the world, paying bills, meeting a hectic schedule and the like. It was Christmas, a time for me to wish and wonder what amazing things would be waiting for me behind the colorful wrapping paper. When I think about the Christmas of 1972 it immediately brings forth warm sensations and joyful memories. This was the year that I was the recipient of the best gift this eleven-year-old boy could ever hope for.
It seems like ever since I let out that holler in response to the doctor’s slap on my bottom, I have been interested in all things movie, although friends would say I was more than just interested in film. My mother never understood it, my father couldn’t figure out where the obsession came from, in fact I couldn’t quite tell you from where the seed took root. It seemed always there, undeniably a big part of whom I was and it still figures into a part of my personality.
I was so eager on that Christmas morning, a typically snowy, wind whistling morning in the small city of Hobart, Indiana. Inside, I was fixated on the packages under the tree. It seemed to take forever but then the time came. All the effort mom had spent beautifully wrapping the gifts must have seemed wasted as my brother and I tore through the assorted gifts. Socks, underwear, shirts and sweaters got a quick glance and tossed to the side. UNTIL I saw it! There, to the left of the tree, a box that charged my imagination! Suddenly all other gifts fell to the background while this homage to all things cinema glided to the forefront of my minds lens. I opened the box carefully yet expediently as I removed it from the Styrofoam encasing. I felt like the archaeologist in “The Mummy” unearthing Boris Karloff! I sat in shock, but not so much that I couldn’t tear through the smaller packages. After seeing my enviable gift, I knew exactly what the smaller packages contained. I sat for a moment, breathless, staring at my brand-new GAF 8mm/Super 8 motion picture projector with four prize films. I will never forget the titles, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. They were only eight-minute highlight reels, but they were films and they were mine! Unless you were a young film buff back then you might never understand the excitement of this gift; owning films was rare. In fact, it took me into adulthood to understand the real significance of this gift.
From that day something happened in the relationship between my father and me. I’m sure it had been developing before, but this event was a high water mark between the two of us. I opened a little theater in our garage and charged a small fee to unreel these delights for the neighborhood kids. I used that money, coupled with money received from birthdays and other such recognitions to invest in more films. My dad was often right there watching the movies with us. My brother and I would often stay up late to watch WGN’s Creature Features with my father who always supplied a monstrous bowl of popcorn or goodies. This addiction grew when I purchased a Super 8mm movie camera. It opened all new possibilities to my young, cinematic mind. Dad was always a willing participant to play an alien, murder victim or professor in our latest blockbuster. It was great fun and a wonderful time to connect.
As I sit here in my melancholy, reminiscing these wonderful times, which I do every Christmas season; a warm glow overcomes me. No, it’s not the projector or the camera. It’s not the fun and creativity of working with film. It’s not the nostalgia, although all of these elements do play a part. The memories that are rekindled stem from a much deeper source. The thing that makes all of this so special was the fact that my father, imperfect in many ways, as we all are, invested in me. He invested in my interests; he participated with me. He shared in what interested me. He did not simply push me into what he thought I should be interested in or what interested him. My dad allowed me to be me. He’s been gone for some time now, but still I will always remember that year being one of my most memorable Christmas’s ever and dad I thank you for that!
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