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Today in
S.C.V. History
January 25
1915 - Death of pre-Mentry oilman & San Francisquito vintner Ramon Perea [story]
Perea grave marker

Commentary by Sarah Brewer Thompson
| Thursday, Jul 3, 2014

sarahbrewerthompson_mugI have always found our relationship with photos very interesting. As time passes and technology makes it easier to capture a moment – I still cannot believe the things our smart phones and cameras can do – we take incredible numbers of photos. We have an inherent desire to preserve moments in our life.

Before digital technology allowed us to do this in great quantity, photographs were something that were given tremendous care and thought: You had only a handful of chances to get that image just right, and if your target was on the move, you had only a second to act. If you and your siblings finally were in semi-matching, Sunday-best clothes, you bet you were lined up and had to smile your best smile, since put-together family portraits could be hard to come by.

I am thrilled that today we have so many more chances to capture these moments. It is wonderful to see babies grow and change, the scenery of someone’s every day, or even something that seems minor such as the family dog posing in a funny photo or a killer meal they put together. I love that we can record out histories so easily now, even if they are seen only by a few.

In talking to many of my baby-boomer or older friends, many have similar feelings about their old family slides and photographs: They are up in a box somewhere, needing to be sorted, not sure what to do with them, and so on. Many think the younger generations in their families don’t care, and therefore the old photos don’t matter.

My sweet little aunt (one of 14 kids) poses in front of her Glendale home in 1954, wearing one of many dresses hand-made by her mother.

My sweet little aunt (one of 14 kids) poses in front of her Glendale home in 1954, wearing one of many dresses hand-made by her mother. Click images to enlarge.

Please don’t believe that is the case. I find that people are often surprised to learn their family members really are interested in learning about their own stories; they just have to be given the chance to do so.

The problem is that as the decades pass and the piles of dust grow, the images all too often become less and less relevant. The task of sorting them and doing anything with them becomes too imposing, so they sit and wait to be rediscovered.

As family members pass on, there are fewer who remember the faces and the stories that come with them: the twinkle in the eye of the little box surrounded with wrapping paper on Christmas morning, or the brand new family car – the first, perhaps, to have been bought in your family.

Think of the smile on your mother’s face on her wedding day, the Jell-O mold that your aunt spent all day perfecting. The mud puddle your dog jumped in, the new radio in the living room, the day your son enlisted in the military, the day your daughter became a mother, the kindergarten graduation with a child missing half of his baby teeth, and the little red wagon that pulled you around the neighborhood.

My grandpa George Savatgy, a Navy veteran, and grandma Mary, a nurse, on a trip in 1954.

My grandpa George Savatgy, a Navy veteran, and grandma Mary, a nurse, on a trip in 1954.

All of these moments matter, because all of them tell the story of who you are.

They are as important as any other story, if you only let yourself accept that they are. Give more credit to those who built the life you, your children and your families have today. Even painful memories serve a purpose in being preserved; as many of us know, it is hard to recognize how far you have come if you forget the places you have been.

I will never forget the twinge of sadness that came with my dad whenever he pulled out the few old photos he had of his father, who died when my dad was only a teenager. But above that held a feeling of love and connectedness, that my dad could introduce me to a man whom I would never in my life meet, but I could see glimpses of his life that let me see the man my dad loved so well but did not get to know long enough.

It scares people to think of our mortality and temporary state in this way. It can be frightening to realize how fast time really flies. This is another reason many people I have talked to don’t feel like going through their old photos. I understand this completely; it causes you really to look at your life and the lives that may already have passed by.

My dad, Art Brewer, around 1950 in the San Fernando Valley where he grew up. I just love his little smile, baggy pasts, and the houses in the background.

My dad, Art Brewer, around 1950 in the San Fernando Valley where he grew up. I just love his little smile, baggy pasts, and the houses in the background.

But imagine being able to transcend the generations and make the memory of the ones you love live on, merely by taking them out and telling someone the story.

You probably feel like it is a big mountain you just don’t have the time or energy to climb. Maybe you have a big ‘ol clan of family that you just can’t divide the pictures between, and therefore they sit alone, untouched, for years.

My humble suggestion, if I may offer it, is just take a few minutes for yourself and grab one of those boxes. Pull out some photos or slides you haven’t seen in years. Take the time to glance through them, to remember the times that have passed since then.

If you have a big family, check out digitizing your old photos. My aunt spent an incredible amount of time digitizing and distributing all of the family slides – to ALL of the 14 children, and any of the grandchildren who wanted them. I cannot begin to thank her enough. All it takes is one person, and the whole family will benefit. For the record on this account, I just want to say that for all the of the frustration that came some with technology, sometimes it is just unbelievably glorious.

Matriarchs of the family I married into: My husband Brad's grandma Millie and her sister Jackie. Lots of great motherhood came from these two ladies.

Matriarchs of the family I married into: My husband Brad’s grandma Millie and her sister Jackie. Lots of great motherhood came from these two ladies.

A couple of years ago, I found a scanner online that wasn’t too pricey; I don’t think it was much over $115 or so. I saw that it could scan large documents, things that were in books, and even slides and negatives. It has taken me several years to figure out how to use all of it (largely because of my stubbornness in reading simple manuals), and the other day I figured out how to scan the slides and negatives. I thought, perhaps, the negatives would just be a last resort to try to see some photos I thought may never be printed. Turns out, not only does it scan them perfectly, it auto-rotates them and inverts the colors. You start with a negative and get a perfect digital file, in the right size and color, as any other picture would have been. I was blown away.

I know we are all busy – our lives too full, too hectic. I totally understand. Writing this now, I feel much the same way. Overwhelmed with all of the things that need to be done, how tired I am from work, how the dogs are begging to be taken on a walk. It is really hard to prioritize and do all of the things you want.

The magic that happens is that once you start going through all of these things, they get easier. That mountainous box (or boxes, if you are lucky) of old photos, slides and “whatever” gets a little bit smaller once you pull it down and take a look. You can start sorting by decade, photo size, type, anything. Go ahead and try it for 20 minutes. Pull pull down the old shoebox, the old albums, whatever you have. Even a piece of paper with a few scribbled notes is a great place to start. I had no idea who several people were in my family albums until I found a few small notes from my grandmother, which opened up a whole new part of the family that I would never have known about without her loving little notes.

If you think it is a task you cannot do, try it anyway. Pull down that box and take a little stroll into the past. I guarantee it is probably a lot better than whatever is on television.


Sarah Brewer Thompson was born and raised in Agua Dulce, where she learned to love and appreciate nature and history. She is a master’s student at California State University, Northridge, and a docent at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Her areas of interest are local history, archaeology and animal studies.


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1 Comment

  1. Tony Mason says:

    Love your article you are so right people should preserve their family history and share it with family members. I help people all the time preserve their family history. For people that do not want to scan the photo slides and negatives themselves I do it in Santa Clarita for reasonable price.
    Memories by Mason

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