Friday, July 25, 2008
Sometime between my first and second birthdays and thus sometime between the fall of 1959 and the fall of 1960, my father acquired a Brownie 8mm movie camera. He filmed every family gathering, every family vacation, and many church events for the next ten years or so. Somewhere along the way the camera died. When my father died in 1979, I inherited his movies and his movie projector. Somewhere along the way the projector died, too. I guess it had been twenty years or more since I last viewed those images.
That changed this week.
I finally got around to having some of the old movies transferred to DVD. This week we received the first of what I think will be three DVDs before all is said and done. We watched it on Wednesday night.
And I saw ghosts. I saw loved one after loved one who have long been dead.
I saw my dog Ruff. There we were when I was around two, playing in the back yard. There he was running around in the aftermath of the freak Middle Georgia snowstorm of 1964.
I saw all four of my grandparents—Granny and Papa and MawMaw and PawPaw—smiling as they opened Christmas presents, surrounded by their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I saw aunts—Clara and Ruth and Bonnie and Myrtice. I saw uncles—Troy and Kitch and Cuz and Bub. I saw a cousin—Ellen. I saw them all, celebrating holidays together at one of the Abbott family homes in Barnesville or at the big Ruffin house in Yatesville.
I saw Preacher Bill putting his jacket into his car following an Easter Sunday service.
I saw Mama and Daddy. There was Daddy, playing with me in the snow, polishing my new cowboy boots, helping me find Easter eggs, and horsing around with other family members. There was Mama, unwrapping a Christmas present, talking to the other ladies in the family, and laughing. My last memories of her are of times that were so hard—I’m so glad that I can see her laughing.
And I saw me. I was crawling around on the floor. I was standing beside the flower-covered grave of my little brother. I was riding my rocking horse. I was shooting one toy gun or another. I was playing in my birthday cake. I was opening Christmas presents. I was progressing from a darling little boy (if I do say so myself) to the nerd I was destined to be as an adolescent (thankfully Daddy’s camera broke before I got to the really awkward stage).
I saw ghosts. I saw dead people. I saw phases of my life that are long gone.
But in everybody that I saw and in everything that I saw, I saw pieces of me. It is weird to see all of those people moving around again but they’ve been moving around in me for my whole life. Even that little delighted little boy that I used to be, even that awkward bigger boy that I once was—I still am those boys, sometimes and in some ways.
The ghosts are friendly, by and large—and so I am grateful. I am grateful that they live on in the old movies that have now been preserved in a more durable format. But I am even more grateful that they live on in me.
Today, on what would have been my father's 87th birthday, I thank him for the good gift of the 8mm ghosts.
I see them also as yet more grace from a most gracious God.