Monday, March 29, 2010

Video Biography: 'I'd like Mom to go first!'

Last week, I had the opportunity of traveling up to Georgetown, TX for an interview. For people who know just how far (or really, how close) Georgetown is to Austin, this might seem like nothing momentous but to me it was. Because well, every interview is momentous. Plus I like checking off names from maps knowing that that's one less place I've left unexplored. So sorry, there's no bursting my bubble!

I had been commissioned by a gentleman who wished to have both his parents interviewed for their individual, customized video biographies.

"I would like for you to begin with my mother please," he said. "She's come second in a lot of things that have happened in our lives and for once, I want her to come first."

I was touched. No doubt so was she.

When I met her, I found her to be a charming, thoughtful lady... and when she spoke on camera about her family, there reflected pride and love on her face. It wasn't always easy for her to talk about her own life or memories from her childhood (in her own words, she was beginning to find it hard to remember details), but when it was time to talk about the family she had raised with her husband, her face lit up and some very interesting stories came tumbling out.

Were some of these stories ones that no one had ever heard before? A few were, I'm sure of that. But what's more important is that ALL of these stories will become ones that no one ever forgets anymore... not even when the 'details' slip from her own mind. Because they're in a safe place now. In her own voice.

In that precious moment when she came first.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Video Biographies: Ah, the good ol' days!

It wasn't until fairly recently in my own life did I start expressing an avid interest in the times and worlds of the past. It might be that I was too busy living my own life or it might be that I was too busy trying to plot for the future... whatever the
reason, the past was inevitably in the past for me.

Then I started creating video biographies for other people; 'ordinary' people like me but also unlike me in their awareness and recognition of the value of the past. And oh, what treasures they revealed. Not just about the world as they knew it, but also facets to my personality that I did not know of.

1). For instance, I am complacent. In thinking that there is only one way of doing things - the given way. When it's cold, I want to switch on the heater. When I need to freshen up, I step into the restroom. When I want to have fruit in the winter, a trip to the grocery store will suffice. And when I want to 'relax', the television comes on.

But oh, what innovative ways other than the ones I just listed exist! Holding hot potatoes in your hands while you walk to school can really help in keeping you warm.

Outhouses were a wonderful invention back in the day, not only to freshen up, but also for entertainment purposes as one lady shared with me. The idea of fun for her 8 odd brothers when they were growing up was to go about at night and shift the locations of their neighbors' outhouses... for instance, instead of waking up to a handy outhouse positioned near the back barn, it could now be found a mile into the fields. Not very funny, I'm sure, for the people who really needed to go, but quite a laugh for a bunch of young boys.

Mothers and grandmothers would pickle, preserve and can fruits and vegetables to last for an entire year. To last through war time rations. To last till the date of the next wedding in the family. And no wonder cable television took such a while in being invented... people were actually happy without it! Walking around the neighborhood on stilts, organizing easter egg hunts around the river, climbing trees, roller skating, board games... there was always so much to do!

2). I would probably never survive the dating game back in the day! I recently interviewed an elderly couple in their 80's and the one lament of the husband was that his wife 'dated a LOT' before they got married. Her justification: "Well, my mother told me that if someone asks you out, you should say yes if you want to go out with them. And no if you don't. But then you can't accept another date for the same time that you already said no to. And whenever he came into town and asked me for a date, well, I always already had one!"

3). I've probably led too sheltered a life to ever be able to live through a war or wars without complaint. To endure blackouts. 'Duck and cover' exercises in school. Live on rationed food. Rationed gas. Rationed cloth. To recycle fat drippings and aluminum foil for the army. To make do with censored letters. To survive an uncle being taken prisoner of war.

There's a lot to be learned from the past. And only people who've lived through it can tell us how it was. How it used to be. Inject life into history books and legal documents... all one has to do is ask. And listen. And learn.