Trotting Out Old Memories

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One of our customers today presented me with a VHS tape that she wanted to convert to a DVD. It contained footage of a championship horse that she raced back in the day. Harness racing.  My dad always called them “trotters.” And my, how he loved the trotters.

He used to pour over the daily racing form; looking at the past performances of, not only the horses, but also the jockeys. He would calculate the odds, evaluate the cost and the risk, and then decide which race or races he would put his two dollars on. He always kept himself on a firm budget and insisted on the same from us.

As we grew older, an occasional  trip to the track became a family event. And we each got our own two dollars to put on a horse. My sisters couldn’t be bothered with learning my father’s system. They tended to go the route my mother chose. They bet on the horse with the cleverest name. Most of the time, they lost.

Me, I tried to emulate my old man. I studied the racing form, not knowing much about what I was looking at. But I thought that if I looked hard enough, I would see something that no one else did. Following the logic of the racing form gave me inconsistent results so I switched to watching the horses as they were led onto the track. I decided to put my money on the horse that looked like a winner. I bet with my gut.

I soon learned that looks can be deceiving and my gut was often wrong. So I then decided that as long as I was going to throw  two dollars away, I might as well do it with an outside chance that I would hit it big.  I started to search the racing form looking for long shots that had certain stats that showed they might have a chance to win… if the conditions were right.

I certainly lost more than I won. But on those rare occasions when my horse came in the money,  I won big because the odds were long.  Granted, the winnings weren’t big enough to cover all those $2.00 losses but it still made me feel good when it happened.

My fondest memory was the one time, in what was a pure fluke, I hit a trifecta. That’s when you successfully pick the horses that come in first, second and third in a race. A two dollar bet suddenly turned into a hundred dollar payout. I stopped going to the track soon after that. I knew that trying to repeat that success would only lead to greater losses.

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

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A Forgotten Memory Restored

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It never ceases to amaze me how much our individual and unique memories are often shared by others we have never met. I was transferring some footage from a client of mine today and suddenly the unknown home movie footage I was monitoring shifted to a memory that was all too familiar to my past.

There was a tourist attraction near my childhood home called Enchanted Forest. Its concept was to build exhibits centered around the fairy tale stories familiar to children. I haven’t thought about it in years but the footage from my client brought those memories back to life.

I remember the Old Woman’s Shoe (you remember… she had so many children she didn’t know what to do?) In the Enchanted Forest version it was a two story shoe that encased a slide. Kids would walk into the shoe, climb the stairs to the upper level and then slide down to the ground.  It probably should have been called the Old Woman’s Boot but why quibble?

There was a cartoon whale named Willie, a gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, and a storybook castle with a dragon among other similar themed “rides.”

Admittedly, Enchanted Forest was a poor man’s version of Disneyland but if you couldn’t afford to go to the house of the mouse, perhaps Enchanted Forest provided a decent alternative at a more affordable price. It was a one man brainchild the likes of which we may never see again. There was nothing showy about it. Most of the attractions were simple structures that kids could play on or in, letting their imagination take them where it would. It was a simple pleasure for a simpler time.

Nothing wrong with that… in fact there’s a whole lot of good in that. Although it closed in 1995, after nearly a decade of neglect, there was a movement to save many of the pieces in the Enchanted Forest from further disrepair. Piece by piece, surviving items including the ones mentioned above were transported to a local farm, restored and put in place where they continue to be enjoyed by passers by.

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

Say U.N.C.L.E.

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I had a client in my studio today who made a living out of buying and selling heavy equipment at auction. Sounds like a dream job for any boy who once spent hours on the floor with his trucks and cars. I don’t think I was ever that kid. I don’t remember being as infatuated with big trucks or heavy machines like my sons were or my nephews were at a young age.  Me, I was more into role-playing.

I would spend hours protecting the snow covered neighborhood as Batman… climbing snowplowed mounds pretending they were mountains. My younger sister tagged along as Robin until she got too cold.

Whenever anyone in our neighborhood bought a new appliance and the box it was packed in appeared outside their house, it immediately became a fort or log cabin as I took on the persona of Roy Rogers. The girl next door was an adequate stand-in for Dale Evans.

But one Christmas, I received the coolest gift ever.  I was around 9 years old and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a bit hit for NBC. I was gifted a genuine U.N.C.L.E briefcase with combination locks, agent i.d.s, a plastic gun with a silencer, passports, walkie talkies connected by string, and hidden compartments galore. I went from cartoon crimefighter to cowboy hero to genuine superspy.

For the next year, I was a man from U.N.C.L.E…. I opted to be Napoleon Solo because I didn’t know how to pronounce Ilya Kuryakin. I also believe this was the year that proved to be my last foray into the make believe world of pretending. I can’t remember play-acting after that. But it sure was fun while it lasted.

For the uninitiated, U.N.C.L.E stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and Ilya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) were the top agents who took their orders from Alexander Waverly (played by Leo G. Carroll). Their nemesis were the agents of Thrush, whose primary goal was, what else?, to take over the world. In my neighborhood, I and I alone was responsible for stopping them.  At least until my gun broke and I lost my agent id.

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.

This Blog Post Is Brought To You By The Letter R

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The good old days may have indeed been old but they weren’t always 100% good.  I certainly had my share of trials and tribulations. Like anytime I was asked to speak.

I had trouble with the letter R as a young boy. Don’t know why. I just couldn’t form certain sounds with my mouth. And all those sounds somehow involved an R. To this day, I can’t be friends with anyone named Rory unless I give him a nickname.  Spike would be a good choice. I can say Spike.

I distinctly remember the summer before I started “real” school. Kindergarten was for kids. But I was graduating to the numbered grades. I was proud and ready to go. Until… All summer long, my parents would bring their friends over to the house and inevitably get them to ask me one question: “What grade will you be in this year?” I was taught to always answer an adult’s question. So I would dutifully respond, “Fust… I’m going to fust grade.” And that response was always rewarded with a gale of laughter.

I became a voracious reader of the thesaurus – finding words I could use to communicate while trying to avoid the “er” sound. Fust grade was awful… made tolerable only because I had a young pretty teacher, Miss Muella (actually Mueller but well, you now know my problem).  But I stuck it out and aced fust grade. And I graduated into, God be praised, second grade! I could say that all day long.  I couldn’t wait for my parent’s friends to ask me now what grade I’ll be in.

That summer, I had my opportunity… my parents had some house party and we were trotted out to pay our respects. And the question was asked… “What grade will you be in this year?” Without hesitation, I stood tall and proclaimed with perfect elocution, “Second! I will be in second grade.” I wasn’t expecting a follow up question.  “And what grade will you be in next year?” “Thud,” I blurted out without thinking. And my heart sank as the laughter rose around me.

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.

The New Normal Isn’t Normal At All

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I attended our local Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting yesterday. I don’t know if you can tell from the photo above but the guest speaker was the Sheriff of Lake County who introduced us to a leading expert on active killer situations. He spoke to us on our country’s long history regarding mass attacks and school massacres. Surprisingly, it is nothing new.  It just feels like it is. That doesn’t make me feel any better. 

My generation never practiced for terrorist attacks or school shootings.  It simply wasn’t on our radar. We were an in-between generation. Too late for the Cold War and too early for domestic terrorism. In my day, the only defense training we received was a twice a year fire drill which hardly any of us took seriously. We got up, marched down the hallways in a straight single-file line until we were outside and then our nature took over and we became kids at recess.

The generation before me wasn’t as lucky. They were taught the duck and cover maneuver to “protect” themselves during nuclear attacks. 

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Speaking frankly, that always seemed a little silly to me. My school desk was unable to protect me from the spitballs lobbed from David Cook seated a row behind me… I somehow think it would not have been an effective deterrent to an H-bomb lobbed from a Russian sub.

These days, whole classrooms are being taught the Run, Hide, Fight response. Instead of teaching our children to be victims (aka Duck and Cover), they are being taught how to take action to try to avoid being victims. It is great training but in my opinion, it is something that we, as a society, should be ashamed by the fact that it even has to be part of the curriculum. Not that it isn’t needed… it is. And that is why we should be ashamed.

Our culture is what it is and there are so many moving parts to it that it is difficult to effect overall change except in gradual steps. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make the attempt. It took a while for us to get to the sad and unfortunate place that we are… and it will take a while to move us back to where we should be. But every step we take in that direction will be worth the effort. There is nothing normal about this “new normal” in which we find ourselves. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of 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.

Wigwam Village

 

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I had a former client come back to the studio today to tell me his story. He had purchased an old reel of 8mm film from an antique dealer. The only marking on it was the year 1959. He bought it as a curiosity and brought it to me to convert to a digital form. He became so animated when he was telling us what he saw on the film.

Most of it was uninteresting footage of random scenery but as the camera panned, suddenly, there on the side of what was S. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, were a few dozen concrete teepees. He couldn’t believe it. “I stayed there as a kid!” he shouted. My wife, who grew up in Orlando, also remembered them.

Wigwam Village, as it was known, was the brainchild of Frank Redford who, in the 1930s began constructing steel and stucco structures in the shape of Indian teepees and renting them out to curious travelers. It began in Horse Cave, Ky but started cropping up in other locations around the country in short order.  A Wigwam village was build in Cave City, KY; followed by a village in New Orleans, LA.

The Wigwam Village in Orlando was the fourth site and by most accounts, the largest. Built in 1948 it consisted of 27 “wigwams” which were advertised as being able to accommodate up to 4 people. It was also billed as “Orlando’s largest motel.”

Subsequent villages were built in Bessemer, AL, Holbrook, AZ, and San Bernardino CA

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In Orlando, the teepee structures were situated in a U shape with a giant teepee located at the open end which housed the registration desk, administrative offices and a restaurant. A pool was constructed later on which was situated in the middle of the lot.

Orlando’s Wigwam Village was demolished in 1973 to make room for the East West Expressway. A Vacation Lodge now operates on that site.

So, in summary, my client bought an unknown random reel of film and after converting it to a viewable format realized that, in so doing, he had captured a memory from his youth. And then when sharing that memory with us, he was able to spark a similar memory within my wife. It just goes to show you that we are more connected than we are divided. People should spend more time sharing memories with each other. It draws us closer together.

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

The Music Machine

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If I have said it once, I’ve said it countless times… memories make the best gifts ever. I was reminded today that I have actually been gifting memories longer than I’ve been in the memory business.

Way back, when my son first got married and entered into the Coast Guard… while he was going through his initial training at Cape May NJ, our daughter-in-law, who was carrying our first granddaughter to be, stayed with us. While she was there, probably thinking about the things she wanted to share with her expected child, she mentioned that there was a children’s record that she listened to all the time when she was growing up but she didn’t know what had happened to it.

It was called The Music Machine. After a little online research, I was able to find the CD of it (both vol.1 and vol. 2) and purchased them for her. To be honest, I had never heard of it before but hearing her talk about it let me know what an important part of her childhood it was to her.  Seeing her reaction as she opened the package made me a solid believer that gifting a memory, when you can pull it off, is the best gift you can ever give.

Those CDs became staples in her audio collection and she played them repeatedly on road trips she spent with her daughters. 

Here’s a little about Music Machine:

Recorded and released in 1977, Music Machine (AKA The Music Machine: The Fruit of the Spirit or Music Machine: A Musical Adventure Teaching the Fruit of the Spirit to All Ages) (1977) is a Christian children’s album by Candle. It is set in Agapeland, and teaches children about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It features the characters Stevie and Nancy. It spawned a series of spin-off Music Machine albums, books, a video game and Music Machine movies too.

If you, like me, had never heard of it before, here’s a sample of the kind of songs that were featured on the album:

 

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

Hey, Coach O!

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I had a couple of high school coaches in my studio today. I always enjoy hearing stories from coaches because they remind me so much of my dad who was a public school gym teacher and coach for most of the time that I knew him.

But he was so much more than that. Well before I ventured onto the scene he was quite the “Big Man on Campus” 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 eventually earned a spot on the all Century Team and was 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 became a bombardier as part of the 448th Bomb Group for the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force. He flew 24 missions over wartime Germany and thankfully made it back home safely. Upon his return to the states, he resumed 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, when my dad 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 with my father only to be continually interrupted by what appeared to me to be grown men who would shout 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.

It’s a warm memory. One that I am glad to know has not diminished over time.

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

Cooties!

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Just the other day I was editing a client’s photo keepsake order which was largely made up of shots from birthday parties and Christmas mornings. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the kid’s games they received I, in my youth, also received… or I wanted to. Like the air hockey game they got one Christmas. I never got that. I had to go to the arcade to play it. What was the deal with that?

Anyway, one of the box games that was proudly displayed under the tree was the Milton Bradley game, Cootie. I remember that game. It was designed primarily for pre-schoolers to teach youngsters about taking turns and winning or losing with grace.

The premise was simple. You had all the parts to build a bug. You rolled a dice to determine which part you could add. The first one to complete his or her “cootie” won.

Cooties had a different connotation when I was growing up. I don’t know if it still does. But when I was in elementary school, it was a well known fact among us boys that all girls carried cooties. We didn’t know what they were but just hearing about them made us know we didn’t want to catch them.

I remember when I was in third grade, I was surprised kissed by a girl (her name was Vicki) before class started. She said she wanted to tell me a secret and when I bent in closer to hear… smooch! Cooties! I didn’t know what to do so I chased her around the room with the intent to hit her. Thankfully, I didn’t (or chose not to) catch her. You see, deep down in my third grade soul, I knew… that surprise kiss was kinda nice.

Personally, although I have no supporting evidence to back me up, I think the idea of cooties was foolishly concocted by girls in order to delay the interest boys would eventually have in them. Believe me, by the time elementary school was over, when I was thinking about girls, cooties were the last thing on my mind. And until today, I don’t think I ever thought about them again.

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

Hi Ho, Oh No, It’s Off To School I Go.

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We have five senses. And a memory can be attached to any or all of them. Today, I was reminded of a memory through an auditory trigger which led to an olfactory memory.

An old high school buddy who I read online today mentioned a local radio station which prompted me to recall the local AM station my family listened to in the morning every…single…day…for…fifteen…years. It did have the best contact information to report on school closings due to stormy weather which is why my parents tuned into it. But it also had some very odd practices which it never wavered from. One of them was the practice of playing, at 6:30am, a military march to get their listeners awake and active and ready to face the day. Let me say, that when you’re a school-aged kid, you don’t much appreciate that style of music jarring you from your deep sleep.

And I was hit with a double whammy, because my father, as a depression era kid, refused to waste food. If the previous night’s meal was not entirely consumed, it became his breakfast the next day.  Here’s what he did. He chopped up an onion. He chopped up a green pepper. He took the leftovers of last night’s meal. And he threw them all into a skillet. It could have been lasagna, it could have been flank steak. He just fried it all up. The smell of fried green pepper and onion quickly infused the house and it…along with the oom…pah…pah beat of the morning march.. drove me straight out of the house. I could not get to school fast enough.

To think of it, I never did stick around long enough to see if my dad ever ate his concoctions. Perhaps it was all a ruse to get us kids to wake up and go to school. But, knowing him as well I did, I wasn’t about to bet against it. It worked. We survived and I got an education. And as much as I am loathe to admit it, I even developed a kind of fondness for military marches.

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