By Betty Williamson
The year 2015 may be remembered by many in eastern New Mexico as the Year of the Blizzard, but for me, 2015 marks the year I first got to time travel with some help from my late uncle, Jack Williamson.
A few months ago, I finally started tackling the teetering pile of boxed letters, convention programs, teaching notes, and slides — thousands upon thousands of slides — that ended up in my garage after Jack’s death in 2006.
In an old shoe box I discovered 11 yellow boxes of “Kodaslide Stereo Color Transparencies.” I opened the first, expecting the Kodachrome slides of my youth, but these looked like two of those slides with seemingly identical images connected in a single rectangular frame. I thought if I got a crafting knife I could separate them and run them through a slide projector.
Fortunately, before I started hacking away, I mentioned these curiosities to my camera-geek friend, Louise, who immediately hit the internet and found a refurbished vintage viewer, a handheld gadget reminiscent of an old View-Master. One stereo slide at a time is inserted into a slot. A switch on the bottom turns on a bulb to illuminate the image as you peer in through the binocular viewer.
Within days, a box arrived from Utah with my very own Kodaslide Stereo Viewer II and this promise: “See life-like pictures in three dimensions.”
Nothing could have prepared me for the images that were waiting. The 200 or so pictures were all taken by my uncle during 1955 and 1956, mostly in and around Portales as well as the ranch where I now live, where in the mid-1950s, my grandparents and still-unmarried dad were living.
This is where the time travel happens. When one of those transparencies is illuminated, I feel like I could step into the room and strike up a conversation. My grandmother died before I was born, and my grandfather when I was still too small to have any memories of my own. But in these pictures, there they are, dear and elderly and frail, my grandmother nearly always wearing a cotton apron and a sweet smile, my grandfather with the face that I saw in my father, his uncles, his cousins.
The color saturation, the clarity, the three-dimensional aspect of these images is like nothing I’ve ever seen. In the pictures from family dinners, you can see the drops of condensation on the goblets of iced tea, catch the gleam of a gelatin salad, almost smell the platters of fried meat. I swear I hear the clink of silverware on plates against a background of conversation and laughter.
A few days before Christmas I found 25 more boxes that go through 1962. I may not surface until after the spring thaw, but don’t worry about me. I’ll be back in 1955, admiring my grandma’s irises and having another glass of iced tea in her old kitchen. It’s a journey I never expected to make, and I plan to stay a while.
Betty Williamson wishes you a New Year filled with your own hidden treasures. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.