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Have you ever seen a slide show? If you’re around my age I’m sure you have. If you’re a lot younger than me you probably haven’t. How old am I? Let’s just say I’m NOT old enough to remember the last time the Red Sox won a World Championship, but I had just finished college when our team lost the championship to St. Louis in 1967. Do the numbers and you should have some idea of my age.
The topic of slide shows came up recently at a family event I attended, and I had to chuckle because I hadn’t thought about them in some time. Now, when I say “slide show,” I’m not talking about today’s version of the experience, where someone simply projects digital images from their computer onto a high-tech screen in a modern-day “function room” somewhere. In times past you were likely to see slide shows when a teacher wanted to kill time in a particular class, or as part of a longer than necessary business presentation, or -- and this was the most dreaded variety – as a tedious, unending review of a (usually rich) relative’s exotic trip to someplace far away.
As I thought about slide shows I was transported back to an evening so many years ago when the family was invited to dinner at Uncle Earl and Aunt Gertrude’s house. It was understood that afterwards we would all gather in their ostentatious front parlor to watch slides of their recent trip across Europe. Since Aunt Gertrude was a terrible cook and Uncle Earl talked too much -- especially when showing slides -- no one was looking forward to the evening. But, nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced.
When we arrived Uncle Earl and Aunt Gertrude greeted us warmly as usual and then told us about the special plans they had for supper. We were going to have an indoor cookout using the new fireplace grill they just had installed. “Afterwards, we’ll toast some Old Settler donuts for dessert and then watch the slides of our trip,” Uncle Earl said. It almost sounded like fun. But what followed was awful.
When it was time to begin grilling, Uncle Earl went to the fridge, took out some of the most beautiful hamburger patties I’d ever seen and placed them on the grill. Even I noticed that he had placed these red, juicy patties over hungry flames and just left them there. Before long they took on a pitch-like hue so Uncle Earl decided they were done.
The patties now had the look and tenderness of hockey pucks. To complete the meal, these ruined cinders were served with undercooked baked potatoes and overcooked Lima beans. To make things worse the fresh Old Settler donuts were also burned black in the flames beneath the grill.
After this dreadful meal we all got up and went into the parlor for the long-awaited slide show. There on a table in the middle of the room was a projector and beside it were stacked at least 12 boxes of slides. If I had been a captured spy with all kinds of sensitive, top-secret information, I would have spilled my guts right there if it meant avoiding the slide show that was about to begin.
What the endless show demonstrated was that poor Uncle Earl had spent a lot time and money going to some of the most colorful places in the world -- London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Athens -- and managed to come away with some of the most colorless and boring pictures ever taken. For hours we sat and watched images of Aunt Gertrude standing next to a wall of brown stone that could have been anywhere but happened to be the British Parliament building in London. Next would be a picture of Uncle Earl standing before the same stones. Occasionally there would be a slide of both of them standing before some indistinguishable but supposedly famous landmark.
After several hours of this the show finally ended. As young as I was I promised myself -- no matter what - I would never agree to endure someone’s family slides again and I never have. So some good did come out of my last slide show.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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