Starting sometime in 1963, Dad started photographing everything: his wife, his children, the neighbors, street lights, college classmates, train tracks, rockets, places he went, birds, plants, boats, statues, co-workers, bonfires, bodies of water. When he died, a mountain of his work moved to my apartment. Since July, I’ve scanned and uploaded about 2,000 images to a private Flickr museum of these images. It’s an ambitious project, facing a number of obstacles.
First: some slides were originally developed with dates and numbers, some with just dates or numbers, some with no dates or numbers. Second: Dad kept over 800 mixed slides in carousels, rather than dark plastic containers, and in these less than ideal conditions, some slides have faded or developed mildew damage. Third: at some point, my stepmom Summer labeled a bunch of plastic slide containers, which may save my sanity; unfortunately, about a decade’s worth of slides were stored together, which may send me round the twist. Fourth: a few years ago, the digitizing company I paid to scan slides essentially poured separate groups of slides into a machine and I have yet to undertake separating them because I panic every time I think about it.
Despite all this, I’ve made progress. I’ve started to recognize pictures that must have been taken at the same time, significant places and faces I haven’t seen since childhood. My father was 21 and my mother 22 when I was born, and these images start before I was a year old. It is strange now to see my parents as young twenty-somethings, to witness my father’s learning to see the world and his life through the camera’s lens. In these pictures, I see that we, his children, were photographed constantly and were completely accustomed to it. I don’t remember being photographed constantly, so in some ways, it’s like looking at someone else’s life with my face.
There’s another obstacle: not all of the slides are here. Enough dated and numbered slides are present to render obvious the gaps. Where are these missing slides? I don’t know. Summer doesn’t remember Dad mentioning them. I don’t know what that means, or what it would ultimately mean if thousands of images were just missing.
At this stage in a blog post, I usually make a joke about how some ginormous thing in my life is totally small, except in this case, that’s too literal. This ginormous thing in my life is meaningless to all but a handful of people on the planet, and even they don’t really seem to care much. So I am doing this because I can and I should, to the best of my ability. When I’m done, I’ll store the slides as permanently as I can, but I doubt anyone will ever look at them again. Dad would have been as surprised as anyone else that there could be a private museum of his photographs, and for that reason alone, I will keep building it.
A few months ago, Chicken, one of our chickens, died. You’re thinking she suffered a stuffing-and-fruit-relish-related fate, but no. Our big hen went limp and, a day later, joined The Choir Invisible. I hope she can sing. Other Chicken, with the coop and the run to herself, became depressed. She also became Chicken by default, so we’ve taken to calling her Cat. She stayed inside the coop and barely ate. Andie and I hatched a plan.
Joining us two weeks ago were two juveniles and a young mature hen. Pete asked me, “What are their names?” I said, “Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.” The woman who gave them to us advised us to introduce the new chickens to Cat the Chicken by letting them all wake up in the same coop together. I let everyone fall asleep, then put three squawking new chickens into a dark coop in which Cat the Chicken bock-bock-bocked menacingly, like it was a fowl horror film, and I may still have some guilt. Within days, the little chickens adapted and Cat the Chicken rebounded. She’s demanding treats, chasing the other chickens and spending all her time supervising the run. Yesterday, Andie opened the run door and Cat the Chicken jumped out, which was her way of declaring she was ready to scratch in the tiny yard again. We were overjoyed.
Things are looking up, by which I mean: don’t look up. We have tiny chickens in high places.