As a child I was spoiled with technology toys. I was the first kid on the block with walkie-talkies, tape recorders and the newest and coolest radios. I had an uncle in the appliance business and I suspect that my father was as happy giving these gifts as I was to receive them.
"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road"
It makes perfect sense that my appliance-selling uncle would have had some pretty nifty technology for himself. Mostly I remember being blinded by very bright lights while he was shooting his home movies at family gatherings. There was nothing very remarkable about someone making home movies in these pre-video days. People had been making dreadful 8mm movies for quite a while. What was different about my uncle's movies is that his had sound. Like Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer (1927 version), the Lanni clan was recorded with voices! I don't remember ever seeing any of the movies. I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, but they were part of family folklore.
I received a most wonderful gift this week. Of all the technology that I have embraced in the 45 or so years since my first "neat-o" walkie-talkies, this was the best. It's not the latest Apple product or some new super computer, but it did come from my appliance-seller uncle's daughter. I was given a DVD.
I know that DVD is not "new" technology. Everyone has a DVD player. Blu-ray is already surpassed DVD in the grand progression of gizmos. This DVD contains 2 hours of those mythic Lanni Clan talking home movies. The quality is as poor as one would expect from 45 year old celluloid being transferred to DVD but the content is pure treasure.
The beginning of the DVD is my cousins playing in the pool at the Empress Motel, Asbury Park, New Jersey. Back in the early 1960's my family always spent some magical summer days in that very pool, overlooking the boardwalk. Immediately the memories began washing over me. I was watching Anthony, Ed [Eddie Boy] and Francine frolicking but my brain was playing internal "movies" of Richard, Patricia and me. I wanted a candy apple and the smell of the salty sea air.
Most of the DVD is my uncle's family at special events such as christenings and parades. Even though my immediate family was not part of those events it was fascinating watching this time capsule of family history. It was like watching scenes from Moonstruck but with people I know.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
arthur c clarke
At about 1 hour and 40 minutes into the films the setting has changed to my grandparent's backyard in Jersey City and my grandmother leaning out of the window and speaking Italian. The camera pans down and across and takes me with it. My grandfather died in 1965 and my grandmother followed in 1967 so I think this must have been 1964. The last time I was in that backyard couldn't have been past 1965 but it's so oddly familiar to me. There is a fleeting glimpse of my father and then my mother. Then other uncles and aunts.
The setting is humble as my grandparents were not people of means. They were warm and proud and had raised their four boys well. The cast, my family, look like they should have been on the set of an early TV family sitcom. The men were in button-down shirts and my father was buttoned even at the neck. I never remember him any other way. The women are polished, coiffed, pressed and poised. There was my mother, as always, looking like a dark-haired Donna Reed with white enameled earrings and matching bracelet.
Those of you who have been following my blog know that my father passed away in 1970 when I was ten years old and my mother has only been a shadow of herself for many years due to ever-advancing Alzheimer' disease. My memories of my father are mostly sense-memories and those images we have on treasured slides and photographs. Here they are in front of me, animated and captured in real-time.
Within minutes and with tears down my cheeks the true treasure of my uncle's gadget is revealing itself to me. My cousin is now "interviewing" the family. It's Father's Day [how appropriate] and she asks my father what gifts he got and put the microphone towards his face. Beaming with pride and love my father lists his gifts and I hear his voice for the first time since I was 10 years old. I knew the voice instantly. The next cut is to my mother who is talking with my aunt. It was "mommy", fully animated with unmistakable speech pattern, intonation and gestures. This was the woman I still see when I look in my mother's eyes and listen to her unintelligible uttering.
Never had technology meant more to me. This was the most thoughtful and touching gift anyone could have given me. We take modern technology for granted. Even our cellphones can take videos. I'm jealous that generations of people will have collections of videos of their loved ones to watch when their memories' begin to fade. I'm just thankful that my uncle had the cutting-edge technology of his day and that I have these 10, forgotten, minutes to treasure.