The other day I was idling at a traffic light beside Walgreens. A sign staked in the berm said, One Hour Photo Processing. Could I really get film processed in a local drugstore? It wasn’t true. The store used the back of that old sign to advertise Cokes on sale.
This year we lost Kodak. Not just the cameras and film, but the idea of Kodak. Kodak has been compared to Gillette, a company famous for making cheap razors requiring pricey blades. Yes, Kodak made cameras that needed Kodak film. But those cameras were artfully designed devices that let anyone become a photographer.
The Kodak Brownie, named after the characters of Palmer Cox’s illustrations, was a wonderful camera. My sister took the only childhood snapshot of me at home with her Brownie Target. Although cameras were relatively inexpensive, our family couldn’t afford one for years, and when we did get a camera, it was a big deal to shoot a whole roll of film and then have it developed.
We didn’t take pictures back then like we do now. Nobody took a photo of their plate! We brought the camera out on special occasions–holidays, birthdays. In an episode of Mad Men, when Peggy Olson’s mother says, “Go get the Brownie,” she didn’t mean fetch dessert, but that it was time to record the priest’s visit to their home.
We didn’t have loads of photographs, either. My mother’s album was four flip files that fit into a box. Every time we went home, we would flick through pictures we knew by heart but wanted to see again–awkward poses, poor lighting, barely framed subject, looming photographer’s shadows, and all.
When Kodak filed for Chapter 11 in January of this year, the writing was on the wall. It didn’t seem to matter that this company had defined a century. Now we have digital cameras (and phones!) that can do everything but our taxes.
I too was eager to jump on the digital camera bandwagon. I take pictures of plates and other insignificant things simply because I can. However, I do unload my photos from the camera. While I share pictures via this blog and email, I also print them out. The computer screen is no substitute for an artifact I can hold in my hand.
I’ll miss Kodak for enabling me to freeze special moments in my life, like my high school graduation, our wedding supper. I’ll miss the bright yellow film boxes. I’ll miss the ads. The commercial I remember most featured a baby girl at a door. As Paul Arnold sings “Turn Around,” we see the girl grow up in a series of snapshots.
If you want to view that wonderful commercial, here’s the link. Because I (still) can’t embed a video, the link will break from this post. So watch it and come back to the blog, or read the rest of my post and play the commercial. You will love this leisurely look back.
Where are you going, my little one, little one? Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you’re two . . .
Turn around and you’re four . . .
Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door.
Where are you going my little one, little one? Little dirdls and petticoats, where have you gone?
Turn around and you’re tiny, turn around and you’re grown.
Turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own.
Thanks, Kodak, for the memories. I will tend them like rare orchids.
I could blame it on magazines, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Nobody made me buy all those “shelter” magazines over the decades, and nobody told me to try to style our house–and our lives–like a magazine spread. Yet I kept files of clippings, whole rooms I craved to recreate, believing my life would be perfect if I painted our powder room Benjamin Moore’s Man in the Moon (Mary Engelbreit), or bought Broyhill’s Attic Heirlooms furniture (Better Homes and Garden).
The Christmas issues laid on the most pressure–whole layouts of houses (all furnished in Attic Heirlooms, it seemed) dripping with garland and French ribbons. For years, I draped and tinseled until our house looked like Macy’s. I dressed fifty bears in Christmas outfits. I climbed on the dining room table to swag gold glitter beads on the chandelier and hang Christopher Radko ornaments from its brass branches with dental floss. I stabbed cloves into oranges for natural centerpieces and even filled pinecones with peanut butter and carved suet stars for a bird’s Christmas tree.
The outside of our house was a study in seasonal restraint–a red-ribboned wreath on the front door and individual candle lights in each of our windows. No icicle lights fringing the gutters or plastic reindeer prancing on our lawn.
Then we moved to Fredericksburg to a new house in the country. All around us people who never cracked the pages of House Beautiful slapped up decorations willy-nilly. A blow-up Frosty the Snowman stood next to a hand-painted nativity that was ringed with candy canes, the whole scene lit up like Times Square. In contrast, our constipated candle lights radiated as much cheer as a match flame in Mammoth Cave.
Because I was a big fat snot back then, I thought their decorations were tacky, thrown up with no regard to design, scale, or sense. And yet . . . I always noticed those yards exploding with Santa-hatted penguins and holiday holograms projected on garage doors. I liked their mismatched displays pitch-forked every December with joyful abandon.
Last week I heard “Christmas in Virginia” by county singer (and Virginia native) Clinton Gregory. The words lean toward corny, but they helped ease the tight knot inside me. It was time to get over myself and let go of the notion of striving for perfection. I’d tossed our stingy candle lights long ago, and while I’m not yet ready to buy a giant Hello Kitty snow globe, I appreciate the efforts my neighbors make.
Yesterday we drove around to see Christmas in the country. I trespassed to beat the band to snap pictures. I was nearly run over, chased by dawgs (country dogs), and twisted my ankle jumping over a ditch, but it was worth it. Enjoy these photos, with some of the lyrics to Clinton Gregory’s song:
Snow’s fallin’, the holiday’s callin’ me home. I can hear Daddy sayin’ , “Son, you been gone too long.”
I can see Mama at the door softly callin’ , “Come on in.” It’s Christmas in Virginia, again.
Virginia Christmas . . . I just cain’t wait. My heart’s runnin’ ninety to nothin’ down this ol’ interstate.
I don’t know why but it makes me cry when we all gather in.
It’s Christmas in Virginia, again.
As I was composing this post last night, I heard singing outside our house. Our across-the-street neighbors–a pastor and his family who erect a lighted cross on their lawn during the season–along with friends, babies, toddlers in strollers, all gathered to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” to us.
Their clear, true voices rose in the cold dark. A little boy named Nathan handed me a bag of homemade spice cookies and stood on the porch with me as he sang. My husband lent his fine baritone and the rest of the knot in my chest melted.
Wherever home is, gather in. Sing. And have the best Christmas ever.
The last few years, my husband and I have celebrated the holiday at our favorite tea shop in Fredericksburg. When I called to make reservations this year for the full-out “Queen’s Tea,” the one with so much food we don’t eat for the next two days, I was told that they’d changed locations. What! Not in that darling centuries-old cottage any more?
They’d moved to downtown Fredericksburg proper, on the street with all the cute shops and trendy restaurants and antique stores. They had central heat and a/c, the owner informed me, and it was bigger. And no yard!
The old cottage had two rooms and a higgledy-piggledy look with a crooked roof and odd step-ups and step-downs and a fireplace. The tables were close together but your table always felt private. The old cottage was haunted by two ghosts. It had a picket fence and rose bushes.
When we opened the door to the new place, we were struck by the fact it was too bright. Shiny new crystal chandeliers blared overhead. The floor was tile, not the frumpy old carpets of the old place, and smelled strongly of Lysol. The tables and chairs were the same, spaced in neat rows, with the same pink tablecloths. The decorations–plates and lace and teapots that reminded you of an old lady’s china cabinet at the old location–were barely noticeable here.
Everything felt wrong. Before, you made reservations because the cottage filled up quickly, especially during the holiday season. The little rooms would be packed with women dressed in red sweaters and Christmas tree pins, with older women wearing hats, with little girls in white tights and sash-waisted dresses and little boys in suits. The rafters rang with laughter and polite conversation and good cheer.
The new place is so big, it easily accommodates walk-in trade, people off the street in down vests and hoodies, wanting lunch and not full holiday tea. My husband and I talked little, feeling like we’d walked into the wrong party. Our favorite waitress served us and the food was the same, still delicious.
But the chipped cup and saucer at my place setting that was charming in the old location felt like a careless oversight in the new building. Worse, the waitresses trundled stainless steel carts with dirty dishes past the tables. At the old place, the food appeared as if by magic, the dirty cups and saucers were whisked away, and we never saw what went on behind the curtain.
We ate our fill and made awkward conversation, knowing this would be our last holiday tea. We won’t be celebrating our Valentine anniversary here, either, nor birthdays. If we happen to be downtown sometime we might stop in for lunch, wearing our regular clothes and our regular expectations for a noonday meal.
Sometimes change is good. You get central heat and a/c and a room in the back for large parties. You don’t have to fool with the roses or cut the grass.
This experience made me think long and hard about the settings in my work. If I want intimacy, I’ll put my characters in a tea shop. If I want distance, I’ll stick them in a restaurant pretending to be a tea shop.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a new book simmering on the stove. For the longest time (since 2010) this project has been on a back burner with the flame cut off. About a month ago I took out two back burner ideas. The spark of this particular idea fanned to life immediately and began making demands. When a book gets bossy, I know it’s ready.
This is a big book, complex, with many moving parts. When I work on it, or even think about it, I feel both excited and nauseous. As with all my books, the method that worked for the previous book won’t do for the current project. It’s like fixing your first husband’s favorite recipes for your second husband, a man with entirely different tastes.
I usually cover a composition notebook with a collage that represents what the book is about and carry that notebook with me everywhere. But this book has dropped broad hints that we’re going to be together a long time and it will grow tired of looking at the same old tatty composition notebook.
So I bought a 9 x 7 inch 3-ring binder, red, with clear pockets on the covers. I made a Christmas-themed collage to jolly the book into a holiday mood. It’s pleased. But after Christmas, it’ll want a new collage–maybe something New Year’s related, and then one for winter, one to signal the return of spring, and so on as we go through 2013 (and most likely even longer).
When my mother made Christmas divinity, she stirred and waited, checking the candy thermometer until the mixture was at the hardball stage. Some books are like that, written feverishly and then yanked off the stove when they’re done. This project will be like risotto or polenta or one of those dishes that takes absolutely forever.
This book will not brook boredom. It will need to be entertained. I’ll probably buy it a noisemaker because the book will be up on New Year’s Eve having a grand old time while I’ll be in bed, exhausted from keeping up with its commands.
I ran away from Christmas one year. It was 1989 and I had lost my mother that June. By December, I couldn’t stand the thought of shopping or the glare of malls or even our private little Christmas Eve celebration at home. I couldn’t do any of the traditions that had shaped my holidays since I could remember. So that year I announced we were leaving town.
My husband insisted on some kind of a tree so I bought a two-foot artificial tree and a bunch of Hallmark Charlie Brown miniature ornaments and plunked it on our coffee table. We went to the Williamsburg outlets on Christmas Eve day. I staggered from store to store until I found myself in the Royal Doulton store twenty minutes before closing time. I bought a set of platinum-rimmed china, four place settings for $1000, discounted to $250 because it was Christmas Eve.
On our way back home, we stopped in a Holiday Inn for supper. I looked out the window at the mostly empty parking lot and saw my reflection trapped in the dark glass. What were we doing here?
Christmas Day we went to my sister’s in Richmond. That evening, we drove to Big Meadows on Skyline Drive to spend the night. While my husband snapped photographs on the balcony, I set up my Dayplanner for 1990. One of his pictures was a double exposure—me sitting at a desk working by lamplight, superimposed on an image of wintry fields. An accidental photograph that spoke volumes.
At home, I packed away the little tree with its Charlie Brown miniature ornaments. And never found it again. The Christmas of 1989 turned out to be the Christmas That Never Was—even the tree disappeared.
Though I vowed we would never run away from the holiday again, it was hard to get involved in Christmas. I began to dread it as early as August. The only way to get past the holidays, I decided, was to crash my way through them like a linebacker.
I started shopping in August. All cards, trimmings, and presents were bought by Halloween. I wrapped presents in November and began addressing cards on Thanksgiving. Cards and out-of-town presents were in the mail by December 8. I began decorating on December 1 and the tree went up December 15. Boom, boom, boom. I crossed each item off my list with savage satisfaction.
As the years went on, my dread of Christmas backed up to July, and then June, when Hallmark debuted their ornament collection. As early as Labor Day, stores overlapped Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My stress level rose. It wasn’t until my doctor noticed my August agitation that I admitted I was losing my annual attack on the holidays. He told me to lower my expectations.
He was right, of course, but that wasn’t entirely it. I dashed through the holidays because I didn’t want to experience them. I met women who kept their trees up, and Christmas in their hearts, all year. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t find even a tiny corner in my heart for this holiday? And then I thought about how my mother managed to get through Christmas after my father left us, when we lost our house and had no money.
She gave my sister and me Christmas, no matter how bad she felt. And when I look back, I realize I got through the holiday because of my husband. I pulled it together for him because without marking our marriage with measured celebrations, the days would slip into years and we wouldn’t remember any of it.
And when I unpack my husband’s mother’s cardboard village, and my mother’s reindeer, and the little nativities I bought for a dime when I was ten, and the Christmas cards sent to me by grandparents I only saw three times in my life—ratty, broken, mouse-chewed things that crumble a bit more each year—only then do I notice my reflection in an old gold glass bulb and realize that Christmas makes me slow down and remember and be glad for these few short days, in spite of myself.
I take a deep breath, turn the tree lights on, and let Christmas in.
Sharon Stanley, at the very charming Sharon Stanley Writes, interviewed me about Rebel McKenzie.
What I love most about her questions is that she made me think about the writing of that book. It’s been three years since I wrote Rebel–was there anything left to say about it? There was! Sharon’s questions, and my answers, help me focus on what I’m working on now.
When you get done reading about Rebel, get your Old McDonald on and peruse Sharon’s site. It’s filled with cows and chickens and the doin’s of a real Virginia farm.