top of page

Memories of the Past

Somehow, I became the keeper of the home movies. Now, these are not recent movies on video; no, these are Super 8 Kodak film movies in little yellow boxes. If you are younger than 50, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, so let me enlighten you. But first, let me tell you why this is top of mind for me.

I decided to take a bunch of the movies and have them digitized onto a thumb drive so that we lose as little footage as possible because of deterioration. The years are not kind to celluloid film, and it starts to disappear. Film had to be processed by a film developing business. So, your movies were not immediately available. You filmed the entire reel; you packaged it up and sent it off, and then you would get your processed movie back in a couple of weeks. You also had to have a large film projector and movie screen like in the movie theaters so you could watch your five-minute movie. Crazy, right?

But the film was not meant to last forever. You can’t get it back once it’s gone. Those views of the grandparents or aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends, whomever when they were alive and young are gone forever. Kind of a sad proposition, so I am slowly converting the movies into digital format. It’s important to remember how things “really were” and not how you choose to remember them.

So how did we (I!) end up with so many movies? Here’s the answer:

When I was a kid, my dad always had a movie camera going. In fact, he was a super gadget guy. If he were alive today, he definitely would have had the newest iPhone, Amazon Alexa, or any other smart device available. So, it came as no surprise to me when I started watching that Dad was never on screen, he was behind the camera.

And talk about “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille” (I know, another ancient reference that no one will understand.), my dad got up close and personal with the movie shots. You know the one where the filmed person is flapping their hands at the camera and saying, “oh, stop it”, except you can’t hear them because they were silent (and mostly black and white). Of course, when color became available, all the movies were in color so I know my dad would have had a heyday with today’s technology. Also, any time he relinquished his director’s chair, the movies were hysterically bad. I could tell when he handed off the camera to my mom, so he was in the shot. She (and everyone else apparently) took movies mainly of people’s midsections with their heads cut off so maybe it was a very good thing that my dad did the filming.

But back to the present day, once I finally received the first round of digitized movies on a thumb drive, my older daughter and I sat down to watch them on my laptop. She is seeing some relatives for the first time or seeing them when they were her age, like her grandmother. The experience of looking back, especially with someone who never lived through those times, is hard to describe. Some nostalgia and sadness but also amazement at how distant those times feel. No cell phones, no computers, no technology, and really bad hair. And the smoking! Everyone smoked and smoked a lot. I remember those days, too. I don’t know how any of us made it out alive (some of us didn’t).

Many of the relatives in those movies are now gone, and some of us are older than our grandparents were at that time. As one of the younger ones, my parents and grandparents always looked and seemed so old to me. When I look at the movies, they still seem and look much older than they really were. My grandparents were my current age (66), but they looked so old! Stereotypically old. White haired, walking with canes, and wearing less than fashionable clothing. Have times changed! It’s so crazy.

The Christmas movies show an entire family at different life stages. From very young to very old. My cousin and I were little and dressed similarly because Aunt Irene insisted on us having the same outfits and toys so we wouldn’t be jealous of each other. This was mainly because my cousin was the jealous one. I could have cared less. My grandmother, who was probably no more than 65 yet looked 85, would sit in the back and off to the side watching. I think this was not long after my grandfather died, so she had to be terribly sad and depressed, but no one talked about that. Then there was my mom, who was hosting and cooking and organizing and doing everything while the holiday swirled around her. She never had the chance to stop and enjoy it. So many of the movies showed lots of smiling and smiling, but ironically, the Christmas ones revealed the story behind the story.

Watching those movies, Christmas and otherwise, reminded me how different life was in the ’50s and ’60s for all of us. As kids, we were oblivious, but when you watch real family gatherings, it all comes flooding back and shows you that the “good old days” were really not that good. And why anyone would want to go back to times like that is beyond me.

Was life really simpler and better? In some ways, maybe, because as Middle Americans, we never questioned how daily life was, so we made things simple. But so much was hidden, things you just “didn’t talk about”. So, yes, things were simpler because we ignored things. There was just as much awful stuff going on but there was no way to know because, well, no technology. It’s always been there; we just know about everything now.

Memories. Interesting but usually colored by how we wish to remember.


bottom of page