Built to Last

Film Projector

Edith M. Maxwell

The projector sat steel gray on a stand of wood, a sturdy mechanism made to last. It smelled of oil and warm celluloid, and even when cold and dark I heard it tick and whir as our images jerked by on the screen. We saw silent happy children in those movies, like watching back yard action through a closed kitchen window.

Daddy always ran the projector. He was a short sturdy man, but his fingers seemed long and deft feeding the film, narrow and shiny, into the sprockets and guiding it on its designated path through the indestructible machine. The projector was heavy, the metal soft-looking, textured, industrial, built to last, untippable, unbreakable.

My father looked like he was built to last, too, but he didn’t. His coma, after a fall so sudden and cruel it made me wail without control, was his bruised and damaged brain saying, “That’s it honey. I am no longer here.” And he wasn’t.

I flew across the country, visited him twice a day. I read him stories, political columns, and quotes from Garrison Keillor, but he did not awake. I told him of my plans to create in me a baby, a grandchild for him, a young person to know him and learn from him all the things I learned: how to leap up from the table at dinner to check a fact in the encyclopedia, how to scramble exactly one egg for yourself and then dry the small cast iron skillet (his personal property) with a soft paper towel as carefully as you might a baby’s bottom, how to splice the narrow soundless film that we all loved to watch.

He didn’t wake up for me, for anyone, and passed on from this world five months later that November.

We all went to memorialize him, me with a new tiny baby inside, his sisters with their good cheer masking sadness, his former co-teachers with their wit and memories, and Jan, his second and beloved bride, of generous heart, who loved him and gave him passion in his retirement, Jan

with her ample hips and ceaseless talk, and my sisters and brother, oddballs all, posing for pictures in our original family order, only now the youngest is the tallest and the two middles are the shortest, (and since we’re doing nothing but shrinking these days, that’s how it’s going to stay).

My sisters were surprised when I knew how to run the heavy projector, rooted in its perfect mechanism, when I told them Daddy taught me how to splice with the little metal box that clamped the film and let you put a piece of splicing tape just so across the diagonal cuts. After sixteen years his absence still hurts and I can’t tell my father I’m the projectionist now, but I imagine he sees my sons are way impressed.

-2001, Pyramid Lake