Monday, May 24, 2004

Pictures From Home

As a child, one of my favorite toys was the Kenner Cassette Movie Projector. The blue plastic contraption consisted of a projection box with a yellow handle whose turning advanced the film. Here, my brother and I clicked the yellow cartridges in. On the opposite end of an arm that connected the two, about eight inches from the projection lens, a white plastic rectangle served as a screen.

Flick the projector’s switch, and a cartoon image, the Flintstones or the Houndcats, would appear, shaky and blurred in the dark.

For the better part of the last 20 years, the gadget lay ignored in a cramped closet in the room where my brother and I shared our boyhoods.

A couple of weeks ago, it came in the mail. My mother dug it out and sent it to me, remembering how much I had loved it when young. The other day, I gave it a whirl.

There’s a loose connection there now. To get the the tiny bulb to shine, you have to jiggle the whole machinery. But, shine it did, eventually.

“Flip off the light,” I said, no longer to a kid brother, but to the Mrs.

Then, in the darkness of another place, a thousand miles from home, the old characters fluttered to life, dancing in that renewed light, once again.

Decades can be rough on film. Even at its most focused, the picture is fuzzy. Scratch lines mar the surface.

Yet, my joy was undetered when I caught a favorite scene rememebered from youth. Fred Flintstone is carrying what looks like a dinosaur femur into his house. Moving quickly, he forgets the bone is longer than the door is wide and, careening into the doorway, the bone bundled in his arms across his chest, goes airborne and does a few 360’s like a prehistoric propellor.

The reclamation of this meager joy came with an accompanying loss.

The impetus for hauling the sturdy little cinema from the closet where it had so long rested was that after more than thirty years my parents decided to sell that closet, indeed decided to sell the whole house.

I have never known another home. We never moved when I was a kid. Of course, I haven’t lived at their place permanently for a long time. But still, living so far from the places where I spent my childhood, as I do, when I thought of home, I pictured the inside of the five small rooms where I grew up. Now, I have no picture of home.

See, I haven’t yet been to the new house, though I’m sure it’s lovely and spacious with plenty of room for the dog. And grandkids, as my mother likes to remind me.

It’s funny how time passes, isn’t it? Now, contemplating fatherhood myself, still playing with the toys I used to love, it strikes me how odd a metaphor we use when we talk of “growing up.”

Drawn from the occasional correlation of physical growth with the more intangible aspects of maturing, the phrase seems misleading. Becoming an adult is a tough assignment. So tough, in fact, many never complete it. Almost everyone, however, manages to get bigger.

Lately, I’ve found myself wondering if, appearances to the contrary, our younger selves are ever really lost. I am beginning to think that every person I have ever been, and maybe will ever be, co-exists in the person I am at this moment. The seven-year-old with a love for the movies still kicks around inside. It is as though eternity were not only written on our hearts, but woven through our flesh as well.

I wonder if we are not beings who, like Narnia at the end, find ourselves remade and remade again, only truer, richer, more real as we push further up and further into the realities and mysteries (for these seem to be much the same thing) of this too soon fading life.

So, our langauge should connect becoming adult not simply with getting larger than once we were, not with moving out, not with establishing a career, but with learning to preserve and unify and discipline all that has ever been best in us at every stage of life and with the commitment to mustering the courage such an endeavor requires. We should, I think, abandon this talk of “growing up” and think in a different direction. We should speak instead of growing deep.

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