Everlasting Moments

The past three days we have had absolutely GORGEOUS weather! Sea breezes and no humidity… Spent this morning inland escorting Auntie on her errands. She’s wobbly but still determined to carry on – I’m so glad she has the cane now… This afternoon the humidity started to creep back up, so when I got home I watched an inspiring movie called Everlasting Moments.

Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell wrote a biographical sketch about her ancestors in Sweden in the early 1900s, something I love to do, too, imagining what life was like for those who came before me. Her husband, filmmaker Jan Troell, used her manuscript to create a truly wonderful movie.

The story is narrated by Maja, daughter of Sigge & Maria, who starts the story with these words: “A week after Mother met Father, she won a camera in a lottery. Father thought the camera should be his, as he’d bought the ticket. Mother said if he wanted to share it he’d have to marry her. So they got married.”

But Sigge turned out to be an abusive alcoholic and the family was desperately struggling to make ends meet. Maria would often tell her seven children, “You see what you want to see.” When things looked very bleak Maria decided to sell the camera. She took it to a photography shop, where the owner, Mr. Pedersen, told her it was a Contessa and showed her how it worked. She was amazed and said, “I just don’t see how a picture comes to be!” He took the lens out of the camera and held it up in the sunlight between a butterfly fluttering inside the door and the palm of her hand. The moving image of the butterfly showed up on her hand. It was magic!

Mr. Pedersen decided that he would buy the camera from Maria but would let her borrow it. He kindly taught her how to use it and how to develop pictures. While Sigge was out drinking with his mistress, Maria was at home discovering her creative self while taking and developing pictures of her children and her cat. When a girl in the neighborhood died, Maria was asked to take a picture of her and soon she was being asked to take pictures for all sorts of special and everyday occasions.

“Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” observed Mr. Pedersen when he had a look at some of her pictures. And on another occasion he encouraged her by telling her that when she looks through the camera she sees a world to be explored, described and preserved. As a family historian that touched my heart.

Aunt Lil

Even after years of taking pictures, Maria was still in awe of the technology. She said, “Imagine, we’ll always be here. These moments will be everlasting.” Years after her mother died, Maja discovered an undeveloped picture in the camera, the last picture Maria took, and the only one she ever took of herself, capturing her reflection in a mirror.

When she was much younger than she is now, Auntie used to love to go on Caribbean cruises with her sisters, a hen party at sea. On one of those cruises she splurged and paid an artist to draw a picture of her. Now I am glad to have that happy moment in her life preserved.

I can relate to the thrill Maja had of discovering something special an ancestor has left behind! A clue about his or her life. Any little thing found that makes the picture of his or her life come more into focus. And the movie made me stop and think about how far the technology of photography has advanced in a hundred short years. All the thought and care that went into each and every exposure! Now with digital cameras we can be carefree, shooting whatever strikes our fancy in an instant. Perhaps I am reminded to slow down and think more about exploring the world and describing and preserving moments.

Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman and her children,
Warren, Rosilla, Ambrose and Elisabeth

The oldest moment preserved in my family is of my is my 3rd-great-grandmother, Elisabeth (1822-1908), and her four oldest children, taken between 1858, when her fourth child was born, and 1864, when her fifth child was born. Looking at the squirming bunch of children makes me think that Elisabeth had her hands full! I love this picture because what we call the “Freeman frown” is very much on display here. And yes, Ambrose is wearing a dress. Apparently back then baby boys wore dresses until they were toilet trained.

Anyone who loves family history or the history of photography (or both) will no doubt find Everlasting Moments to be an especially heart warming film. Watching Maria blossom as an artist in spite of the harsh circumstances of her life is inspiring.