When my husband Jim and I started dating, I don’t remember his talking about his interest in documenting family history. It came to light steadily over the years and we have the legacy to prove it—photos, home movies, videos and audio tapes. I am now gathering them from storage boxes, closets and drawers to be sure they are all together in one place. It's our treasure.
When we met in Baltimore, where Jim was a student at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, he casually took pictures with one of his father's range-finder cameras. Developing the black and white film was expensive so we don't have many photos of those days—but the ones we do have capture the moment. I could never take pictures with that camera. It baffled me. My speed was a Brownie box camera.
Jim learned to take pictures from his father who was one of those camera-smitten amateur photographers of the 1930s in California, land of the movies. Jim helped his father take creative 16mm movies of the family. We have copies of those movies—scripts written by Jim's mother and performed by his brothers and sisters—with sound. Jim often told me about them but I did not understand how priceless and precious they were until I saw them.
I remember the first time I saw the movies I had heard so much about. One special evening in 1969 when we were at his parents house in Madera, CA, for Christmas. Jim's father brought out the big movie projector. It was a small crowd that evening—Jim's mother and father, Jim and me and our three kids. Hal showed the family movies and a selection of Castle WWII films.
A dozen years ago Jim's oldest brother Harold transferred those movies to DVD for each of his siblings. They are wonderful—except that he backed the films with the theme from Chariots of Fire. I challenge anyone to watch them without crying as those kids of long ago cavort in the snow at Bass Lake and act out their mother's scripts in their Fresno living room. We all should be so lucky as to have our childhoods captured on film so that we can revisit them over and over.
In 1984, video cameras were large, heavy, clunky and expensive. We did not own one—yet. Jim was so determined to interview my father on film on his 70th birthday that he searched out a video rental in Charlotte, NC. That's how we have over an hour of my dad and me on camera going back over old stories and hearing new ones and some good jokes. Not to be left out, my mother insisted we interview her as well. And, am I glad.
With the advent of digital cameras, photography became more immediate and much easier, so I took up photography as well. Family albums became part of my art form. Today I never leave the house without a small camera tucked in my purse. And, Jim often brought out his newest video camera to capture a bit of the life around him—delighted as they became smaller and more convenient to use—a great contrast to the earlier heavyweight cameras he lugged for his father.
Jim and I enjoyed and shared a passion for documenting everyday life. Jim got it from his father. I inherited it from my Aunt Katherine who kept photograph albums of all the family. Today our grown children document their families and we all share stories.
Nothing as grand as the first crop of California 16mm movies, but it's all quite fine—and it tells our family story—for our grandchildren's children.
What's my point? To encourage you to take out your camera if you are not doing that already. You will be glad you did.