Thanksgiving Movies and 8mm Memories

“Movie moments, at home” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (November 23, 2006).

Thanksgiving weekend is regarded as one of the more important holiday weekends for the Hollywood studios. They send new films to the big screen when friends and family have the time to spend together watching. In all, the top 10 movies this weekend will likely bring in close to $150 million. That’s a lot of cash for which the studios can be thankful.

My family always participated in this great movie weekend, but we did it in the comfort of our living room. With a turkey or two well-devoured, we’d all make our way from the dining room and sit ourselves in front of a white projection screen.

With an ancient 8mm film projector set up in the middle of the room, one brother would break out the canisters of film, another would load the reels onto the projector, and another would hit the lights. After a brief moment in darkness, the struggling motor of the projector became a time machine, bringing the past to life in a burst of dust-speckled light.

As each film released itself from one reel and collected itself on the other, memories flew across the screen:

There was our father, with jet-black hair before seven kids came along, twirling his dog Laddie around in a circle as the canine clung to his rubber toy for dear life.

There was the Thanksgiving footage of football in the backyard, complete with boys bouncing off the garage-wall end-zone. And the time our uncle showed up with a live turkey that spent the afternoon meandering around the yard.

There was the vacation to Rhode Island and the footage of brothers diving off a dock into the Narragansett Bay. Putting the film in reverse, we laughed as a boy shot up from the water, flew through the air, and landed on the dock in a perfect reverse cannonball!

There were the birthday celebrations, and the trick candles that kept firing up every time my brother Matt huffed and puffed and blew the flames down.

There was the home video production of Star Wars where one brother played Luke Skywalker, another Han Solo (with his teddy bear playing Chewbacca), and a toy Tie fighter played itself.

Then there was the video marked XXX, which we were all curious to see. I couldn’t flip the lights on quick enough when I realized the entire movie was of a certain 3-year-old running around the house – naked (my oldest brother stole the camera while baby-sitting).

And so the reels go, bringing back the past and the people who lived it with you.

In my memory, I could find no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by spending time looking back on all the movies that dot the landscape of one’s memories. The birthdays, the baptisms, the vacations, and the many adventures in mischief caught on film.

Such is the power of the past.

While driving to my parents’ home this afternoon, a powerful sense of peace will come over me. The roads will be quiet. November’s gray skies will add to the silence. And with each passing block, as I get closer to the house I grew up in, the memories will begin to play. The overload will be so powerful, in fact, that I will be unable to latch onto one single memory and follow it through from beginning to end. Rather, the combined emotional impact of a lifetime of memories will simply lift the spirit.

I suppose that is what is meant by nostalgia, which Random House defines as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

To me, Thanksgiving is lived nostalgia. Memories take over the soul, and gratitude pours forth.

That’s pretty powerful stuff.

And so, as you gather around the table, I offer you a Thanksgiving toast:

Cheers to the new memories being created today, and to the nostalgia yet to come.

Roll film!

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