In a drawer in the dining room, in my favorite old, wooden chest with the rickety doors on the bottom that won't stay completely closed, I found it. It had rattled and rolled around in there for, oh, I don't know how long. Years, probably. Tousled with other odds and ends like stray envelopes and the tiny silver frame with the broken hinge, a card of blue buttons and an old address book filled with names of people who have long since moved on.
A roll of film. Just a roll of film snug inside its black, plastic canister. I popped off the top and slid the roll into my palm. Yellow gold, smooth metal casing with black lettering. Kodak 200. 35 mm. 24 exposures. It was spent.
It had to be old, at least eight years or so, I'd imagine. I can't remember the last time I used my old camera, popped in a roll of real film. Not since we bought a digital one Christmases ago. I miss that old camera.
I still can remember the ritual of dropping off a roll of film or two at the drugstore, writing your name on the little envelope and sealing it up. Used to be, you had to wait for days for your memories to come back from the developer, less if you wanted to pay a little more. Years later you could get them was only a matter of hours.
Still, nothing quite compared to that feeling of going in to pick up your photos. Anxious. Excited. Kind of like the few seconds before you scratch off a lottery ticket - it's either going to be something good, something just all right, or nothing at all. It's hard to wait, so you almost never made it out of the store without looking, right there at the counter whether there were other people waiting behind you or not. Peel back the envelope and pull them out, first one ... then two ...
Either it was sheer joy revisited - smiles and memories captured just right - or utter defeat - dark, blurry masses of indistinguishable mush. I had my share of those.
I remember little cube flashbulbs that you popped on top of the square little camera that my sister had that she'd never let me touch. The clicking sound the wheel made when you advanced the film forward.
Granddaddy had the first instant camera I can remember - the kind that made little perfectly square pictures that you had to wait and count before you could peel off the paper and see what surprise was underneath. We got a color Polaroid when they came out, and we would fuss over who got to shake it until the picture appeared like magic.
"Shake it like a Polaroid picture!" the song blared over the radio, and I laughed and my children asked me what that meant. Kinda sad.
And now I've found it - this roll of film all spent - and I have no idea what memories it holds. Is it of my children playing Legos or chasing seagulls or maybe a birthday party or, even more, maybe it's of someone I have long ago forgotten? I haven't taken a roll of film to be developed in so long.
Maybe I will wait just a little while longer. Like a box of unopened baseball cards that may or may not have a treasure inside, maybe I'll just look at it a little while and wonder what it holds. Maybe a gift. Maybe just a blurry mass.
I think I can wait a little longer.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.