The rest of that week I was in a funk. I couldn’t wait for camp to end. My brothers tried to raise my spirits by taking me on daily hiking trips. They claimed the exercise would keep my mind occupied. The effort did little for my spirits and gave my feet blisters.
The last day in camp was a Saturday. That morning I quickly packed up my things, took down the tent, and hauled it all down to my Dad who was packing our car. “Could we stop at the drug store to drop off my film before we go home?” I asked. When he said yes I crawled into the backseat, fashioned my knapsack into a pillow, and fell asleep. I slept through the entire drive home waking only after my Mother called my name.
Learning I’d have to wait a week to pick up my film was a disappointment to say the least. Those seven days felt like purgatory.
The following Saturday I rode my bike to town arriving at the drug store before it opened. The counter lady was kind to me. As soon as the delivery truck arrived, she dug through all the boxes until she found my film. I’ve never forgotten the pride I felt when I held my first film in my hand.
As I pedaled home that Saturday morning, my 8mm masterpiece was burning a hole in my pocket.
Arriving home I jumped off my bike letting it tumble onto the front lawn. I flung open the screen door. It ricocheted off the house slamming shut with a bang like a starting pistol at a high school track meet. I raced to the closet where the screen and projector was stored.
Digging through our winter coats and boots I heard my Mother calling from the kitchen. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I got my film,” I gleefully replied from inside the closet. I heard the footsteps of my family.
Suddenly, Tilt’s arm reached over my shoulder. He pulled the screen out of the back of the closet and said, “I got it Twerp.”
“Gimme your film,” Pan insisted. I hesitated. “Come on,” he implored. I pulled the film out of my back pocket and handed it to him. “Go sit on the couch,” he instructed.
As Tilt assembled the screen in front of the TV, Pan placed the projector on the coffee table and plugged in the cord. When he opened the box containing my film, I felt my chest tighten.
“Careful with that,” I scolded.
“Don’t worry Mr. Hitchcock,” he said with a grin. “I’ve made more films than you.”
My Father patted the couch between he and my Mom. “Park it here Alfred.” My brothers chuckled.
I perched on the edge of the cushion between my parents so I could watch my oldest brother deftly thread my film through the projector’s rollers and sprockets. He wrapped the head of it around the take up reel and then nodded to Tilt.
Standing in front of our living room’s large picture window, Tilt raised his arms, and in the voice of a carnival barker began, “Ladies and gentlemen for your viewing pleasure …”
“Just close the drapes will yah?” I insisted.
Mimicking my high-pitched voice he continued. “… We present, Me and Eldon.”
“That’s not the title,” I protested.
My Mom asked, “What are you going to call it?”
“I dunno yet.”
Tilt closed the drapes. The room darkened. The projector flickered to life. For a moment the screen was a hazy blotchy yellow. Then a deep blue sky above a crystal clear lake appeared. In the center of the shot was the wooden dock jetting out into the lake pointing the eye to a distant shoreline of evergreens. The sun sparkled off gentle waves. “That looks like a beer commercial,” my Dad quipped.
In a quick succession of shots we saw Eldon smiling, walking up the hill, then chopping kindling. Next, we saw him pushing a kitchen match into a fresh bed of moist beach sand in front of a miniature tower of kindling standing four layers tall. The match was a part of a column of matches that started under the first layer of the tower and continued out about six inches in the sand. They looked like a tiny picket fence with their post tops painted red and white.
Eldon lit a match. The camera followed the flame as it moved closer and closer to the column until the first match burst into flame. One by one the match heads erupted, marching the flame down the column and under the tower. When the flame engulfed the column of kindling my family applauded.
“Ingenious,” my Father remarked.
“Eldon must’ve come up with that,” my brother Pan added.
The next series of shots were at the table we made out of logs and twine. Eldon laid out two sheet of thick tin foil. Into each sheet he placed slices of potato, carrots, Spam©, a pad of butter, and a pinch of salt. Then he carefully closed the foil pouches folding each edge three times to completely seal them.
“What do you call that?” my Mother asked.
“That,” my Father replied. “… is a Hobo dinner.”
Eldon carefully nestled the pouches into the glowing coals.
I was really proud of the next two shots. The first one was a close up of Eldon’s face as he looked down at the fire. The sunlight fluttering through the leaves made him look older than he was. Plus, he was smiling. The second shot was also a close up. It showed the blackened foil pouches in the glowing red-hot coals surrounded by a circle of gray stones. I framed the shot from his point of view. I thought it looked like a painting.
The film then cut to Eldon seated at the table just as he opened his Hobo dinner. His glasses fogged from the rising steam. He tipped his plate to the camera to show the savory ingredients swimming in a buttery sauce.
My Mom remarked, “That looks delicious.”
“It was”, I said.
Suddenly the screen went black. “On no,” my Mother said. “Did the camera break?”
Out of the blackness a bank of flashlights lit one by one. The beams were pointed downward illuminating the top of dirty tennis shoes. What appeared might be the start of an off-Broadway musical performed by under-aged dancers, devolved into the chaos that can occur when young boys wielding flashlights are fed too much sugar.
The stalk of beams began to wave erratically. Faces of laughing boys appeared and then disappeared into the darkness. A trio, their faces lit from below to mimic grimacing pint-sized movie monsters, floated into and out of the frame. The camera wandered aimlessly through what I’d describe as a cross between a backyard Halloween party gone terribly wrong and The Lord of the Flies on smores.
The camera came to rest on Eldon and I. The beams of light all pointed in our direction. Eldon hung his arm around my neck.
“Awe, there you two are,” my Mother cooed.
Eldon was smiling. I was crying. All the boys swarmed Eldon and began to shake his hand and pat him on the back.
“Thanks a lot for the close up.” I said sarcastically.
“My pleasure Wes,” Pan replied.
Tilt added, “Anytime Twerp.”
The final shot of my first film was taken that next morning. It showed Eldon’s happy-sad face before climbing into our car and the back of my head.
“Hey Mom,” Tilt chirped. “Wanna know what Wes said to me as Dad and Eldon were driving away?”
“What?” she asked.
“I love you.”
“That’s so sweet.”
My Father chuckled. That was the last time I ever saw Eldon. I see my two older idiot brothers every damn Christmas.