August 1941. Petty Officer Matt Devine stood behind the family’s peeling green lawn bench, his hands behind him. He was on a short leave and anxious to get out of this hot backyard and over to Mary Viellas’ before he had to catch his train.

His sister Rita and brother Jim stood next to him, equally anxious to get this photo shoot over. Rita had a date with a young man who would soon become her husband. Jim had a singing lesson and kept asking his brother Kenny, who sat on the bench in front of him, what time it was.

As I write this, I have the enlarged copy of the photo on my desk. My mother sits on the bench next to my father, who hated having his picture taken. He is wearing his only summer suit, a white linen number that easily wrinkled. I stand in front of him, my arms folded. I appear to be whistling, which drove my little sister crazy. She stands by my mother’s lap.

On the side street outside the yard, two nuns from the convent were passing by. They stopped to watch the happy family having their picture taken. If they could have only heard some of the language being mumbled, they would have moved on. But they didn’t.

One sister offered to take the shot so all could be as one. My mother smiled and said, “Don’t drop it now, Sister, it’s older than you are.”

Yes it was. It was a Brownie No. 2 Model F. It was first, I believe, introduced in the late 1900s and discontinued in 1930. I didn’t know any of that then. I didn’t know it until just last week when I found it stored in a box in the attic. I knew it was Mother’s, but it had no workings inside and was just a piece of a memory. She didn’t know how to load it or wind it and always had to ask someone else in the family to do it for her.


I went looking for it last week because of a story in the news. Eastman Kodak of Rochester, N.Y., has filed for bankruptcy. Who could ever imagine such a thing? Since old George Eastman created the company in 1889, Kodak was synonymous with happiness.

A Kodak camera of some sort, tiny, large, silver, brown leathered, was omnipresent at all moments of joy, at weddings and baptisms, graduations and every holiday known to man. 

I looked it up online, and there it was with all that precise information. It seems to be worth about 45 bucks today, but it’s worth a lot more to me. It had set on a shelf in the living room long before I was born. America’s family albums, those old leather bound books we’ve kept tucked away for years, are full of snapshots taken with Kodak cameras.

Go to your albums and take a look. Look at the little boy in his first communion suit. There he is years later, a sailor on leave, or the GI in Italy or on Saipan, standing around a tank holding weapons. There he is, frozen in youthful beauty, tanned and smiling, holding up fingers in the victory sign. He was your son, your brother, he was you, and you have that to look at now because of a Kodak camera.

There she is in her wedding dress and later, holding babies in her arms. There they all are, frozen in the ancient aspic of George Eastman’s magic alchemy. 

George Eastman, a young bank teller from Rochester, N.Y., who had a dream,


George Eastman, the Steve Jobs of his day.

George Eastman who invented the roll film that helped give birth to the invention of motion picture film and created the advertising slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”

Now, every tiny serendipitous moment of your life, from first steps to last, is framed and glued in a book because of George Eastman. “It’s a Kodak moment” we would say. Of course it was.

December 2010, Standard and Poor’s dropped Kodak from its S&P 500 index.

On January 12, only weeks ago, George Eastman’s dream began its tumble. Kodak filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Jobs put a camera in our phones and made our lives easier. George Eastman put a camera in our hands and made our dreams permanent.

Goodnight, George, wherever you are. Thanks for the memories.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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