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it's about time
sherman, set the way-back machine....
by roger striffler
4.24.00
general


Recently, I received a most amazing gift. Ok, so maybe my parents received the gift, I took it, made a copy, and returned it to them. But, let’s not get bogged down in details. The fact is, I owe my Aunt Jean an incredible debt of thanks. And an apology. You see, for years we’ve picked on her – to her face of course, because we love her to death and wouldn’t change a thing about her – but it’s been kind of a long running joke: “Oh no, here comes Jean with that camera again…”

Aunt Jean lives in New York City, where my father was born, and where his side of the family still lives. Dad got married and moved up to central New York, but we always made it back to the city to visit, especially at Thanksgiving. Times changed, our families grew, there were marriages, and children, but one thing was a constant throughout; Every visit, every year -- the blinding glare of Aunt Jean’s movie camera light.

Camping trips, Easter weekends, Thanksgiving feasts, and family reunions all rolled by under the heat of an artificial sun and the click, click, click of Aunt Jean’s camera. It became so commonplace that years later, when we stopped going to NY for Thanksgiving, something seemed oddly missing from our family gathering.

So, back to the gift. I’m sure you can see it coming. After years of recording our history, Jean decided to take all of those old movies, and put them on video -- “The Striffler Family Through the Years.”

Now, we all love to see old pictures of ourselves and of our friends. They bring back memories with such intensity we can get lost in them. Old movies are even better. Our bodies have a memory too, and seeing ourselves laughing, running, playing and smiling takes us back at a level that’s almost impossible to describe – we can feel ourselves doing those things and can almost relive it.

With this in mind I popped the tape into my VCR and settled into the couch, anxiously awaiting a warm reunion with my past. I knew what was coming. I’d been there. I was looking forward to going back.

I had no idea.

There in my living room, in the flickering light of old black and white film, my whole world changed. I watched as my father graduated from boot camp. I sat spellbound as my parents, younger than I am now, smiled, laughed, and started a new life together. We opened gifts together at the bridal shower. We traveled back to my mother’s home on Cape Cod, where more of the family gathered celebrating the coming event. I sat silently through their wedding, then watched as they ran laughing through a shower of rice.

A grandfather I never knew, whom I had only imagined, came to life and walked through a dining room I played in as a child. A white-haired grandmother, who for most of my life lived alone in a small house in Queens, stood surrounded by her family, curlers in her thick, dark hair.

I was floored. I hadn’t expected any of this. I know that I had a childhood. I was there. And sure, it seems obvious that each of my parents also had a childhood. In fact they had a full, rich life before they had me (there’s some argument as to how rich it was after that). The difference is that you and I know about our past in a very real, physical way. Every fiber of our being was involved in the recording of those moments. They’re part of us.

Outside of our own personal history, the past is just a story told to us by others. We learn enough of it to make ourselves feel comfortable with the present, and we fill in or ignore the rest as we see fit. It entertains us, but doesn’t affect us in any real way because we lack the details that give us real insight into what life was really like.

Suddenly, there before me, were details. The past was alive before my eyes, and for a few precious moments, I felt a part of it. It’ll never be just a story to me again.

I don’t doubt that back in 1955, people were saying, “Oh no, here comes Jean with that camera again…”. All I can say, “Thank God there was Jean ... and her camera!”.


ABOUT ROGER STRIFFLER

See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.

more about roger striffler

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