It used to be that receiving email from my dad caused a great deal of trepidation on my part. Should I open it? What if there are attachments, or worse, pictures? See, dad didn’t take pictures of the adorable side of the vet clinic, the boxes of puppies, the tiny goats on the scale, the dog with the happy grin. Dad was far more likely to take photos of the odd and the grotesque, the horse with a distended eye or the calf born with birth defects. Medically interesting, yes, good for teaching by example, but appetizing, not so much. My friends learned to never, ever peer over my shoulder while I was working for fear that I’d be reading an email from my dad.

Doc Randall, Better Known as Dad, Bundled Up and Ready for Winter

Doc Randall, Better Known as Dad, Bundled Up and Ready for Winter

Then, a couple of years ago, I started to get strange, technical questions regarding photography equipment from dad. “What do you know about slide loaders? “Um, slide loaders? Not so much. But let me talk to Oscar and see if he knows anything or has any recommendations.” (For the record, my friend Oscar is getting a master’s degree in photography, so I shunt all camera questions directly to him. I do not pass Go and collect $200.) Dad wasn’t interested in photography so much as his photographic legacy. His collected photographic work is contained on slides. Thousands and thousands of slides. Lots of boxes of slides. If you go into his office, slide boxes are stacked against the wall and under the desk. I fear looking in any of his known hiding spots–closets, drawers of old bureaus, sheds at the vet clinic–for fear of just how many slides I’ll find.

My grandfather, dad’s dad, used to save pictures as slides as well. While this was perhaps good during the 1950s, it isn’t so good in our age of digital photography. Few over the age of 40 have even seen those slide carousels (and can even mighty Amazon procure the obscure such as that?), and I know of no one that wants to view, sort, catalog, and tag this sort of work. Then, for Christmas one year, our grandparents presented each child and grandchild with a DVD that contained digital images from the slides of camping trips to Glacier National Park, of first days of school, of family dinner, of family holidays, of aunts and cousins playing with friends. Every one of us loved this gift. By converting those slides to digital images, we could enjoy the photos and actually keep them. Even better, we wouldn’t be faced with boxes and boxes of photos that no one wanted to sort through when they sold their house or passed away.

I knew where dad was going with this. He wanted to turn slide collection of the fantastic and weird and gross to a digital collection in order for it to be of any use. Admirable, yes, but I still worried that I was on speed dial with regards to his pet project.

Based on my grandfather’s experience, dad knew that you could scan and load slides individually, a manual, labor-intensive process if I ever heard one. You could use a bulk loader, but that would still only do six slides at a time. Alternatively, you could outsource this to a company that specialized in just that type of mind-numbing, repetitive activity, but they had the audacity to charge quite a bit for this sort of work. What he was really hoping was that I’d volunteer to scan and load his slides for him, all 12 billion of them.

“No,” I said, “absolutely not. If you think CSU is so interested in your slide collection, then they can donate a grad student to scan all those to a hard drive. I am not spending one moment scanning in your collection of eyeballs.”

“But your father would appreciate it so much,” even my grandmother chimed in.

Getting old is awesome. You can say no to requests from your parents, even grandparents, without guilt. By chance if you do feel any guilt, you’ll get over it.

And now, fast forward to, well, now. I find it hugely ironic that I am the one writing about the weird and grotesque, that I am pillaging these same disparaged slides to better illustrate what a horse infected with tetanus looks like, for examples of bladder stones, for dogs that got into porcupines. True, I will get in a few heart-friendly puppy shots here and there, but those photos that illustrate a disease or injury are pretty useful, and dad undoubtedly has an example in there somewhere. It’s just that finding that example is quite the ordeal.

Should I feel guilty that I didn’t scan his slide collection? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that I want a slide scanner for Christmas. I could, however, use a grad student…