Price, Utah, is a long way from London, England—still, it wasn’t hard to imagine myself living in a Dickens novel at Christmastime. Because all the houses in our town burned coal, the winter air smelled of bitumen and sulfur. At the community ice rink, ragged urchins huddled around a 50-gallon incinerator, which also burned coal. Wet woolen mittens roasting on an open fire—that’s what I remember.
The year was 1958, and I was more excited than usual because I had asked Santa to bring me a Mecablitz 100 strobelight like the one I had seen in the window of Barney’s Photo Shop. The price tag was a hefty fifty dollars—a fortune at the time—but I figured what the heck. Santa Claus has deep pockets, right?
Of course I’d figured out by this time that Santa had helpers, including my Mom and Dad. Since neither had come right out and told me the truth about Santa, I figured this might be a good time to push the envelope and see if I could wrangle a much more expensive present than anything I’d gotten before, and to my amazement it worked. Come Christmas morning, there underneath the tree was the flash gun. My favorite Christmas present ever!
I don’t remember what Santa brought my brother Chuck, but I sure hope it wasn’t just those pajamas. My other brother Jim got a tire for his ’49 Chevy coupe, and my kid sister got a Poor Pitiful Pearl doll. That’s my mother on the right, mimicking Pitiful Pearl. Next to her is my father, evidently feeling the pain of having played Santa.
Later that day we all piled into the car and set out for grandmother’s house, which in storybooks is “over the river and through the woods.” In real life, my grandmother’s house was seventy miles away via highway 6, reputedly one of the most dangerous roads in the country.
“Over the guard rail and off the cliff, into soldier creek we go…”we sang, scarily.
Grandma didn’t live on a farm, but she did have a detached garage that looked something like a barn and a deep yard that abutted some woods. Here is a picture of me exploring the back forty, armed with my camera and new flash gun and wearing the obligatory new Jantzen sweater and freshly-pressed, empire waist trousers. Yes, I was a dork, but with my trusty Signet 40 and Mecablitz strobe in hand, I was an armed and dangerous dork.
Mine was one of only two strobe lights in the county, the other being a Heiland Strobonar belonging to the professional photographer Al Fossat in Helper. It was a big deal not just because it meant I no longer had to buy flash bulbs but because it was very quick. With a flash duration of one thousandth of a second, I no longer had to tell my subjects to stand still, which is what every photographer in my family had been saying up til then. From that day on, the faster things moved, the better I liked it. In my little index finger I had the power to make the world stand still.