My sister and I have done some time traveling this past week. We’ve traveled back to the late 1940s and 50s in Kansas City to watch a young couple as they start their family with a baby girl, and then a boy and then two more girls. The family we were watching was our own. We were editing video clips from old home movies. My sister had the movies copied onto DVDs to preserve them and to be able to share them. But they were copied in a kind of random way, so we have been trying to put all the segments in the right chronological order. We have spent many hours examining each video segment, looking for clues to help us figure out when each segment took place. We use age of kids, length of hair, clothes, cars, the seasons and any other details we can find to help us figure out the order. As we are doing this, we have become enchanted with those little kids and their parents. We will find segments that are so endearing or funny, that we have to watch them over and over again, and then we forget where we were in the process of editing.
The movies were mostly of the kids, which is what was obviously interesting to the parents – capturing those first smiles, learning to walk, birthday parties, Christmas morning, riding a bike without training wheels, etc. – the parents were trying to make a record of their children as they grew and changed. But what we, as those adult children, want to see is more shots of the parents. We see a lot of our mother’s feet and lower legs, but we plead with the cameraman to raise his view so we can see her face – he rarely listens to us. My dad was usually behind the camera, so there is even less of him in the movies. But occasionally, there are shots of them and it wonderful when we do get to see them. There is a scene with the two of them all dressed up – maybe for my christening? – looking so young and stylish. As happens with all families, there are endless scenes of the first child – me – for example, there are probably 5 minutes just of me nursing! I was a novelty to the new parents and they took movies of everything. There is less of the second baby, but still quite a lot of my brother and then of the two of us doing stuff together. There are even some shots of the third baby, my middle sister. But by the time my last sister was born, they had pretty much put the camera away and the only shots of her are with the St Bernard puppies that came along when she was a toddler. This is the sister who had the movies copied, so she did this out of pure love of family, since she is not evident in them very much. The clips are mostly of us as young children from 1946 to 1955. There are a few clips of a family vacation to Yellowstone and Disneyland when we were all somewhat older kids and the final movies were taken when our family moved to Arizona in 1964. There are shots of us in Sabino Canyon playing in the water and on Mt. Lemmon climbing rocks. I wish there were more, but I’m grateful for what we have.
I have become immersed in watching these people in the videos – they are fascinating to me and I can sit and watch them for hours. And I find it disconcerting, when we finish, to have to come back to the present and to leave those people behind. It’s funny to me, because I feel so attached to those people in the videos, I feel so close to them and yet also so far away from them. I feel like an outsider watching the videos – an outsider with a lot of knowledge about this family, but an outsider none-the-less. I feel the distance between the little girl I was and who I am today. Watching the videos makes me happy, while at the same time a little melancholy. Those people are gone – even the little girl that I was is gone. I’m glad, though, that we have those videos and that I can travel back in time to visit that little girl and her family.