Preserving my past

As I mentioned in a previous post I have a box of slides that need to be digitized and converted into a better form for viewing.  As I’m discovering, 35mm slides aren’t the easiest thing in the world to work with.  Modern printer/scanners aren’t really all that good when it comes to them, because they’re not print media (pictures), they’re transparent, so they don’t scan very well.  One needs a dedicated piece of equipment to work with them, and the better ones are expensive.

When I first got the slides, I used an app on my Android phone called ‘Lightbox’ which basically did what it says, backlit them so that I could take a picture with a second phone, in order to see the slides as if they were in a projector.  Of course, that’s a quick and dirty method, I need something that can be used to doing the same thing, but with a bit more clarity as well as finesse in bringing out the natural colors and nuances of the slide in question.  I knew that there were dedicated machines to do the work, as well as businesses that are skilled in doing it, but many of the businesses are still in their infancy, charge an arm and a leg for the work, and there’s the bugaboo of sending your memories out to a 3rd party, and you might not get them back.  US Mail has never been an exact science.

20220311_075021[1]When I got home, I had more opportunity to seek out a machine that could do the work and do it efficiently for an affordable price. Oddly enough, I found one that had good reviews on Amazon, and it had a familiar name.  With a little digging, I discovered it wasn’t really made by the company emblazoned on it’s chassis, it was just being used because it was familiar to consumers, but sneakily enough the company name was actually being used in a legal sense.  (Kodak had gone through bankruptcy in the early 2010s and sold off many of it’s lucrative patents) The nuance wasn’t really lost on me, as the company that had processed the slides, made the original film and even produced the camera that originally took the pictures were all one and the same, but it’s definitely a different world.  The Kodak building might still be in Rochester, NY, but it’s most definitely NOT the company it once was.

Even so, after purchasing the unit through Amazon, it took a little trial and error before I could use the unit efficiently.  It has a slider that one can load and push through the unit, which is set up to receive slides of different shapes and sizes, one just has to find the right one and it works pretty well.  I wouldn’t say that it works professionally, but certainly way better than the clunky way the Lightbox app operated.  I was able to hook up the unit to my computer via USB and instantly copy the scanned slides to my hard drive, once I had adjusted the slide for size as well as being sure the slide wasn’t in the unit backwards.  Several times I had to look at a slide to be sure that it wasn’t reversed, going back in my memory about how a certain piece of furniture or light switch was situated in my parent’s house, so as not to give the reverse impression of the items in the slide.

I have about 700 slides and all in all it took me about 3-4 hours to process them.  I did have to scan some of them multiple times in order to be sure they were done properly, since some of the slides weren’t in the greatest of shape after having been stored in various places over the years.  Certainly some of the really old ones (1950s) were completely oxidized and useless, though for the most part they showed people I’d never met and had no idea who they were.  Since my parents are deceased, I can’t use them for reference, and my cousins don’t live close by, so it’s likely they wouldn’t recognize them either.  Who they are will remain a mystery.  Such is the way of historical records sometimes, without proper annotation, it’s just a picture.

But, I’m pleased to have them in my possession, and for the longest time they were just sitting in my brother’s attic, unused, unseen and unknown.  Now I can share them with him, with my cousins and for a new set of eyes, my birth mother, who missed out on my youth and all the adventures I had.  She’s been very pleased and intrigued by the images.  So I’m happy it all worked out.  Thanks Kodak.

Hey, it’s good to be back home again

I realize that I’m writing this at the back end of my vacation, but since I haven’t posted since March, I think you, dear reader will forgive the faux pas.

I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of NY where I grew up.  I’m a little further south than where I actually lived, but that’s due to the fact that my family lives more in the Newburgh to Westchester area than the upper Valley near Kingston.

Still and all, it’s been a good trip.  With the pandemic happening last year, any trips were canceled due to health concerns, and now with the Delta variant becoming more of a problem in places, our decision to use AirBNBs to stay in, rather than hotels, ended up being the right choice.  Interaction with the public at large has been mostly at arm’s length, as everyone for the most part is still social distancing, some are wearing masks again, and others have never stopped.

This trip has mainly been one of connecting and reconnecting with my ever-enlarging family.   On the way here, we stopped in Syracuse to visit with my maternal cousins, who I haven’t seen since 1999.  While there, I was able to meet my first cousin once removed (my cousin’s daughter) whom I’d never met.  The boggling thing about that is, they only live two hours away!  Between work, responsibilities, and just life, the years have gone merrily by and we just haven’t gotten together.  Every Christmas we’d exchange cards and write in them that in the next year we needed to get together.  But we never did.  That oversight has now been rectified.

Mom, myself and brother 1967While here in the Hudson Valley, I managed to reconnect with my estranged brother and his family.  He has lived in Westchester County for the past 20 years and has a 13 yr old daughter that I’d never met.  I knew she existed, and what her name was, but I was unable (for a variety of reasons) to get there to see them.  Too, there’s been bad blood over the years, (don’t ask) and reasons why I didn’t want to go.  There was one particular reason I did need to go, and that was to collect the family photo album he’d had in his possession since we cleaned out our parent’s house.  Up to now, the only photos I had were a couple of when we were children and one or two of our parents.  I’ve had NO baby pictures at all, and that’s been a sore point of contention for me.  As I get older, I want to be able to have that family history to rely on and share with my birth mother, with whom I’ve recently been connected.Mom, myself and brother, Easter

Finally, I was able to meet and interact with my half-sister and her family.  When I was reconnected with my birth mother, I managed to meet my half-brother and his family (well, most of them) and get to know them a wee bit.  My half-brother is a workaholic and is more than a little introverted, so both meeting and getting to know him have been problematic.  My wife and I had set up a get-together for the family at our second AirBNB, but for whatever reason, my half-brother decided at the last minute to decline.  His children are older than his sister’s (college-age versus toddlers) so getting together that side of the family might have proved a bit more difficult.  Even so, it was a good time.  I got to meet my brother-in-law and my nephews are both amazing and hilarious.   Watching them play caused me to remember how my brother and I played and interacted.

I would definitely say this trip has been a success.  I have a treasure trove of memories for the future and a box full of slides to digitize and share with my birth mother, and my other family so they can see what has been obscured these many decades.

Going home will be good (the beds in these AirBNBs are murder!), but I’ve had a really good time here too.  Vacations are both tiring and awesome.

Rediscovered Family History

My wife and I are in the process of cleaning the house.  Granted, it’s a 20 years process, starting when we moved into the house back in November of 2000, but it’s an ongoing thing.  Recently, I took it upon myself to work on clearing out the garage, going through the boxes that have been sitting there for the better part of those 20 years, intending to rearrange the space on the sides for better storage since it is just a one-car garage. There are multiple yard machines and other equipment that need to be stored there and the car.  During the summer, the car sits outside, and the inside of the garage clutters up.  Usually, come winter, everything is piled to the sides, and I squeeze the car in.  This year I wanted to do it differently.

In going through the various boxes, I found one that was chock full of black and white photos.  I didn’t recognize the ones on the top, so I figured the whole box was probably from my in-law’s house, so I brought it in and told my wife she needed to look through them, as she probably hadn’t seen them in better than the 20 years.  The box sat in the house for a couple of weeks untouched.  The day before yesterday, she brought me a smaller box with an even smaller photo album on top that said quite whimsically, “Grandma’s Brag Book.”  I opened it up, and the first photo was of a baby with dark hair.  Definitely not me!  I had blonde hair up until age 7.  It was a baby picture of my brother.

1967, 1 year 9 mos

Several pictures in was a shot of me when I was 21 months old.  I was a happy kid when this picture was taken!   Sadly, none of the other pictures are of me; they’re of my brother.  But even so, the box of pictures had a lot of memories in them, places my father had been during World War II when he served in the US Army in Okinawa.

My father, standing outside his quarters in Okinawa c. 1945

I had never seen pictures of him in his Army uniform, though I was aware through his discharge papers (which I still have) that he made sergeant before he returned to civilian life in 1946.  A good number of the pictures I don’t recognize anything in them and only some of them have captions on the back.  Seeing as hundreds of WWII veterans are dying on any given day, it’s remote that any of the people in the pictures are still alive, or they don’t have copies of the pictures that I now have in my possession.

My other issue is what to do with the family pictures going forward?  Seeing as my wife and I decided not to have children, I really don’t have anyone to pass them down to that they would mean anything.  My father’s siblings didn’t have children, so there aren’t any cousins I could bequeath my pictures to.  Sending them to a historical society was a thought. Again, none of my family was either famous or historically significant, so it would just be a pile of pictures of people that no one would recognize.

I wonder what others do with their family pictures when there’s no one left to inherit them?