Barry Smith: Irrelativity |

Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

The story so far:

Recently – through a combination of random curiosity, fate, and a visit to my home state of Mississippi – I came into possession of a box of old 8mm home movies shot by my grandfather. These movies were made in the 1960s. I’ve never seen them. In fact, nobody has seen them in at least 30 years. And now they’re here with me!

The person who gave me the films, Billy, isn’t related to me, but knows more about my family history than I do. (WARNING: Complicated family connection ahead!) His sister was my Grandfather’s second wife, making her my step-grandmother. I’ve never met Billy – he was busy when I arrived to get the films, so he had his girlfriend drop them off to me – but I’ve corresponded with him for a couple of years on the topic of genealogy. In addition to the films, he inherited a bunch of pictures when his sister died – many of them pictures of me and my immediate family that I’ve never seen before. Over the past few years he’s been scanning and e-mailing these pictures to me. Whenever I could, I’d ID the people in the shots and send the info back to him, then he’d add it to his extensive genealogical research project.

During this trip to Mississippi, I made my relatives sit down with me at my computer and identify all the people in these pictures, so by the time I got home I had the names, or at least nicknames, or nearly everyone in the shots Billy has sent me over the years.

So, I come home from my trip burstin’ with new stuff and new information.

I find a place that converts old 8mm film to DVD, and sent the film off to them. What they do is feed the film through a machine that photographs each frame individually, digitally corrects it for color/contrast/scratches/etc. … then assembles all the individual pictures into a movie.

Honestly, I get a little bit turned on just thinking about it …

About a week later I sit down to compile all the new photo ID information to send off to Billy.

I spend a good, focused hour labeling each digital photo with names and dates, feeling an occasional thrill at having gotten the info for certain mysterious pictures. All the while I’m thinking how much my friend Billy will like this. As I work I’m simultaneously composing a long letter to him in my head, and feeling happy to have formed such a friendship with someone I’ve never even laid eyes on or spoken with on the phone. A modern-day pen pal!

Is there even such a thing as pen pals anymore?

After an hour of photo ID-ing and constantly thinking, “Billy will be SO stoked to finally get all this information,” I’m done. I open my e-mail program to begin writing a letter to Billy and attaching photos, when I see that there’s one new message in my inbox.

I see that it’s from Billy’s girlfriend.

The subject line reads, “Billy’s Death.”

The e-mail says that Billy died suddenly at home – exactly 24 hours earlier.

I’d basically had Billy sitting beside me for the past hour, having imaginary conversations with him about family stories I’d learned, delighted by how he’d react to all this cool new stuff I was sending. There was no way that my recent time could have been any more Billy-centric. So the words “Billy’s Death” were as hard-hitting as they could possibly be.

A few days later I get an e-mail from the film conversion company. Very exciting. This, I know, will be the e-mail telling me that the conversion is complete and that the resulting DVD is in the mail.

I look over at the subject line: “Unable To Convert Film.”

The message explains that there’s something wrong with my film such that they’re unable to run it through their fancy machine.

In all our years of doing this conversion work, the letter continues, we’ve never had to return film unprocessed. This is a first for us. Sorry. And so on.

Your precious treasure is damaged beyond our ability to repair it. Your built-up nostalgia-fueled hopes are dashed on the digital rocks. The good news, though – we’re only going to charge you for shipping.

(To be continued … eventually …)

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