“Everything looks worse in black and white.”
— Paul Simon
Sometime in the spring of 1973 — the calendar does not record the date — my grandfather bought a bad batch of film.
Either that, or his neighborhood film developer hired a new guy to do the job and hadn’t quite finished training him yet.
Whatever the reason, one of his family photobooks has a couple of pictures from around that time that don’t seem to hold their age as well as the pictures around them. I don’t have scans of most of them, but I’ve paged through the book numerous times, and I can see them, with pale, faded colors and washed-out faces.
I don’t think it was my grandfather’s fault — he was pretty good with a camera — so I’m blaming some imbalance in the fragile combination of chemicals that creates, sets and keeps a film-based image.
In one specific case, a touch of Kodafail has actually worked in favor of the picture. It’s a shot my grandpa took of a dogwood tree in his back yard, all decked out in springtime pink. The pink — to my untrained eye, anyway — looks especially delicate, and the green grass around it looks especially light and fresh and spring-y. I do not perceive either color as quite true to life, but I like them both. (The sky looks kinda washed-out for a sunny day, too, but we’ll focus our attention on the native flora.)
This is the kind of everyday beauty that makes you stop, in the middle of running from one gently nagging pain to the next, and say, “Man, that’s nice. The dry-cleaning can wait. I’m just gonna sit here in the sunshine, and soak that in for a minute, and make note of it.”
And, about a year after he took the picture above, my grandfather did just that, on his trusty calendar.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with either the photo or the tree itself when I was younger. As a kid, I rated all trees based on their climbability; and I don’t remember the dogwood offering much of interest on that score.
As a grown-up, I’ve come to appreciate dogwoods and other spring-flowering trees, both for their appearance and for their role as a harbinger of warmer weather.
After all, not everything that’s supposed to herald the arrival of spring actually does. April baseball, for instance, is a tease: It reminds you of warmth, but it’s often played in biting cold. (Engraved on my memory is a wire-service photo of Amos Otis, the excellent Kansas City centerfielder of the 1970s, standing impassive and baseball-ready as an early-season snowstorm swirls around him.)
Flowering trees, on the other hand, strike me as more trustworthy. They don’t show their colors until the truly cold weather has passed, and the days are comfortable more often than not. I also think the beauty of these trees makes it seem about five degrees warmer, no matter what the temperature really is — a subliminal mental effect that advertisers would kill for.
As I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather’s house was torn down in the mid-1980s to make way for condos. I tend to doubt the dogwood is still there; most likely there’s a breakfast nook where it used to stand.
I’m sure the condo has a much more efficient and effective heating system than my grandparents’ house had. Still, when the current resident looks out the window around this time of year, I bet it feels a couple of degrees colder than it did in the 1970s.
In our next installment: Back to the 1960s.