My perennial snow day project is combing through the five boxes of Kodachrome slides my father took between 1953 and 1970. I’ve been working on the slides for about ten years, and I’ve decided to have all of them professionally cleaned, scanned and organized.
My method of using a small slide scanner that copies them one at a time hasn’t really worked. The same thing happens every time; I’ll start on the project and become overwhelmed. Left in the wake of doing this multiple times are files on three computers, two external hard drives, and random CDs.
The reason I’m so distracted is that looking at each slide is like traveling in a time machine back to a particular date. Exposed correctly and without a finger in front of the lens, the Kodachrome 35 mm. slide is a thing of beauty. Like the Technicolor movies of the 1950s, Kodachrome film could capture colors like newly-mixed oil paint off a master’s palette.
One slide I viewed yesterday – estimated time is 1954 – shows my grandparents at their farmhouse with my 22-year-old mother sitting between them. They all look bored but are accommodating the photographer, most likely my father. My grandfather is reading “Better Homes and Garden,” which I find very funny because it is completely the opposite of what I think he would read. I expected, “Drover’s Journal” or “Indiana Prairie Farmer.”
My mother – who is dressed in a stylish, dark-brown fitted suit—looks exasperated and her body language affirms her disgust. My grandmother is wearing an apron and has the “Cat that chewed the canary” look on her face. The sofa is covered with the ugliest patterned throw I’ve ever seen in my life, and I remember it was still there a decade later.
What was going on in that house that day?
Another slide is undated but I know the date. It is the day of my Holy Baptism, August 25, 1957, and I’m the star of the show. My grandmothers sit on either side of me on a couch at the farm; the ugly throw has been removed, perhaps for the sake of the picture? My aunt who is my godmother along with my maternal grandmother is behind me, sitting next to my 25-year-old mother. Two interesting things about this picture; the table and chairs ready for lunch behind the women are in my living room. We used them for Thanksgiving dinner last week. Second, all of the women are dressed in dresses that could be popular today. My grandmothers both wear sleeveless dresses. This slide is faded to a pinkish hue.
Finally, an undated slide shows my brother and me in the backyard of our new house. There’s no row of pine trees; they have yet to be planted. I’m guessing this is spring 1967. My brother looks like a junior MadMan and I’m wearing a nice red dress with a lace collar. What strikes me about this picture – and others – is how well we dressed. I know it was another era, but we never look like the Dickensian urchins of today. I’m ten years old. What could possibly be in that giant purse?
The flowers are lovely, but I don’t remember a fence along the back of our yard. We moved into that house on Teacher’s Institute 1966. My brother and I were not allowed there when the moving van came – we were shipped to the farm with my grandparents away from the action.
Moving into a spanking new house was the most exciting thing in our young lives. Though it was a small, ubiquitous Indiana ranch house — we thought it was the Taj Mahal with not one, but two bathrooms! Our first Christmas in the house my grandparents bought us an RCA console color television, and we thought we were rich.
The slides also dispel some myths I’ve had about my own life – that my brother and I didn’t get along, that I was an ugly child, and that I was somehow less than others. While every family has its issues – and we had ours – the slides dispel those myths in rich Kodachrome.