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The Watermelon Girl

The medical field has come a long way since leeches and bloodletting were a common technique to treat certain ills of the body. We should be grateful that we live in a time that is, relatively speaking, more advanced in prescribing cures that will help us to heal whatever ails us. But even in the recent past, it was not always so.

One of our young ancestors, my wife’s first cousin, Donna Marie Del Colliano, found herself in the national spotlight at a tender age. She had been diagnosed with nephrosis (a kidney disease) about a year previously. When her doctors determined that watermelon juice might help her condition, her parents tried to acquire the fruit, but in New Jersey it proved to be unavailable at the time. They made a public appeal and a local politician was able to locate a supply in Florida which he had flown to Jersey.

By now, the eyes of the country were watching the progress of “the Watermelon Girl” and, for a time, she appeared to be improving. Unfortunately, in September of 1953 she was found in a coma. Though she was put into an oxygen tent, her condition continued to decline and she died a few hours later from nephrosis and anemia. She was five years old.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Oyez, Oyez! Read All About It!

Many males who are my age or older will remember that our first taste of employment was had by delivering the local newspaper. Being a paperboy was almost like a rite of passage that is sadly disappearing from today’s American culture. For young boys it could instill a sense of responsibility, pride of ownership (your route was YOUR route), and allowed us to develop many of the skillsets needed to be successful as we moved forward in life.

Whether delivering the daily paper or a weekly supplement, the process for the paperboy was pretty much the same. The papers were delivered to a common area where you would pick them up. You’d have to assemble the sections and fold them into a throwable form. You would then fill up your satchel or bag, sling it across your shoulder, hop on your bike and pedal through your route having memorized the houses that have subscribed to the paper. 

But, as in any profession, there are always some who manage to take it up a notch. Ed Kukst, my son’s grand-uncle, was one such “special delivery” carrier. He completed his route on a motorcycle. That’s him, in the center of the picture, with two other lads getting ready to deliver the Spokane Chronicle in the 1920s. Ed grew up to have a career in law enforcement. He retired from the Spokane Police Department as a lieutenant.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Troup Suit Club

Two of my daughter-in-law’s 3rd great granduncles, Snap and David Pace Jarvis from Troup, TX, established their family business, Jarvis & Company, in 1888. It would continue to be a fixture of the community for the next eight decades.

The store carried a complete inventory of goods and became the community’s go-to source for clothes, shoes, hardware, farm implements, groceries, feed, fertilizers and buggies. They also bought and sold horses and mules as well as cotton. Snap’s wife explained, “Farmers would usually shop twice a year. They would come in the fall to sell their cotton and pay up their past accounts. Then the farmers would buy their winter supplies.

When Snap and D.P. retired, the store was left in the hands of Snap’s sons, Julian and Newell. When Newell moved on, Julian became the sole proprietor and under his management the store continued its successful rise. Jarvis & Company became especially known for the quality of its men’s clothing.  Julian established the “Troup Suit Club.” Members were assigned a number and required to pay $10 per week. Each week, if a member’s number matched the cent amount of a predetermined stock, he won a free suit. If no one won after a number of weeks, the amount paid could be applied to merchandise within the store. At one point there was up to 100 people paying into the club, some coming in as far away as Tyler to take part in the offer.

A family legacy finally ended on February 7, 1963 when The Troup Banner headline declared that Jarvis & Company had been sold to an investor from Dallas.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our recent TEDxEustis talk about geneaology.  https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

That’s My Pop!

One of my father-in-law’s earliest memories was also one of his favorite stories to tell. As a young lad, Arthur Giannone grew up in the New York/New Jersey area in the 1930s, and was taught early on how to identify the various musical instruments that made up an orchestra. His father was a working musician, playing the trumpet in concert halls and in the theatrical district of New York City.

One day his mother decided to take Arthur to the theater where his father was working. As the lights dimmed and the audience hushed, the orchestra began to play. After only a few notes into their planned number, Arthur’s trained little ears picked out the unmistakable tones of his father’s trumpet and excitedly shouted out, “That’s My Pop!” As he tells it, he got quite the ovation from the amused audience in attendance.

A few weeks later, a new cartoon appeared in the Sunday funnies. Penned by the renowned cartoonist Milt Gross and carried by Hearst’s King Features Syndicate, it featured a bumbling man who finds himself in absurd situations shadowed by a doting son who is not shy about shouting out his admiration. That’s My Pop! became a popular running comic strip, and was eventually adapted at one point into a radio show.

My father-in-law was convinced that he was the inspiration behind the strip and that Gross must have been at the theatre that night he first shouted out the catchphrase that captured the nation’s fancy.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And don’t forget to check out our recent TEDxEustis talk!

Moving Day

It is easy to forget how hard life was in the early years of our country’s founding. One way to remember is to read the first-hand accounts of people who were there. The following narrative was written by Lavinia Morris, my aunt’s third great-grandmother who, with her Baptist minister husband, moved their family of eight from Kentucky to Ohio, some 200 miles north. It was in the early 1800s.

“The road from Bellefontaine, Ohio to Lima, Ohio was hub deep in mud and the trees and brush had to be cut out part of the way. We landed here on the 8th of October and built a house 16 feet square out of poles. A door served for a window. We built a fire in one end of the house, without any chimney, allowing the smoke to go out through the cracks and crevices. We lived this way until my husband could build a chimney and a door, and chink and daub the house. The house was built without any floor, and we lived this way for one year. We then built a log cabin with puncheon floor, and a square hole with paper pasted over it for a window. This was equal to the finest parlor in those days. We brought three barrels of flour with us which lasted one year with corn meal. We had plenty of wild meat, such as deer and turkey, and wild fruit, such as grapes, plums and berries. I remember one instance, I think it was in the fall of 1834, we were without bread for four weeks, as the nearest place we could get grinding done was Cherokee in Logan County or Sidney in Shelby County, but we had plenty of pumpkins, squashes and potatoes.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Big Man On Campus

I have been reaching back through the centuries to draw out stories of old that are somehow related to my family tree. I find them fascinating. But the stories that resonate the most with me are the ones involving family members who are closest to me. And what son would I be if I didn’t brag on my dad just a little bit… especially on Fathers’ Day?

Edward John Ondrasik was quite the “Big Man on Campus” in his day. At Roanoke University, he was a star basketball player, nicknamed “The Big Scoop” for his skills under the basket. He was voted thrice to the All State team and earned a spot on the All Century Team. He was eventually inducted in Roanoke University’s Hall of Fame.

His illustrious playing career was interrupted by a little disturbance most people knew as WWII. He left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps where he joined the 448th Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force. He originally wanted to be a pilot but on his test run got a little too close to some telegraph wires so he got relegated to the bombardier seat. He flew 24 missions over wartime Germany and thankfully made it back home safely. He later told his family that all 24 wartime missions over Germany had to be flown without the benefit of a parachute because at 6’3” he could not fit in his compartment with it on. 

Upon his return to the states, he completed his education at Roanoke University and even played for another season where he racked up awards, accolades, and the attention of one Red Auerbach who invited him to come play for him. At the time, Red was coaching the Washington Capitols. 

Unfortunately, once my dad graduated and was free to accept the offer, Red had no open positions so he returned to his family home in New Jersey and got picked up by the Paterson Crescents, a team in the American Basketball League. He only played a couple of seasons before he decided to shift his attention and talents elsewhere.

He became the Athletic Director for a Naval Base in Bainbridge MD, and then decided to embark on a career in public education. It was a career that carried him through to retirement age. And he left an indelible impression on scores of children who were fortunate enough to have had him as a coach or teacher.

I still remember walking down a city street as a child with my father at my side only to be continually interrupted by what appeared to me to be grown men shouting out, “Hey, Mr. O!” or “Hey Coach!” Even at my tender age, I could see the love and respect these men had for my father because he had provided them instruction and a role model to emulate when they, as much younger versions of themselves, were his students.

He left an unmistakable legacy… and enormous shoes to fill. I can’t imagine being the man he was. I can only hope to be a son of whom he would be proud.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Happy Belated Birthday

Do you remember your very first birthday party?

Odds are that you don’t. Who among us has a memory that good? This past week one of my customers was able to relive that momentous occasion, thanks to an old reel to reel audio tape she had discovered in a long forgotten storage place. 

And, to be honest, it wasn’t even the original recording. At the time of her first birthday, which occurred over seventy years ago, her parents were using an old wire recorder which captured sounds by imprinting them on a stainless steel wire about the width of a human hair. 

The technology was invented in 1898 by a Danish engineer named Vlademar Poulsen, although it did not enter into its popularity until WWII, around 1946. It quickly fell out of fashion some eight years later when, using the same basic technology, 1/4 inch magnetic tape became the recording standard. My client’s parents, at some point along the way, had transferred the original wire recording to the more accessible magnetic tape.

Regardless of the format, the point is that my client had never heard the recording before and even though she was present at the event, at one year old clearly had no recollection of it. To hear her mother and father, aunts and uncles, now long since gone, all singing happy birthday to her as she sat in her high chair… that is certainly a memory she can now always cherish.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Safer at Home – Day Twenty-Four

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April 25, 2020

Transferring other people’s video and film has given me a great opportunity to witness the customs and traditions of families from various cultures. There’s a practice that is often repeated by families celebrating the first birthday of a child: the smash cake.

I don’t recall it as a custom when I was growing up but it has certainly gained in popularity since then. I was surprised to learn that it may have its origins south of the border. Mexican families will gather around the birthday child singing Mordida! Mordida! Mordida! (Bite, bite, bite). Then, after the candles are blown out (and hopefully removed) one of the parents will approach from behind and gently shove the kid’s face in the cake. This is followed by much laughter and picture taking.

The US version of the smash cake typically will be a second, smaller size version of the birthday cake set in front of the 1 year old. While the adults enjoy their neatly sliced pieces of cake, the child, without the benefits of utensils, will eventually begin to dig his hands into the dessert and even manage to get some of the sugary goodness into his or her mouth. This, once again, is followed by much laughter and picture taking. 

I can’t say I understand the rationale behind the tradition. The child is too young to remember it and there will be some major cleanup to do afterwards. Why does this make me think it was all probably started by some dad’s idea of a joke?

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

SAFER AT HOME – DAY SEVEN

April 9, 2020

I stumbled upon an innocuous Facebook challenge today. Seeing no harm, I accepted it. Basically, an old friend was asking people to post their senior year high school yearbook photos to support and applaud the graduating class of 2020. So I did.

Now I’m usually not a conspiracy theorist, but I have no other explanation for the hair and outfits I was wearing during my high school years. It had to be a devious plot (50 years in the making) to completely embarass those of us who lived in that time.

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I mean, seriously? This was a picture day which means I chose that outfit knowing I’d be photographed. This is in my yearbook in one of the group photos in which I posed. I have no idea what I was thinking. Did fashion not exist back then? When were mirrors invented anyway?

Paisley shirts with Peter Pan collars and a “dickey?” Coupled with bell bottom jeans and half boots that zippered up? And could I not have chosen a wider watch band? It’s no wonder I never got any dates in high school.

Now, my hair I can explain. That was straight up rebellion. My father (a straight-laced middle school gym teacher) is the one who took me to get my hair cut as a child. He dragged me to his barber shop – run by a bunch of guys from Jersey who he met at the track. Not only did they practice the bowl cut, I think they invented it. Razor cut on the side, scissor cut up top. And they used a grease stick to make the bangs stick straight up. Hated it.

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So when I became a teen, I decided to skip the haircuts. And for some reason, my parents let me have my way. Hence the long locks in the first picture. It was unkempt, uncomfortable, unattractive and deep down I knew it but was too stubborn to admit I was wrong. However, when senior picture day was approaching I decided it was time to do something about it. Instead of visiting Vinnie and the bowl cut gang, I opted to spend the big bucks and go to a high class “salon.” I still remember the name. It was dubbed “Rape of the Lock.” Why that didn’t send up a red flag, I’ll never know.

So, I went with my tangled mop of hair and told them to give me a cut suitable for my high school senior photo.  I paid for it with my own money. Here’s what they gave me:

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Only one word for it… shagerific!

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

SAFER AT HOME – Day Five

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April 7, 20200

Trying to look ahead to the unknown things that may await us in our future can be, especially in times of crisis, somewhat unsettling. For that reason, we often take comfort at looking back at memorable times in our past that make us smile. At least I do.

When I think of my past, I invariably return to the summers of my “teenhood.” My family belonged to our community pool. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day was spent, more often than not, at that concrete oasis where I first learned to swim, later to match myself against others in swimming competitions.

Being part of a summer swim team was the first time I completely immersed myself in a communal society of sorts. Being part of that team; wearing their colors (usually in the form of a rather ugly speedo racing suit) was my sole identifier during those formative summers.

And I have just recently discovered that I was not alone in that assessment. I recently found an Super 8 reel of film that contained footage of my old swim team during one of their away meets. I decided to post it on a closed Facebook group comprised of people who went to the same high school as I. I was shocked to see the reaction to that footage. People I haven’t seen in over 45 years started posting and sharing their stories and memories. They helped to identify people who appeared in their younger forms in that footage and ‘tagging’ other people who they thought would be blessed to see the past come to life again. It felt kind of good to get the whole gang together again.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.