We were going to the home of some not-so-close friends of my parents, a summertime dinner in a South End Halifax neighbourhood. It was the kind of neighbourhood where the thick leafiness of the summer trees — oaks and maples and failing elms — made even a loud party seem close to polite.
Summers in Halifax always seemed slow and drawn out to me, partially from the long days, and partially from the lack of school, I think.
Neither of my brothers went along, but I went for two reasons: the hosts were known for making a chip dip — using packaged dry onion soup and sour cream — that I could not resist. I also had a sort of teenaged crush on their daughter, the kind of unrequited crush you can only have on someone two years older than you who is completely and absolutely oblivious to your existence. (The kind of daughter who wouldn’t be caught dead at something as dull as a parental dinner party, as I soon learned.)
Dinner was roast beef, and I believe potatoes and green beans. (It was a long, long time ago.)
But while there are things I struggle to remember, there are others I won’t forget.
After dinner unrolled the way dinner parties of that age were expected to go (complete with a dessert consisting mostly of pineapple, miniature marshmallows and whipped cream), we went to the living room, whereupon the husband took a picture off the end wall, set up a slide projector, and began the show.
Slide shows, in case you don’t remember them or haven’t ever experienced one, are measured in terms of an archaic term known as a “carousel.” A carousel, the kind that used to sit atop a Kodak projector, holds 80 slides. Three is a long show.
That night, I lost count after seven.
It was the exegesis of a particular and distinct family unit, a study, I should point out, that mattered particularly and only to those steeped in that family unit’s legend and lore.
River trips. Children at various points of growing up. A European trip. Restaurants. More restaurants. Main courses. Desserts. Expensive restaurants. Big family cars. Bigger children now. Two different dogs that died. The vegetable garden. The flower garden. People in the ocean. People coming out of the ocean. People on towels beside the ocean. “Here I am in Florence.” You get the idea.
There’s a certain amount of boasting in any celluloid travel down memory lane, whether it’s through home videos, slideshows, or the even more terrifyingly handheld-shot and unedited Super-8 movie — it’s unintentional, I’m sure.
I think if anything, the message you could take from the evening is that you should always keep in mind that there are things that you find important that others might not find as compelling.
It was a long night.
I remember my father, a big, gentle, bearded man, easing himself into the front seat, turning to my mother and saying, “El, we don’t ever have to go back, do we?” as she stick-handled our big Volkswagen van into gear.
“No,” she said. “No, we don’t.”
I don’t think we ever did.
Luckily, slides have pretty well gone the way of the dodo, and we no longer have to be sentenced to the interminable and boasting family slide show.
We’re blessedly free of all that now, I think, as I turn towards the computer and flick on Facebook.
Oh, wait …