Barry Smith: Irrelativity
October 11, 2009
When my step-grandmother’s brother e-mailed me that he had a box of home movies shot by my grandfather in the 1960s, time stood still.
Whew. I know, quite a sentence, right?
I’ll use that time-standing-still moment to get you all caught up.
Lollie was my mother’s step-mother, making her my step-grandmother. My ongoing quest for old family memorabilia recently led me to Lollie’s brother – I’ll call him Jimmy – in Carrolton, Miss. Jimmy got all of Lollie’s stuff when she died a few years ago, so I e-mailed him, introduced myself, and asked about her old photos. We’d never met, and weren’t related, but a friendly correspondence ensued.
Jimmy began scanning and e-mailing me these great old photos; pictures of me, my parents, my cousins, my grandparents. As I pored over these gems I noticed my grandfather holding a movie camera in some of the shots, so I asked Jimmy if he knew anything about that camera, specifically what might have become of the movies that were shot with it.
He replied, “I’ve got them all in my shed.”
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That’s when the whole time-standing-still thing happened. My passion for gathering family memorabilia – photos, artifacts, journals, films, stuff – has reached a peak, but because of my diligence in gathering this stuff I was starting to think I’d mined out the vein. I figured I was now down to dribs and drabs of the occasional snapshot of me in diapers owned by distant cousins. So discovering films shot by my grandfather – films I didn’t even know existed – was like discovering my own personal El Dorado. You know, an El Dorado filled with scratchy, old family film instead of gold and jewels.
Easily amused? You betcha!
Jimmy and I corresponded right up until, about 5 months later, I announced that I had my tickets to the South and would be in his neighborhood soon, and couldn’t wait to check out those films in person!
He didn’t reply.
I sent a “Just sayin’ hey” e-mail a week later. No reply.
I flew to Mississippi, visited some relatives as planned. Still no word from Jimmy, despite a few increasingly desperate “Hey y’all” e-mails.
Finally he wrote back: “Sorry, I’m not really prepared to accept visitors right now. Nothing personal.”
Now, in all fairness, these movies belong to him, and he never did actually say that I could have, or even look at, them. He didn’t invite me over. I just said “I’m on my way,” so it’s not like he made some promise that he was backing out on. He was just having a pleasant correspondence with some guy who suddenly turned psycho stalker at the mention of home movies. I know, I know I’m that guy, but I can’t help it.
Must. See. Movies.
I wrote him a long e-mail from my room at the Days Inn in Cullman, Alabama. I let him know that, in all honesty, I don’t want to just look at these films, I want to bring them home with me. I told him that I have the means, know-how and raw obsession necessary to get those films put on DVD, so that the handful of family members who may still care can have a copy. Please, oh please … gimme! I was begging.
24 hours passed without a response. I was going to be passing by his town soon, and not a peep. Then his name pops up on my mail program. Subject: “Getting Films Ready For You To Pick Up.”
I wiped a little tear from my eye.
And get them ready he did – he cleaned the 30 years of storage grime from the reels and packed them in a catfish box (no kidding), which he then placed inside an old piece of carry-on luggage that still had Lollie’s name tag attached to it. His girlfriend met me at the 4K Convenience Store and Deli in downtown Carrolton and delivered the package. I still had a few days left in the South before I flew home, and I assure you that case did not leave my sight. I even adjusted my rental car’s rear-view mirror so I could keep an eye on it in the back seat while I drove. Why not just put it in the front seat?
Because I’d have been tempted to ride with it in my lap.
Now that catfish box o’ treasure is resting safely in my office, bursting with unseen goodies of yore. There are literally thousands of feet of film in this box – where to begin?
I think I’ll start with the reel that says, “Barry on Tractor, 1967.”