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My Life in a Thousand Words

Saturday at Home

By Brian E. Faulkner

They come unbidden, fragments of time lost, then found. Fleeting bits of memory: the plink-plink of water dropping on a spoon in the kitchen two rooms away and one floor down remains fresh 60-odd years later. So, too, the hiss of our radiator and the clank of pipes on a sharply cold New England night, window wedged up to let the crisp air have its way with any children’s toes that may have dared poke themselves out from under the comforter. Season after season, my brothers and I fell asleep listening for the deep night sounds: a barely perceptible dog bark floating like a vapor through the neighborhood and then gone; the sudden surprise of a car going by so late; the distant swoosh and clatter of steam engines sorting themselves in the rail yard a couple of miles off.  On winter mornings, snow covered with specks of soot was proof that we’d heard them and not dreamed it.

Back when the old pufferbellies started giving way to diesel-powered engines that looked like the future, my dad shot and edited an 8-millimeter movie that froze our family in time. Saturday at Home started at dawn, stopped at bedtime and in between captured our family’s end-of-summer, beginning-of-fall minutiae in extraordinary detail. It began with paper titles hung on the clothesline, shirts and pants and diapers with letters clipped to them spelling out Saturday at Home (clever fellow). Dad forever captured kids, parents and pets during his late-1940s production, including one memorable image of my younger brother tied to a tree after riding his trike into the street. New-old cars populated the background along with shots of our yard before the trees got thicker and the lawn got thinner. There we were, playing with Bootise the cat and riding our bikes up and down the sidewalk. There was Dad, in a cameo appearance, showing off the dark hair and movie star looks that caught the eye of a feisty redhead he met in high school and eventually married. He sets a beer down on the grass beside a huge Westinghouse radio placed there to beam Red Sox play-by-play his way as he takes down the summer awnings and lugs heavy old wooden storm windows up a ladder to the second-floor bedrooms, an onerous task we kids would inherit in later years. As day morphs into evening, we read Slappy the Duck on Dad’s lap. Then it’s bunk-bed time. And finally their time. Closing scenes show Mom stretched out on the couch with Time magazine as Dad reads in his easy chair. That’s how it was in the waning years of civilization without TV.  And cigarettes! It’s easy to forget how pervasive (almost glamorous) smoking was in the ’40s and ’50s.

Saturday at Home still plays in my mind during those rare moments free of today’s demands, along with fragments from Dad’s other home movies: me leaving home, me coming back, me moving to North Carolina and becoming just an occasional visitor. It took a long time to sort out where home was vs. where home used to be.

North Carolina has been home now for the greatest part of a lifetime.  Our four children have grown up in and around Winston-Salem and also spent a great deal of time with their maternal grandparents down toward the coast, where you can “still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees,” to quote Don Williams.

That other Faulkner, the famous literary one, once wrote a line about lying “beneath a strange roof thinking of home.” I get that. And sometimes, six decades-plus gone from that Saturday at home, I recall with uncommon clarity how it felt to lie in bed during the deep of night, listening to the sound of steam trains assembling in the distance. 

Mom and Dad have been gone for near half a generation after leaving New England in the late ’80s for a dream home in South Florida. (She begged him on her knees to buy that house, and they moved so decisively I never got to see the place again). Now I have box after box of my own photographs, profuse with memories of offspring who grew up minute-by-minute at the speed of light — plus five grandchildren spread from here to all-too-far-away, each of whom provides this growing oldster with a full measure of wonder and delight as they grow and change. Best of all, I sometimes get to tell them stories of rascally children and ancient days that somehow get more generously painted each time told.

Two of my brothers inherited the folks’ photographic treasures, including Saturday at Home. Some of the old snapshots are dog-eared and faded, but others seem ready to jump out of their borders and say hello, how are ya, where ya been . . . it’s been a long, long time. I look forward to getting one or two of these Faulkner Moments tucked into one brother’s Christmas card every year, which I put in my own boxes, companions to the gazillion slides I took of my children as they sprouted wings, stumbled a time or two, finally got the hang of it and flew off to make something of their lives.   

“What is your life?” asks James in the Bible. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  Memories float in and out of that mist. But sometimes the fog lifts for a span and they come back to us, unbidden. Then they vanish, retreating to wherever it is treasured spirits go to rest, revive themselves and wait for the next time.

If we truly are fortunate, the moment these fleeting bits of memory re-emerge from the mist, a grandchild — or two — may find us dozing in an easy chair or stretched out on the sofa like a lizard in the sun and say, “Grandpa! Grandma! Tell me a story about what it was like . . . back then, when you were a kid . . .”  OH

Among other things (most having to do with writing or marketing) Brian Faulkner is a five-time Emmy award–winning writer of magazine-style programming on UNC-TV.

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