During the summers when I was growing up in Danville, the local community college put on courses covering a variety of topics for, well, kids. It was aptly named College for Kids. The courses counted for no credit, just pure educational enrichment. As you can imagine, they weren't wildly popular, but there were a few highly motivated youngsters who showed up ready to learn.
One summer I took an arts & crafts class. The summer between 5th & 6th grade I took a photography class. I don't really remember why I thought I was interested in photography. Perhaps it had something to do with the camera shop down the street from my grandparents' house. I would walk down there and look at all the neat equipment for hours. The course was taught by a photographer at the local newspaper.
The first day of class I showed up with my mom's fixed-focus point-and-shoot 35mm Vivitar camera. The instructor gave each of the students a roll of film and assigned homework to take a bunch of photographs, enough to fill the roll, before the next class. He would develop them all (for free), then we would start learning what we could do to take better photos. Each class we picked up a new roll of film and turned in our previous role. In these days, long before the advent of the digital camera, film and development were somewhat tedious and expensive, so this was the first time I really had the opportunity to waste film by taking whatever types of pictures I wanted.
The class was amazing. We learned about framing & lighting. We learned how to operate really nice cameras. We even learned how to develop black & white film (color film being more difficult to develop). I was hooked. A few weeks after the class ended I took $120 I earned from my job as official scorekeeper at the little league park all summer, walked to the camera store down the street from my grandparents' house, and purchased a used Vivitar SLR camera body and a 50mm prime lens. A couple months later I saved up some more money and purchased the matching 135mm telephoto lens. Nothing on this camera was automatic. It required manual focusing, aperture, shudder speed. It even required manually winding the film between photos. It was actually somewhat difficult to operate, but it was worth it.
I loved that camera. I used it to take photographs for school yearbooks and newspapers. I photographed family gatherings and sporting events. I took the camera with me to my job at ASP the summer after my freshman year in college. I used it all summer long to preserve many wonderful memories. Unfortunately, that's where the story ends. At the end of the summer I packed up the camera (and all my other stuff) in one of our vans. We stopped at a few work sites in a different county to help out for a few days. I never saw the camera again. I still don't know what happened to it. My best guess is that somebody stole it, though I can't rule out the possibility I simply misplaced it somewhere.
I replaced my beloved Vivitar with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. The photographs weren't as good, but it was much cheaper and easier to operate than a SLR. In 2001 I replaced it with my first digital point-and-shoot camera, which was amazing (I took 240 photos while hiking on the first day of our honeymoon). It wasn't until 2003 that I finally got another SLR camera, the Digital Rebel.