memories of my father
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I am writing this page to highlight the vagaries of memory, the utility of photography and as I become more aware of my ancestry, the fact that despite all the struggles and achievements each have had, after only a few generations, often all that is left behind is a tombstone to mark that they had existed. Maybe it will help others or just be of some interest.
My father died at age 48 when I was 6 years old after a two year illness with Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was aware that he had his own little business selling confectionary and haberdashery in a local market, but he also was a bit of a jack of all trades - he had worked as a butcher, during his 4 years in the army in WWII he became a refrigeration engineer, later, a door to door salesman selling Watkin's products, and one of his favorite past times was using his lathe and other tools to make furniture and also to make new tools such as converting Singer sewing machines into electric jig-saws. We had few assets and learnt to live happily with the little things in life and the odd short holiday we could make.
Up until the age of 5 years or so, I noted my daughters had almost photographic recall of memories over the prior 3 or 4 years, they could recall minute details of events that were already vague in my memories. But after that age, their memory function changed to become very selective in what they recalled, a normal process of brain development.
As I often reflect on my earliest memories, even as a child or adolescent, I was always disappointed that I had lost practically all of this early photographic memory and indeed retained few direct memories of my father, and that nearly all of them were in the last year of his life, and worse, they were all negative emotions. Perhaps this was a defense mechanism my brain used to help me cope, or perhaps there were not that many highly positive emotions I had during those last two years of his life. My younger brother was 3 years old when he died and thus I count myself lucky to have even these memories as I doubt my brother has any.
Fortunately, just before I was born, my mother encouraged my father to upgrade from the family Kodak box Brownie with its 120 size black and white negatives, to a new Yashica 35mm rangefinder which took color transparency photos. Never a year went by in my childhood that I didn't get out their collection of slides and view them on our projector creating vicarious memories of such events as our caravan trip to Queensland during a cyclone when I was 2 years old and the few invaluable happy family snaps. But perhaps more importantly, although many of the photos were taken by my mother, they gave me some insights into my father, as each of his photos were created with his thought processes and what he was interested in.
Soon after he died I was fortunate enough to be given a Kodak Instamatic 35mm camera to document my holidays and special events, laying the foundation for my own interest in photography. I remember when I was about 12 years old taking out the now rarely used Yashica and being totally puzzled by the strange numbering system on its lens and not having access to books, the internet or a mentor, I soon gave up on trying to work out how to use it. It was not until the solar eclipse of 1976 that I convinced my mother to buy me a telescope and a “real” camera - the recently released Olympus OM-1n - a revolutionary totally manual camera that forced me to teach myself photography and encouraged me to learn how to develop B&W and print Cibachrome prints from transparencies.
Here is a selection of images taken with the Yashica on transparency film which I have scanned:
well, he did pretty well for a manual exposure camera on film which demands fairly accurate exposure, and I am lucky he went to the trouble as I still have these positive memories even though for the majority, they are not really my own memories