I celebrated my 59th birthday Thursday. We had a big gathering of family and friends at my favorite restaurant. I billed the event as my Final Birthday Party. Some people wondered if the emphasis was on “birthday,” as in, I won’t make it to 60 or on “party,” as in, if I do make it to 60 I ain’t celebrating.
I hope it was the latter but that’s not for me to say.
While preparing for the momentous occasion of the celebration of my birth I found myself in the bowels of my family’s humble abode, digging through a box of old photographs. So birthdays make me nostalgic. Sue me.
The first thing that struck me was how few photographs actually exist of me and my sister as children. I have three children and every moment of their lives has been documented on Kodak film — and more recently through some sort of digital imaging that I don’t fully understand. I love cameras and I love taking pictures. In any given year I probably snap more photos than anybody around not named Blane Marable.
My parents, not so much. I don’t think I ever saw my father with a camera in his hand. My mother took what few pictures were taken in the Huckaby household. She had an old Brownie and it was a big deal when she took it out of the bottom of the chifforobe, where it was stored. Most of the pictures were taken outside. Easter was a big day for having one’s “beauty struck.” There are a whole series of pictures of my sister and me standing in front of the same group of azalea bushes. I can only guess what colors they were because all of our photographs were in stunning black and white.
Taking pictures indoors, or at night, required using flash bulbs and flash bulbs created added expense. Plus they burned your fingers if you didn’t let them cool long enough before popping them out of the flash gadget.
I remember watching Mama load her camera. The “films,” as she called it, came on a big spool and was wrapped in thick paper. She would open the camera back and painstakingly thread the film thorough the appropriate slots and pull it across to the take-up spool before giving the knob on top a couple of turns. She was apparently pretty frugal with that film, too — I think she bought the 12-shot rolls — because I found Easter pictures in the same packet with 4th of July and Christmas images.
Once in a great while she would get out the camera and take two or three random pictures because she needed to “finish the roll.” Then, of course, she would wind the film back onto the original roll, remove it from the camera and take it to the drug store. They didn’t actually develop the film at the drug store. They would “send it off” for processing and a week or so later the pictures would “come back.”
What a difference half-a-century makes. Now I can take out my phone and snap a picture and it uploads instantaneously to the world wide web and my friends from Kenya to Honolulu can see what I am up to as soon as I am up to it.
But I am certain that none of the thousands of pictures I take annually will ever be cherished as much as those few treasured snapshots I uncovered this week in anticipation of my birthday celebration.
There was one of me in a dress and a women’s straw hat. My sister was standing beside me in her pajamas. My mama had scrawled “Minnie Pearl” across the back. The photograph was dated 1955. I was 3, so don’t get any ideas. There was another picture, dated 1961, of me at what must have been my ninth birthday party. I was dressed like a Confederate soldier and hiding behind a tree. Craig Hertwig was aiming a toy gun at me. When’s the last time you’ve seen a kid dress like a rebel soldier for his birthday? Yeah, times change.
I found one picture that must have been taken at Christmas time. I was sitting on the couch holding a toy guitar and my sister was standing beside me holding a baton. In another picture we were both standing beside our grandmother. She had a big smile on her face and it is the only image I own to remind me what she looked like.
Oh, well. Enough with the waxing nostalgic. I need to go and upload the 463 pictures we took at Thursday night’s party onto Facebook, in case my friends in Kenya — or Blane Marable — want to see how it went.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at email@example.com.