In January 2007, my daughter Rebecca, her sister Andrea, and I headed on a weekend roadtrip from Tampa to south Florida where, among other things, we visited my uncle, Leo Hoffman. Leo was 85 at the time, and living in Boynton Beach. I had with me a compact camera with a new feature–the ability to record an hour’s worth of video–and decided to try it out by recording some of my uncle’s recollections of his early life.
The professional shooters and audio engineers I have worked with over the decades will chide me for the many technical problems with this video, but my uncle was not someone who was used to having a camera pointed at him. I was trying to get the most candid conversation from him that I could, and the best way I knew how to do that was to tell him about the camera, start the recording, and then put the camera on a bookshelf where it would be as unobtrusive as possible.
The result? No camera fright, but frightfully bad framing, horrible lighting, and hollow sound.
I didn’t give a lot more thought to this flubbed experiment for a long time–until, in fact, last weekend when I came across the video file on a storage drive.
Much has changed in the years since I made this recording. My Uncle Leo is dead. He died in the April 2014, six weeks shy of his 93rd birthday. Though I saw him many times between January 2007 and his death, I never attempted to reshoot the big genealogy interview.
Watching this half-hour from 2007, I noted how my uncle filled in quite a few family details I hadn’t heard before. For instance, his reference to Devine Corners. He’d mentioned before that my grandfather became a postmaster at some point, I don’t remember him ever mentioning where. (My mother went searching for it yesterday on her computer, and discovered that it was a community east of Liberty, in Sullivan County, NY. She said she had no recollection of it because she was two when her family moved there.)
And best of all is a permanent record of my uncle’s George Wallace story. He told this tale many times, and it’s a good one. If you don’t want to slog through all of the other family details, it’s all the way at the end.