When I graduated from 8th grade in 1957, my parents gave me a Wirgin 35mm camera. Included were 2 rolls of black and white film, I think they were 24 exposure rolls, a shiny brown leather custom fitted cover with a matching leather strap and a collapsible flash attachment with 6 flash bulbs that looked like they had cotton candy inside them. We had color film back then, but it probably cost twice as much as black and white and my dad probably said something to me like, “You need to learn how to use black and white film first; then I’ll trust you with color film.” I’m pretty sure they bought it for me because I’d been bugging them to get me one, just like my cousin had, with all the little dials, levers and a leather camera cover. I finally felt like my parents started trusting me with something other than my weekly allowance and our old push and shove lawn mower. Now, I was as worthy as my cousin.
Early the next morning I loaded the camera with its first roll of film and headed up our street to the county road, made a left turn, and struck out for what everyone called Cemetery Hill, about 2 miles away; way out in the country. There wasn’t not a cloud in the sky and I could see for miles. Sitting like an Indian on one of those flat tombstones, no disrespect intended, I studied the operating instructions, word for word, and tinkered with my Wirgin. It wasn’t long till I was taking pictures and listening to the riveting sound of my shutter. Before I knew it, I was out of film and headed back to town to Camp’s Drug Store. Those 2 rolls of film sure didn’t last very long.
After grunting and groaning, on and off for several minutes, and reading my instructions, at least 1 more time, on how to get the film out, Mr. Camp frowned down at me through his little glass window and offered to remove the film for me. I told him I got the first roll out OK, but this second roll got stuck, somehow, I think. Except for his frown that one time, he had always been a real nice man. I was never afraid to go into his drug store, even if I wasn’t going to buy anything. He told me I could come back in a week and pick-up my 2 rolls of slides and it would cost 90 cents, since they were just black and white. That’s so long ago, I really don’t remember how much he said it would cost, and it really doesn’t matter.
I wanted 35mm slides, not pictures, so I could use my dad’s slide projector. A week later I returned to get my pictures. I can’t remember exactly what Mr. Camp said, but he looked at me and probably said something like, “I’m sorry Richard, but we couldn’t make any slides. Everything was blurry, real bad. So, it’s no charge. Anyway, here are the negatives, if you want them.”
About half way home from Camp’s Drug Store, I finally regained my cool. As much as I hated the idea, I decided I had no choice, but to ask my dad to teach me how to use this piece of mechanical witchcraft. Somehow, I had to remove the curse, or spell, that the cemetery had put on my camera. Maybe I should’ve just stayed away from that old cemetery. It wasn’t my fault all the pictures were blurry, I followed the instructions, word for word. I dreaded having to tell my dad what happened with those 2 rolls of film. But, I was really glad that I had wasted black and white film, not color film. All I wanted was to use the slide projector to show my 35mm slides on the living room wall just like my dad’s slides. One of the most fascinating sounds in the world is the sound of a 35mm slide projector going clackity-clack from one picture to the next.
In those days all we had were sidewalks and paved streets and a drainage ditch between the two. The concrete curb and gutters were still a few years away. As I came around the corner of my street, in the process of hopping over the drainage ditch, I stumbled. My beloved, soul equalizing, Wirgin ejected itself from my hands and tumbled end over end, for the longest time. I watched it hit the street right on the top corner where the lever was that advanced the film. If I had only snapped the leather cover over the camera, but it was too late for that now. I slowly picked up the camera and prayed it would still work. I softly touched that lever and prayed some more. I didn’t try to move it, I just went on praying. I barely touched it again and that’s when I heard a soft pinging sound and watched a tiny spring and the lever launch into that clear blue sky. On their way up, they disappeared right before my eyes. I hunted for that lever and spring for over an hour, on my knees, up and down the ditch and in the street. I never found them. For all I know that lever and spring were in orbit, beating Sputnik by 3 or 4 months.
From that second on, I never talked to anyone about my graduation present . As far as I know, to this day, my parents never found out what happened to my Wirgin, and they never asked me about it. As much as I wanted to brag about it, I never, ever, mentioned my Wirgin to my cousin, either.
What can I say, so much for my parents trusting me with something other than my weekly allowance or our old push and shove lawn mower.