"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

August 31, 2013

Home movies and special cakes

I used to be a baby. It's true. If I hadn't seen the pictures, I might have a hard time believing it myself. Evyn, my 6-year-old granddaughter, recently said, "I don't remember being a baby. I think I've always been a kid." I explained that our memories don't go back that far, but I didn't pull out her baby pictures to prove her wrong. She'll figure it out later.

My earliest memory is of a red-and-white swimsuit I got when I was four. It was a one-piece with halter straps. Thinking I looked really fine in it, I instructed my brothers Randy and Dale to start calling me "gal." Yikes. I'm glad I don't remember anything earlier than that. No telling what foolishness was running through my head. Five was the age when things really started getting stored in my memory bank. For the baby and toddler years, of course, I have to rely on old black-and-white photos and home movies.

A few weeks ago, Mom, Rex, and I watched a DVD containing the films Dad made of our family throughout the '50s. It starts out in grand fashion—with baby me smiling and kicking on my parent’s bed. Being the sixth of seven babies and the only girl, my epic birth must have been the impetus for Dad to finally spring for a movie camera.

For two hours, we watched that DVD and remembered. Mom looked so sad when it was over. We asked her what was wrong, and she started crying. Barely able to get out the words, she squeaked, “I wish I had held you more.” Rex reassured her that she held us plenty. And I told Mom that there’s no such thing as holding your children enough. It can’t be done.

There wasn't a lot action in Dad’s films, except for things like opening gifts, petting dogs, riding tricycles, and going round and round on kiddie rides. We mostly just posed in front of the camera, holding up Christmas or birthday gifts and Easter baskets. One of my favorite action scenes is where I'm standing between Randy and Dale, all of us in matching pajamas with feet, and we take turns kissing each other.

Watching Dale as a tow-headed, thumb-sucking little boy was especially poignant since his 60th birthday was approaching. I suggested that we give him a surprise party. Aside from it being a monumental occasion, I’ve always wanted to jump out and yell “Surprise!” (Even when it's for someone else, there’s often a little something in it for me.) After floating the idea, others did the actual work. Dale's son, Deke, and Deke's wife, Kimberlie, took care of the food, drinks, party favors, and “official” birthday cake. Mom provided balloons, decorations, and a “special” cake, one that would remind Dale of his childhood.

The birthday cakes we had growing up were always homemade and always delicious, but usually lopsided and made with whatever ingredients Mom had on hand. To make them festive, she added food coloring to the icing—blue, green, pink, or whatever color she hadn't used in a while. Sometimes she'd get really fancy and shake colored sprinkles on top. We thought those cakes were great when we were kids, but we’ve teased her a lot about them since, so she thought Dale would enjoy one for his party.

Dale's "special" cake
True to form, Mom used ingredients she just happened to have in the kitchen. I was going to suggest that she put something under one side of the pan while the cake was baking to make sure it came out lopsided, but there was no need. It happened naturally. Rex decorated the cake, using childhood memories to guide him.

Except for the “Harley-Daleson” motorcycle cake and party favor bags containing mini bottles of Corona, the main theme of the party was childhood memories. I gave Dale a pound of Walnettos—a favorite candy we used to buy at the five and dime—in a black gift bag with
YOU'RE WELCOME on the front. Now that's funny. I just love a sarcastic gift bag.

Mom got Dale a paddle ball—one of those cheap wooden paddles with a ball attached by a rubber string. Back in elementary school, we had a gift exchange every year at Christmas. There was a $1 or maybe $2 limit, and the decent thing to do was buy a gift as close to the limit as possible, maybe even go over a few cents like Mom would. Dale came home from school so mad about the gift he received being a paddle ball—which cost less than a quarter in those days—that he rode his bike to the kid's house who brought it to school and gave it back to him. When Dale opened his gift from Mom, he said, "Now you're just opening old wounds."

We enjoyed a scrumptious barbeque meal that Kimberlie drove all the way to Richmond to get from the Swinging Door, where Dale and Deke often ride their motorcycles on Sunday afternoons. While we ate, Dale and I reminisced about the old days, which led to commiserating over the quick passage of time. He then gave me a wistful look and asked, "Where did it go?" I could only shake my head at my 60-year-old brother who used to kiss me in his pajamas with feet.

The years went by in a flash, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago that we had home movie night at the old homestead on Parker Road. While Daddy would load a movie on the reel-to-reel projector, Mom would remove the picture on the wall and hang a white sheet in its place. As images of ourselves flickered across the “screen,” we would watch mesmerized. When a reel came to an end, Daddy would command, “Get the lights!” Then he'd rewind the reel and load another one while we impatiently waited. It was always an exciting time.

Watching those same movies on the DVD now sure isn’t the same. The magic is gone. And the nostalgia is overwhelming. Plus, the company that transferred the film reels to DVD added cheesy background music since the original films had no sound. I sure wish they had just added audio of an old film projector running.

I'll be the next sibling to turn 60. How did that happen? After all, I used to be a baby. And as long as I have Mom, someone actually remembers it.

My 1st birthday (flanked by Randy and Dale as usual)
and Dale's 2nd birthday, before Mom got fancy with our cakes

Note to Randy: I would have suggested a party for you too if I had realized when it was your 60th. Guess I just wasn't ready for the first Musketeer to turn. 

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