Last assignment of Writing 101 is for Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure: Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you. Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to longform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative. You can go with a set number — 750, 1000, or 2000 words, or more (or less!)
I looked down at the item in the box that my sister Gayle put in my hands. I hadn’t seen it for years. What memories it brought back of the fun of looking at three dimensional pictures.
These memories began with visits to Aunt Laura’s house, a small home that this widowed lady had stuffed with many things. Aunt Laura was the oldest sister of my mom’s father, born sometime in the late 1870’s or 80’s. We loved Aunt Laura and she always seemed glad to see us. However, her house was not a very exciting place for two youngsters, five and six. Aunt Laura had the answer. She would bring out her “Holmes Stereoscope” and this “machine” would bring the world outside alive to my sister and me. With great anticipation, Gayle and I would argue about who got to see it first, but at Aunt Laura’s urgings to share, and my mom’s warnings about putting it away, we would share it. As we put a card in the holder and moved it backward or forward until the picture was in focus, magic appeared before us. The double images on the stiff cardboard rectangle before us blended together in a three-dimensional picture and the walls around us opened to the waterfall cascading over the cliff; or a mother in her kitchen, baking; or a small boy and his dog kneeling beside his bed, saying their bedtime prayers. One of us would look and soak it in, then pass it to the other to enjoy, trying to wait patiently until it was time to put another card into the card holder.
We loved it so much that after a later visit, Aunt Laura said she wanted us to have it. We gasped in delight. The fantastic 3-D machine would be available whenever we wanted to use it.
And now, I held the precious machine. Its rickety state showed how much my sister’s children and grandchildren had enjoyed it. I knew it would never make it through more children unless I was there to oversee the process. I wrapped it up carefully, wondering what the value of a well beloved stereoscope was. I looked up stereoscopes on the internet and found that they were fairly recently still being made! Our stereoscope would remain a sentimental item.
Later, I wondered, would my grandchildren appreciate this old picture viewer? Would the pictures I remember be as wonderful to them as they were to me? Technology has improved things, even those things that to me are not so old, like eight track and cassette tapes.
There are other items classified as stereoscopes, among them the View-Master made in 1939. In the 1960’s and years following, they were a favorite toy of children, who like my sister and I, enjoyed the world around them reaching into their lives. They were great, but the pictures on the cardboard disks were never as nice as those on my stereoscope. But progress changes things and View-Masters were easier to use than stereoscopes.
Having the stereoscope goes beyond the fun of seeing those pictures as if I was looking at the real scene, it is about having something in my possession that links me to my grandparents and the time they grew up in. It makes me wonder what Aunt Laura thought about new inventions, like electric lights and telephones, to say nothing of cars and airplanes!
According to Wikipedia, this Holmes Stereoscope was created in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes. “He created and deliberately did not patent a handheld, streamlined, much more economical viewer than had been available before. The stereoscope, which dates from the 1850s, consisted of two prismatic lenses and a wooden stand to hold the stereo card. This type of stereoscope remained in production for a century and there are still companies making them in limited production currently. It is primarily American, although it is often named ‘Mexican stereoscope.’ ”