It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.
We had an old churn in the kitchen. I can’t remember it not being there. Our churn was never employed to make butter or anything like that, it just kept the refrigerator door closed. It’s just in human nature to use things against the manufacturer’s recommended use.
There was a big indoor yard sale at the Cullman County Ag Center a while back, and they had a churn just like the one that I remember from growing up. I say remember, but until I saw the one at the yard sale I hadn’t thought about that churn since we got a new refrigerator in 1997.
The yard sale made me think of the churn. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Something will trigger my memory and I don’t just remember, I’m there. I think that’s why I like to go to yard sales and and thrift stores.
The churn took me back to the kitchen with it’s ancient white and black tile in a curious pattern. There was the refrigerator with it’s faux wooden inlays on the handles. Inside the fridge was the mystery Country Crock containers that Mom used for leftovers. Once she sent a bunch of them full of Mexican Cornbread (or something like that) to work with Dad so he could share with coworkers. One poor man opened his container to find actual Country Crock. I think we used Country Crock instead of butter because my grandfather had died of a heart attack.
The new refrigerator door stayed closed, so the churn was retired to the mud room. We were too emotionally attached to it to get rid of it, ugly as it was. The lid was long gone and it the finish was cracked and chipped, but because it had been with us so long it had earned a permanent spot on the register of Wells Home Furniture: we were not getting rid of it. It’s funny how you can become attached to a thing no matter how useless it has become.
When I was a teenager, we had an extended guest who broke the churn after carelessly moving it. I think my Mom cried. Because it had outlived it’s original use and it’s ad hoc use we didn’t replace it, its only function was sentimentality, a curio relic from a bygone era.
It would have been impossible to replace it anyway. It would be like replacing a family member. Shopping for a new one would have only made you sad about the one that you lost.
Look at that. I’m tearing up about a churn. I didn’t buy that churn at the yard sale. But I did just buy a new refrigerator the other day. It’s got an alarm that dings at you if the door is open.
I love yard sales. Previously loved merchandise. Everything you never knew you couldn’t live without can be found at a yard sale. Part of the fun of a yard sale is digging through the junk to find the treasure. Sometimes it’s only digging through junk. Even when you do find treasure, it sometimes only seems like treasure because the junk makes it look better. This is how I got back into film photography.
I have a recurring dream that I find a cache of treasure (usually guitars) for sale dirt cheap at some yard sale or thrift store. From time to time it comes true. Like the time I found a bunch of pocket knives at an estate sale. Today I’m thinking about the time I stumbled upon the motherlode of film camera equipment at the church yard sale. The yard sale itself had a half acre of merchandise spilling off of tables and onto tarps. There was an entire table full of lenses, filters, flashes, and bulbs. On the edge of the table was whicker basket full of film cameras. My mind went back to photography class when I spotted a pristine Canon A-1 Camera with a 50mm lens. I picked it up and instinctively focused the lens on one of the yard sale characters walking around. I advanced the film lever and clicked the shutter release button. There was the unmistakable whir of a shutter quickly opening and closing. A sound that even kids born in the 21st century will recognize from their iPhone camera.
I was hooked. Camera in hand, I walked over to Sis. Tina Updike, who was running the cash register that day. “How much for the camera Sis. Tina?” I asked. She frowned at me like she’d never seen a camera before she asked, “Is $10 too much?” I quickly paid for the camera before I had a chance to talk myself out of taking up a new hobby. I also went and scooped a couple of lenses, another SLR camera, and an enlarger so I could develop my own film.
As I fiddled with the camera and did a little bit of research to refresh my new found venture in to film photography, I began to think abstractly how film photography is more like life than the convenient digital photography that has cemented it’s place in our culture over the past twenty or so years. There was a time when cameras were investments, now they are just features on our phones. Camera phones have made us all photographers.
Think about when you were a kid. Unless you don’t remember having to take pictures with a camera, take your undeveloped film to Wal-Mart, shop around for an hour until you could finally pick up an envelope of actual pictures. Not only did you have to purchase film, but you had to pay for the pictures before you could decide that you were a terrible photographer. You kept the pictures anyway, and couldn’t wait to show them to your friends. The next time you had company, you’d pass around your pictures and you’d all laugh at the ones that didn’t come out like you wanted. The few pictures that came out great got an elevated frame or refrigerator status.
The first roll of film that I shot with my Canon A-1 was interesting. There were 24 frames. It made me stop and think before I snapped the shutter. I had to manually focus each picture. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could see the fruit of my labor. Long enough to almost forget what I’d shot. Opening that first envelope of pictures was quite emotional. I sat down and looked through them with my wife. Like any roll of film, there were some duds. An image with uninteresting subject material, a poorly focused shot, or improper exposure. Even so, there were few really good pictures that I framed.
A photograph is frozen moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the decisive moment, or the perfect moment to freeze in time. You can’t retake the same picture, because time will move forward. You’ll stop and refocus, changing the composition. Life is much more like a roll of film with a set amount of frames than a digital phone camera where we can take endless pictures in order to capture an image of how we think we should look. It’s a sobering thought, time.
Mostly From Memory is me sharing with you my life’s roll of film. Sure, I get to edit the pictures a little bit to make the subject material shine, but I can’t go back and take more pictures. Neither can you. Each season in our life is a frame of time on a limited roll. I wish that we could simply “delete” some pictures in life because of uninteresting or embarrassing subject material. Or a poorly focused shot. Or improper exposure.
I have a strong desire to make each season in my life count.
I can’t remember if I was thinking along these lines as I loaded the second roll of film into my now beloved Canon A-1, but I did know that I hoped to make every shot count. I think I took a few pictures of my kids, who wouldn’t be still to for anything in the world. The next day I took my camera to work so I could take pictures of downtown Winchester on my lunch break. There was one shot that I planned on taking. Every day I looked out from the fourth floor of the parking garage across the alley to the fire escape of the George Washington Hotel. The metal staircase against the backdrop of brick formed a perfect Z.
Z for Zane. I focused my camera on the target, but to get the composition just right required me to stand on the concrete barrier a foot from off of ground and lean against the railing with my knees. I took my time focusing and double checked my exposure before I firmly pressed the shutter release. Satisfied that I had not wasted a frame of film, I stepped back from my perch into reality. I was a hair higher than I expected and when my foot didn’t reach solid ground I grabbed for the rail, which was only barely above my knee. I panicked. In my desperation to regain my balance, my prized camera slipped from my hand. I watched it tumble through the air from four stories up. It fell for a long time, almost in slow motion, getting smaller and smaller until it smashed into the concrete and burst into pieces that fled the impact. I stared at the wreckage for quite a while before I realized that I could never take another picture with that camera. Then I walked down the stairs and picked up the pieces.
Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.
In a town with one red light there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was Smith’s, or to the locals, “Smiss”, the grocery store, but even if you were really taking your time and got stuck behind somebody’s grandmother who was shopping for a family reunion, you could see the whole store in less that ten minutes. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what entertainment means. I suppose that it’s what you do for fun whenever you are caught up with all the chores at home. So when all the grass was cut, or there were no pecans left to pick up, Dad would take us what he called Rambling. It was Dad’s form of entertainment. Essentially, my brother Zach and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup truck and drive around back roads for the better part of the day.
It was always a surprise to go rambling, not something that we worked up to, like fishing, but something that could be done rather quickly when you discover that you’ve found time, but not made time. I never knew where we were going, although I was relatively certain that we’d stop at the store to get a cold “drank”. Dad would get a Pepsi, Zach a Dr. Pepper. I would get a Grapico. We’d set in the truck and enjoy our drinks. After the policeman pulled Dad over because he saw one of us standing up right next to Dad, we had to start wearing our seat belts. Being the youngest, I had to set in the middle with both legs hanging over into the passenger floorboard, so as to be out of the way of Dad shifting the gears. I remember being really worried about learning how to drive as I watched Dad press the clutch and shift the gears in that little truck. How was he so coordinated? How did he know when to shift them?
“You can listen and the motor will tell you when to shift the gears.”
I would do my best to listen to the motor through the hissy static of the AM radio broadcasting the Braves game. I was so intent that I would hum along to the pitch of the engine as he accelerated through the gears after stopping at a lonely stop sign on some back road. I was mesmerized by Dad’s ability to drive with only his thumbs.
There were various destinations although I don’t recall guessing, I was just along for the ride. We’d often go to the Logan Martin Dam and climb across the guardrail to peer down to the rocks amongst the stench of dead fish where the men cast out into the churning water hoping for a catch. There was an old man there named Mr. Bird. He was always there, but if he wasn’t fishing, you might as well pack up your tackle and go home.
Sometimes we went to visit a distant relative who removed an oxygen tube to take a drag on a cigarette. I only remember these people because Dad took me to see them. They would have never been able to make it to the barbecue at the next major holiday. But I remember them, if only faintly through the eyes of a child. They’re gone now, and I wonder how many stories with them.
We would visit ancient cemeteries so Dad could point out where a great grandfather was buried. I could barely read then, but I wish I would have taken better notes. It was interesting to see the graves of people who had been born in the 18th century. Dad taught us proper cemetery etiquette: don’t holler, and don’t step on anyone’s grave.
We ate a few times when we went rambling. I remember going to Jill’s restaurant in Leeds one day. Dad came walking back from the counter with two ice cream cones half a foot high. Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.
Through rambling, Dad immersed us in the art of looking out the window while you’re riding in a car. He taught us how to spot a Red Tailed Hawk, and where to look for a Great Blue Heron. It’s still a thrill to be able to point out a herd of deer on the side of the road, or a redbird on a fencepost. You can always tell when you’re riding with someone who never did any recreational riding. They won’t appreciate your superior observations skills, and will usually complain about watching the road, or make some remark about traffic before looking back down at their phones.
I go rambling sometimes with my two kids now that Sarah is letting them both ride in the truck. We drive slowly by the waterfall, neither of them can argue that it’s not on their side since everyone is on the same row. Wes usually rides in the middle with his feet over in the passenger floorboard so I can shift gears. I’m still a little wary of these new automatics. We’ll get some ice cream and I’ll point at the hawks.