Saturday, July 2, 2016

Aunt Sally

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I remember being forced to sit through my aunt Sally’s vacation slides. We’d be at her house for a holiday of some sort, having stuffed ourselves on roasted turkey or pot roast, with side dishes like gratin potatoes and green beans. I might be poking at the remnants of my third helping of yams. My sister and my cousin would be huddled in a corner, animating their dolls. The adults, stuporous, languished at the table, sipping canned coffee and painting their plates with the palette of desserts from the kitchen counter.

My aunt would slap her thighs and spring up. The table would suddenly be cleared, the dishes hastily stacked by the sink, and we’d all be ushered through the sliding door, into the paneled den. A folding screen would come out of a closet, the slide projector produced, like a magician’s rabbit, from a suitcase-sized box. A carousel of slides would be plucked from a stack of identical boxes.

I sat on the floor, in the dark, soaking in gorgeous Kodachrome, as my aunt extolled the pleasures of their latest (seventh?) visit to Disneyland. As an eleven year-old who had never been to Disneyland, I was carried aloft in a swirling hormonal storm of envy, longing, anger, curiosity, and awe. I wanted to get up and leave, but I didn’t want to might miss anything.

More than fifteen years elapsed before I was able to find my own way to Disneyland. Of course many things had changed, but much was the same. I vividly remembered my aunt’s photos of Main Street USA, and Small World, and Frontierland. I strolled around the park, waited in lines, rode the rides, and marveled at the animatronics. Everything was exactly what I expected but so much better. I was a pilgrim finally visiting holy ground.

I was riding the small gauge steam train that circles the park, reveling in the intoxicating incense of bunker oil and creosote, the rhythm of steel wheels on rails, when I understood why my aunt implored us to sit in her darkened family room and submit to her photography. I had always suspected that the trays of slides were a boastful artifice, collected and curated to elicit precisely the jealousy and humility I had felt. As that powerless eleven year-old, I had never expected that I might travel the 1200 miles to Disneyland. Yet, there I was.

I ached to freeze that perfect blissful instant, aboard that clacking little steam train, that I might later relive, savor, and share it. Kodachrome might have come close. All I have from that day are memories. They are excellent memories, but I wonder if a thousand words can match the pictures in my head.

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