Precious memories, in technicolor

Like any self-respecting helicopter parents, we’ve been documenting our children’s lives since the day they were born.

We’ve photographed and recorded most of the important moments, and lots of everyday ones - except when the battery ran low, or the flash didn’t work, or we ran out of film (now memory card space). I have endless hours of my son rolling around on a blanket before he could talk, or even crawl. I thought it was stunning video.

And what did we do with all of those photos and movies? Let’s just say I’m not especially good on the follow-through. With a few exceptions - an album of my son’s baptism, photo books my nieces have made - they’re mostly sitting in envelopes or boxes or stored on my computer.

Someday, I keep thinking, I’ll organize them, put them into albums, make a proper scrapbook. Someday has yet to arrive, and my children are growing older by the minute.

It’s frustrating, because I know they like nothing better than to see pictures of themselves and hear stories from their babyhood.

Just like I still love looking through the old photos at my parents’ house, from my childhood and their's. One of my favorites is a shot of them walking down the street in downtown St. Louis, taken by a street photographer around 1950. They were newlyweds, on their way to buy furniture for their first home, young and dapper and holding hands.

As a child I loved flipping through their wedding album, seeing my mom in her beautiful lace dress with the endless buttons and a huge bouquet, the gleam in my dad’s eye as they drove off after the reception. They would tell me all the stories: how the bridesmaids’ dresses were all different pastel colors, but one turned out aqua instead of the light blue my mom had ordered. How hot the church was that day, long before air-conditioning. How the priest sped through the Mass so quickly my dad wasn’t sure they were legally married.

The photos are all black and white, of course, a genre in many ways more beautiful and evocative than color. But it also cements them firmly in the past, and leaves you wanting more.

A few weeks ago, my sister announced she had found some old home movies tucked away in a drawer at my mom’s house and had put them on a DVD.

We were all surprised. We knew my uncle had taken movies at bigger family events - Christmas at my grandmother’s and the like - but my parents didn’t have a movie camera as far as we knew.

But there, on the screen, were some of our big childhood moments, in living color:

My oldest brother’s second birthday, when he got a shiny electric-blue pedal car that all the cousins fought over.

My sister’s first birthday, when for some reason she was running around in a diaper and training pants, chasing a pack of cigarettes that my uncle used as a lure to get her to walk (it was the late ’50s).

Christmas morning, when my brothers got new cowboy outfits and toy guns and my sister -- I kid you not -- got a toy broom and ironing board (and other stuff, but still).

My sister’s First Communion, where I make my cameo appearance in the movie wearing a gray suit with a red beret and matching red purse that I still remember. Very smart.

And there are everyday moments, straight out of “The Sandlot”: neighborhood boys rolling tires down our front yard and crashing them into a row of kids at the bottom; my brother’s baseball game on a scruffy field behind our school, with the old drive-in theater in the distance; a gaggle of kids sledding down the front yard (which seemed so steep to us) right into the street. Things were a lot looser then.

As the youngest of four, I have no memory of my siblings’ early years. Seeing them as children - not just in still photos, but running and laughing and playing together - was like meeting a new yet familiar set of relatives. I could spot traits they’d carry to adulthood and see their own children reflected in their smiles.

And to watch the way my parents doted on us, serving birthday cake, gently prying us from trouble - priceless.

The best surprise came at the start of the film. It opened with people milling outside a church on June 18, 1949: my parents’ wedding day.

None of us knew this film existed. And it was in color.

I could finally see the bridesmaids’ dresses, pink and yellow and lilac and, yes, aqua. I could see my mom’s bouquet, no longer gray and white but cream and pale green.

I could see my dad’s face, handsome and proud as my mom took his arm, shy but happy. It was breathtaking.

As we watched, my aunts and uncles and grandparents came alive - the women in hats and gloves and their Sunday best, the men with full heads of hair, all smiling and waving at the camera.

Watching it for the first time the other night, my kids were stunned - and a bit sad to see my dad, who died before they were born.

“It looks ... real,” my daughter said.

And then, from my son, “You should take movies of us.”

I really have to get on that project. Or maybe, someday, in all my boxes and files, they’ll discover their own treasure trove of memories.

________________

For a brief outtake from our newly discovered home movies, click here.

Have you found any movie treasures from your familiy? Share your memories below, or contact Julie Wurth at 351-5226, jwurthnews-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

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sugarlandmom wrote on March 01, 2011 at 10:03 am

This made me cry, Julie, and also reminded me to charge my video camera for later today, when my daughter performs with her school choir. Thank you!

Julie Wurth wrote on March 01, 2011 at 11:03 am
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I'm glad you liked it! That's great that you're recording your daughter singing, so you can still hear that sweet voice years from now. The one thing I missed in the old movies was sound. I'm so thankful we have video from my dad's later years so I can still hear his laugh, which always filled the room!

Sari wrote on March 03, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I've got to say, I had tears in my eyes reading this too! The video is amazing, and the gasps around the room as my mom played it were proof.
I actually have a picture at my office of my parents on a float trip from 1977! There is just something really special about getting a peak of how they lived when they were your age.
Great article :)
oh, and I loved the Sandlot reference! Nailed it.

Julie Wurth wrote on March 04, 2011 at 10:03 am
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Thanks for the comment, Sari! I had to leave out lots of fun details, like how chubby a certain baby girl was ... funny because she's so rail-thin now! ;)