Friday, December 2, 2022

Insight: Reliving the past through old home movies

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

To revive and restore my holiday spirit, I recently watched a DVD that I had a friend make for me from a collection of home movies that my family had taken when I was a child.

From 1957 to 1962, the Pierce Family had a four-door
1957 Ford Fairlane that held a surprise for its owner 
when he traded it in for a 1962 Chevy Impala.
My father had purchased a Kodak Brownie 8mm camera and would film special family occasions such as birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas mornings unwrapping presents or summer vacation trips. We also had a Kodak 8mm movie projector and screen, so once he had the films developed, our family would gather huddled in a darkened room and view them.

Sometime after my father’s death in 1991, my mother handed me a box of these old 8mm films that she had found on a shelf in his closet. She thought that the longer that they were not used, the possibility existed that the film could deteriorate, therefore losing the precious memories contained there forever.

I was able to have a camera store transfer the 8mm films onto video tape and eventually my friend Derek Suomi converted the tape into a DVD. About 2012, I made copies for my family members which I gave them as stocking stuffers that year.

Looking at some of these home movies now, after all these years have passed, is a feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s somewhat comforting to glimpse my past, but nostalgic to see people, places and activities long gone and forgotten courtesy of the hustle and bustle of daily life in the 21st century.

I vividly remember my father’s green 1962 Chevrolet Impala, but one of the films on the DVD had him standing by his two-tone 1957 Ford Fairlane sedan, complete with a V-8 engine. I had completely forgotten all about that car.

My father once told me that my mother wanted the two-door version of the Ford Fairlane, but he insisted on buying a four-door version after my younger brother Doug was born that same year. As a family we would go to the Burger Park drive-through in Henrietta, New York on Friday nights in the Ford Fairlane for 12-cent cheeseburgers and when my parents weren’t looking, my brother and I would sometimes stuff our unwanted burgers under the back seat of the car.

Of course, with my father being a thrifty sort of person, when he traded that car in at the dealer for the Chevy Impala five years later, he removed the back seat to look for any change that may have fallen under there and discovered the remnants and wrappers of more than 100 half-eaten moldy cheeseburgers.

Watching our old home movies, I was fascinated to see that everyone attending Thanksgiving dinner at our home in 1959 wore dress-up clothes for dinner, including me. There was footage of my father carving the turkey wearing dress slacks, a white dress shirt and a necktie.

When the camera panned the living room early on Christmas morning in 1960, the film showed the image of more than 100 Christmas cards lining the fireplace mantle. And I noticed that our Christmas tree was covered with tinsel which my mother called “icicles.”

I know some people still send Christmas cards through the mail, but that practice seems to decline more with each passing holiday season. I also haven’t spotted tinsel for sale in stores for many years.

One item I did notice on our family’s fireplace mantle in that 1960 film was a set of four hand-painted antique angels holding red candles and each angel having a large red letter on them spelling N-O-E-L.

One Christmas Eve in the 1990s, my mother told me the story of how she had inherited the set from her late father in his will when he died in 1956.

She said that the ceramic angels were given to her father by his grandfather, James McIntosh. Before his death in 1924, he had told the family that he had purchased them at a shop in Scotland before emigrating to Canada at the age of 16 in 1856. He carefully protected them on the journey and then again when he moved to Rochester, New York for work in the mills there in the 1860s.

My mother gave the angel set to me along with a large box of old family Christmas decorations when my wife Nancy and I bought a home in Florida in 2007 and we still have them.

The saddest part of watching the DVD was seeing members of my family, close friends and beloved family pets that are no longer with us. My Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Bernie, Aunt Bernice and Uncle Ray, our friends Bill and Ida Topham, Marge and Bob Bartlett and Marge’s mother, Sue Coleman, have been dead for years, but their kindness to me will always be remembered. The same can be said for our family’s beloved dachshund dogs, Fritz and Weenie, who were present at many holiday celebrations through the years but have long since passed.

I haven’t watched this particular DVD for a number of years but each time I do, it’s a trip down Memory Lane for me and a great opportunity to reflect about how blessed I have been in my life.

It’s true that nothing is ever really lost to us in life if we can remember it. <

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