By Mimi Bean
Seattle, WA – 03.01.18
Born in 1925? Of course there’s no film or video of your first 40 years.
Super 8 and VHS didn’t debut till ‘65 and ’75, so the earliest moving images of my dad would be age 40. Except there aren’t any. Hard to believe, but there’s no film or video of his last 40-odd years, either.
Dad’s generation, now flickering out, has arguably seen more technological advance than all prior generations of man combined. And yet, he’s a pure paper-gen. We found that within his office files (and without a diary or journal), my father had preserved his life stories in paper. For instance…
1944. Called from the audience up onto a vaudeville stage one night in Chicago because they need a volunteer in an Army uniform, he wins a bouquet of roses, dinner for two and a pair of 24K wedding rings. (One of his 6 kids later borrows the rings throughout a long and happy marriage.) He saves the 2-color glossy program.
1945. Sick as a dog aboard the Saturnia, taking trans-Atlantic passage home with wife and child after work in the Middle East for the State Department. The October crossing is so choppy the toddler reverts to crawling. Dad saves the blue boat ticket fuzzily imprinted for “Baby Bean.”
1946. Censored wartime letters on wispy tissue from his own Dad – a reservist called up to leave wife and 5 kids – aboard the QE-II, retrofitted as a troop ship and steaming to war in the Pacific. What’s shocking aren’t the redactions, but that my dear granddad, whose son was a Stanford PhD, has poor spelling.
1979-1995. Pristine wedding announcements – 1 for each child; 6 over 16 years – offer a mini-lesson in US design and printing. Only 2 of the couples stay together and of the 4 who don’t, just 1 sends a divorce announcement. On printer paper. He saves that, too.
1938-2001. A thick file of rejection letters for his jokes and light verse. Included are a couple of check stubs from Reader’s Digest – and a very small unbanked check from The Saturday Evening Post. Clearly, it wasn’t about money. It was all about bragging rights.
The greeting cards. Dad saved every card he’s ever received, but to one person working in his files, it looks like a big stack of old greeting cards, so a few are scanned and the rest tossed. (Noooooo!!!)
The photos. Hundreds of OOAK (one-of-a-kind) photos, Polaroid and paper-framed slides. Growing up, Dad’s slide shows on Family Night were like cookies at Christmas; we took them for granted and looked forward to them, too. Dad lost a box of slides during a move, and consequently there weren’t many baby pictures of one of my brothers; I didn’t learn for 30 years that he grew up wondering if he was adopted.
1925-2005. Official documents. Birth Certificate. Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow awards. BA, MA, PhD. Marriage Certificate. Driver’s Licenses and expired passports – oh, the stories they tell. Professional commendations, including retirement. To which we finally add, Death Certificate.
As a Boomer, I’m not all over Facebook and don’t do selfies, but I’m contentedly aware of having been taped and filmed – and that’s the problem. The ubiquitous nature of video has made me a lazy historian. If I pop off tomorrow, my children couldn’t piece together 10% of my stories – and some are quite worth the effort. Worse, I recognize that if I don’t tell my stories on video, future generations will simply never see them.
So I’m starting now to create video stories for the generations I haven’t met. And while my memory is clear, source materials are always at hand: the timeless printed papers my dad taught me to save.