The year was 1978. My daughter was five and she flew on a plane for the first time. It was Easter and we were visiting my sister in Rochester who worked for Kodak. My parents decided to drive instead of fly, meeting us there. My sister had a degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon and was one of the few females allowed to participate in the building of a machine which we had to sign our lives away to see.
My father complained she was making more money fresh out of college than he'd made as a full professor but I could tell he was proud. My mother brought one of her instamatic cameras which was promptly confiscated prior to "the tour". To weed out the faint-of-heart, part of the tour included a walk-through of the conditions some employees experienced. Total darkness, a few tiny red lights to guide your feet. I held my daughter's hand and tried not to think about how claustrophobic I felt. "Isn't this fun, honey?"
My sister was not allowed to explain anything, in fact, she wasn't even on the tour with us. We took several staircases and walked through large rooms of men smoking cigarettes. At some point, we were shown into a room where we all had to don safety goggles and I only recognized my sister by her hair and her shape. Most of the machine was covered; I can't remember now with what except it was black. We were told it was a work in progress. From what I could see it looked like something that ate people and carefully removed the bones, cataloging them for who knows what purpose. It was sinister and all I could think was my sister had helped design this. My sister, who I once protected from raging sibling rivalry. My sister, whose curly red hair and freckles I envied and loved.
My mother was given back her camera; she took a few photos outside the building, but it was blustery and cold, and we weren't dressed warm enough. In those days, my mother's photos always had either her blurry thumb on one side or our heads chopped off. This time was no different.