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.

changing perceptions

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book when you were young and felt one way about it, and then watched or read it again 20-30 years later and felt a much different way about it?

Henry Fonda & Katharine Hepburn ~ On Golden Pond

One particularly striking time I noticed this it had to do with the movie, On Golden Pond. I must have been about 24 the first time I saw it and I identified completely with the daughter, Chelsea, and her many complaints about her difficult childhood. But when I saw it again, in my 50s now, it amazed me how petty she seemed to me now, and how much empathy I now had for her aging parents, Norman and Ethel.

This came to mind earlier this week when we went without power for 24 hours due to an electrical updating project at our home. I remember loving the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. Again, I identified with Ingunn and her chronic health problems and the descriptions of her inner world. So I decided to start reading it again during those 24 hours off the computer.

I’m three-quarters of the way through the first book, The Axe. What surprises me is that I do not remember all the trouble this orphaned couple had coming together or how long it was taking for their marriage to come about. There was a lot of legal uncertainty, a clash between the age-old laws of the land and the new laws the new church was trying to set up. A lot of waiting. The author is skillful drawing the reader into the agony of the waiting. I had forgotten how tangled and frustrating the situation was!

The other surprise is that there are so many characters in the story that I’ve got an almost unbearable urge to write a genealogical outline for the main families, just to keep the relationships straight in my mind! No doubt these details didn’t interest me in the past… But I have discovered that I am not the only one interested in the cast of characters, there is a list of the characters and their relationships at Wikipedia! I’m amazed…

It feels wonderful to be immersed in a very good book again.

It Might Get Loud

Storytellers… I love listening to musicians and writers talk about their lives and the creative process. Last night we watched It Might Get Loud, a documentary about electric guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, representing three generations of great music. All different in their approaches yet appreciative of each other’s experiences.

Jack White, The Edge, Jimmy Page

Some of the clips featuring songs from Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin brought back memories of listening to the radio as a teen in the 1970s. The Edge’s stories about the strife in Northern Ireland tugged at the heart. And Jack White, the youngest of ten children, is such a quirky, inspiring and intense personality. (Yes, I’m a fan!) I used to read the lyrics from White Stripes album notes to my elderly father, who loves music but vehemently objects to electric guitars. Dad loved the lyrics and said they sounded like they would be great for the messages on the inside of greeting cards.

My patience was rewarded at the end of the movie, when they collaborated to play and sing The Weight by Robbie Robertson.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny,
And… and… and… you can put the load right on me.

Watching, I could not help making comparisons to a writer’s forum we went to a few years ago when Kurt Vonnegut was still alive. He was on stage with Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner, again three generations, discussing how they go about writing. Following are Tim’s thoughts about that night:

It was interesting that the older the author the less they used technology. Kurt Vonnegut bemoaned not being able to find a typewriter and more, and on the other end of the spectrum Jennifer Weiner has a blog and uses her computer exclusively  It was fascinating also the differences in how they viewed the creative process. Kurt said he just did it for the money and that delivering a manuscript to the publisher was like getting rid of a large tumor. Conversely, Joyce said that she feels the words flow out of her and that she has to stop now and then and remind herself that there were other things in life besides writing. Jennifer seemed to have fallen into writing, but was neither pained by it nor obsessed by it.