Thursday, June 20, 2013

History comes alive!

I remember once sitting with my grandfather, some 25-30 years ago, and staring into the screen of their tiny color TV (only recently updated from black and white). The house was quiet, but the TV was loud, as he was nearly deaf at this late stage in his life. I was there to stay with him while my grandmother was in the hospital, and our days generally consisted of hanging around each other silently, each to our own. That's how  our family could be.

Little House on the Prairie was playing, and I had assumed he was paying as little attention to it as I was. But then he suddenly turned to me, serious. "When you get older, shows that show the old times really mean something to you."

I was taken aback by two things. First, that he had actually spoken to me directly (he was a silent, pensive sort), and second, that he had just stated something very personal (again, silent, pensive, etc.)

That moment has always stayed with me, even if I didn't fully understand the truth of it at the time.

As I have grown older, I've seen my childhood (from the 70's; yes, you may guess my age now) grow more and more unrecognizable to me. Nothing in my current life and culture reflects what life was like back then. And as I get older, I ponder that more and more.

My grandpa was born in 1901 on a farm in Missouri. He witnessed two world wars. He remembered the first time he saw an automobile. And a plane. Never mind a calculator and computer, as I remember from my own childhood. I have often wondered how my childhood will seem so antiquated when I am in my 80's. How will it look to me?

My grandfather had few pictures or mementos from his childhood, and I always regretted not being able to see that far into our family's past. So, I find it all the more thrilling that such a project as Historic Motion Pictures of Saranac Lake's Past is finding traction in the Saranac Lake community.

Described as Saranac Lake's "home movies," this 25,000 feet of film footage offers a rare glimpse of everyday life in one's own small community. Far from the polished and sanitized Hollywood version of life from 1924 through the 1960's, these films present authenticity. And not only do they provide a glimpse into everyday life and special events through these decades, they are also chock-full of Saranac Lake's own people, own family memories. Will you see your great aunt in these films? Your cousins? Perhaps your own father or grandfather?

This is an archive that the whole community can join into, naming places, dates and faces until an entire town's story comes alive in film.

This is a rare opportunity, and a project that I hope to follow closely as it grows. I encourage everyone to attend this Friday's presentation of the Kollecker Film Project in the Cantwell Room at 7 pm. Consider donating to the Kollecker fund to keep this project alive and strong.

You may find your own grandchild sitting beside you one day, pondering the truth of your childhood. Wouldn't it be nice if you had something more to share with her?


  1. Joanna -

    I LOVED this post! As a non-"native" Saranac Laker, I must admit to being curious about these wonderful films, now archived for posterity. They are, as you suggest, important - to document the lives of those early times here in this remote part of the world, for the families of those who were first here. But, I would advocate, they are also an important archive for ALL OF US, for, as you so eloquently indicated in your post, all of our "presents" will one day be our "pasts", as the "pasts" of our fore bearers were once THEIR "presents". And, perhaps now more than ever, we really need to be cognizant of our awareness and understanding of what has preceded us, so that it can (hopefully) help to inform the decisions we make about what will become our future. Given the fast pace at which the world seems to move, and the fact that increasingly, we rely on technological "innovations" to document our path through life, I worry that those who come after US will have so much less "evidence" of our passage through this place than what we have inherited from those who have preceded us. I am reminded of that commercial from a Super Bowl of several years ago, where there is a team of "space archaeologists" excavating a site, and they come upon a can of soda (I cannot remember if it was Coke or Pepsi). They hold it aloft, and look at each other quizzically, until one says something like: "What is this?" To which the other replies: "I have no idea." So much of what makes up our daily lives today is DISPOSABLE, or at least, seemingly made for the short term, rather than the long term. This, I think, is where the movies serve a really important role: to demonstrate where we once were (and WHO we were), and to provide an archive of the "stuff" that our dreams were made of ...... and, hopefully, to provide us fuel to provide our imaginations with the "wind" that provides our sails their next direction. And so, as F. Scott Fitzgerald so eloquently stated: "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." -from THE GREAT GATSBY, p. 182. PS - I loved your lovely reminiscence about your Grandfather; my Grandfather, as with many men of that generation, was also a rather taciturn person. The absolute BEST story I heard, in an interview I did with my grandparents for a college history class, involved their narrow escape from ARREST (!!) during a raid at a speakeasy they were in, somewhere in downtown Albany, NY, on a date during their courtship!! I never quite saw my dear Grandfather as quite so taciturn after THAT revelation, as it was the gleam in his eye and hint of a smile on his face as he shared this particular gem, that forever painted him in a different light in my mind's eye! :-)

  2. Yes, most people have little awareness of how fragile our memories are when placed in the hands of modern technology. Film erodes, hard drives fail, technologies become obsolete... Archiving and maintaining archives are so very important and forward-looking. This project is indeed important in so many ways!