A Real American Hero

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It is not everyday that you meet a genuine American hero. Yesterday was obviously not like everyday.

I was in my studio when a 97 year old man walks in carrying an armful of photos. As I was discussing his order with him, I couldn’t help but notice the US Marine Corps cap on his head and the Battle of Midway shirt he was wearing. Turns out he was there.

As a Pfc., he was stationed aloft in a 30 ft tall searchlight control tower during the Japanese attack, armed with a .30-caliber bolt action rifle. From his position, he had a birds-eye view of the decisive WWII battle.

Earlier that year, famed Hollywood director John Ford (Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley) bunked with him and others for a couple of weeks in the atoll’s power plant. Ford was there in his capacity as the head of the photographic unit for the Office of Strategic Services. The footage Ford shot while there was edited into the 18 minute long Academy Award winning documentary, The Battle of Midway which contains the first actual combat footage ever filmed in color. The picture above shows Ford in the center flanked by the younger American soldiers, including my client who is seated to Ford’s left.

Ford is quoted as saying, “The Marines with me – I took one look at them and I said, “Well this war was won.” They were kids, oh, I would say from 18 to 22, none of them were older. They were the calmest people I have ever seen. I mean the thing [a Japanese bomb] would drop through, they would laugh and say “My God that one was close.” I figured then, “Well, if these kids are American kids, I mean this war is practically won.”

My client ended up making the Marines his career choice and retired as a colonel. Still married to his wife of 72 years, he chuckled as he took his leave and told me that his goal was to make it to 100.  Judging from what I saw, he’s setting that bar too low. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio tapes and cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

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Anniversary Memories

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Happy anniversary to me. 26 years. That is no small feat. We’re having a nice ride, the two of us, and speaking for myself, we’re enjoying each step along the way.

Invariably, on such an occasion, one’s mind takes you back to the beginning. I married my wife on April 3, 1992. She, through a previous marriage, already had two sons, aged 11 and 13. She also had a huge support system around her in Orlando where we were married. She had lived there since she was a child. As a recent northern transplant, I did not have the same. I had no groomsmen, no best man… I was pretty much on my own on my wedding day.

I heard what happened as my wife arrived at our wedding venue. Even though we were keeping things low key, as soon as she arrived, a number of her lady friends whisked her off to attend to her every need. Me, I arrived unannounced and unattended. I sat in a corner waiting to be beckoned. And it didn’t seem to me like anyone had any intention of beckoning.

To my surprise, as I sat alone along a lonely wall of windows, Kate’s youngest son walked over and pulled a chair alongside me. He was 11. He didn’t say a word. He just noticed I was by myself so he decided to sit with me as I waited for the minister to tell me it was time to stand up and get married.

I had a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling about my mind and heart that day but I will never forget the simple loving gesture of a young boy whose unvoiced actions let me know that I was being accepted into his world. I would love to think I had a hand in developing the character of this child who would grow into an incredible husband, father, and man… but the truth is, his character was already present and would teach me more about giving than I could ever teach him.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio tapes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

This do ye, in remembrance of me.

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Trying to remember key events or special moments is nothing new. Regardless of one’s faith, we can all agree that the Bible, which in one form or another, has been around for millennia, always taught that we ought to remember what is important.

In the days of Moses, fathers were exhorted to teach their children the things of God, “speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” In other words, keep on teaching them… always. Why? So their children would learn and, most importantly, remember them.

Jesus took great pains to instruct his followers to use the practice we now know as communion in order to remember his sacrifice and what was accomplished through it. It is a practice that has continued uninterrupted in Christian religions for the last 2,000 years.

Why is it that cultures will build monuments or statues of influential leaders? It is done so future generations might recognize and respect the life and accomplishments of the one being honored. It is done so that others will remember.

Your memories are worthy of remembrance as well. Maybe you didn’t change the world but I can guarantee that the impact of your life reaches well beyond you. And therefore, your memories matter… to someone. They deserve to live on after you are gone.

We can help you with that. Give us a call or pay us a visit. Learn what is available and how you can leave your loved ones with a treasured legacy of your life.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of older media like film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

 

The Best Compliment Ever

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I received a compliment yesterday. I actually receive them most days but I don’t often mention them. I am basically a modest and reserved person (although you may find people who think they know me who will disagree with that assessment. Go figure.) Regardless, I am generally not inclined to bring undue attention to myself.

But yesterday’s compliment struck home with me. It spoke to what is probably the one attribute that I strive hardest at maintaining. I received a call from an out of state individual who has been following me for months on Facebook. He spends part of his year in my area (winters generally) and the rest of the year he spends in northern climates.

He called me to let me know that he has chosen to bring his videotapes to Florida next time he comes down for one reason only. He trusts me to transfer his precious family memories to a digital form in the best possible manner. Through following me on Facebook and by reading my blogs, he said he could tell that I was a person of integrity. That hit my heart big. Because it is true.

I may not always be the smartest guy in the room. I may not always be the most talented guy in the room. But I hope I can always be the truest guy in the room. Ask me a question. I’ll tell you what I can do and what I can’t do. I’ll tell you what I think would be the best solution to your problem and I’ll advise you whether it makes financial sense to chose one way over the other.

Why? Because that is what I want service providers to do for me. Service providers can always make money just by providing the services they do. They don’t need to pad their coffers giving people services or products they don’t want or need. I vow never to be that guy. I want to be the guy people trust to do right by them. My integrity is everything. I’m just glad someone noticed.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of older media like film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Jus Sanguinis

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We watched an I Dream of Italy episode last night where the host of the show visited her ancestor’s Italian village in hopes to get information that would pave the way for her to apply for dual citizenship. I’ve been down that route.

About 7 years ago, I spent countless hours tracking down all the documents that would have been necessary to prove my wife’s claim to Italian citizenship via jus sanguinis. I got birth certificates from her father and mother; also from her grandfather and grandmother… no small feat as I had to hire a foreign genealogy specialist to visit my wife’s grandfather’s birth city (Palo de Colle, Puglia Italy) to obtain his birth records.

In the end, I came up short. In a heartbreaking discovery I found that my wife’s great grandfather, Francesco, became a naturalized American citizen on the eve of her grandfather’s 18th birthday… while my wife’s grandfather was still a minor. According to Italian law, this meant that her claim to Italian citizenship would have been disavowed as the citizenship “chain” had been broken. If only he had just waited one more day, my wife would likely have had citizenship privileges.

It was a bitter pill to swallow after investing so much time into gathering all the needed papers. Fortunately, bitter pills go down a lot easier with a glass of Italian wine… and you don’t need to be a citizen to know that.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

What’s Your Grandparent Name?

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This lovely gift arrived in the mail for us today. Our daughter-in-law included a note saying she couldn’t resist buying them for us. What makes it special is that these are the grandparent names that her children call us.

Kate, my wife, came by her grandparent name as kind of a fallback position. In her family, the eldest woman has traditionally been known as “NanNan” by the younger generations. However, Kate’s mother is still with us and is still called “NanNan” by her kids, grandkids, and now great-grandkids. There can obviously be only one “NanNan” to a family so it was decided that when Kate became a grandmother she would be granted the oh-so-subtly different “Nana.”

My name took a bit more doing. A lot of different options were tossed around. Gramps, Grandpa, Grampy… none of them seemed to stick. Finally my daughter-in-law asked me if I had any nicknames growing up. “Only one,” I replied, “And it didn’t last long.”  When my sisters and I were born, my parents picked a cute baby name to coo at us. My sister Allison was called Ally-Oop after the comic strip character. My sister Bobbi was called Baba Looey after the cartoon character. And since there was apparently no animated character that inspired my parents where I was concerned, they decided to make one up. I was called, very briefly, Mickel the Pickle.

I should have never mentioned that to my daughter-in-law. The next time the grandkids visited I was greeted warmly with the shout “Papa Pickle!” As they got older, they must have reasoned that the Pickle part was pretty silly so they truncated my name to the much more appealing Papa. Papa is a name I can get used to… in fact, my heart melts every time I hear them say it.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

23 and Grok

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Michael Ondrasik is attending the annual Home Video Studio Advanced Training sessions. The studio will be closed until Mar 5th. However he is posting his daily blogs from the field.

While I await the arrival of other Home Video Studio owners from across the country, something unexpected also arrived. I received my results from the 23 and Me DNA testing kit.

Yes, my wife gifted me with the DNA service last Christmas. I dutifully spit into the tube, sent it to the lab and we have been waiting to hear back. And today I did.

My wife will be pleased to know that I am 100% European. I am a combination of Northwestern European (British/Irish) and Eastern European (Poland/Hungary/Czech), with a smattering of Southern European (Iberian/Balkan peninsulas) thrown into the mix.

She’ll also be happy to know that I did not test positive for any of the variants associated with some of the scarier diseases facing mankind. (Offering up a prayer of thanks to my ancestors for their contributions to this element of my DNA).

I’m not sure however how she’s going to react to this next piece of rather surprising news. I have been informed that my DNA contains 288 variants belonging to Neanderthals. That is a number higher than 67% of the 23 and me customer base.

What does that mean, you may ask? Don’t ask me, I’m part Neanderthal.  How would I know? Fortunately, I have evolved enough to learn how to Google. Here are 10 possible Neanderthal traits I may have “inherited.”

  1. Elongated skull.
  2. Space behind the wisdom teeth.
  3. Broad, projecting nose (thanks a lot!)
  4. Little or no protruding chin. (again, thanks!)
  5. Rosy cheeks
  6. Wide fingers and thumbs
  7. Straight, thick hair
  8. Insulating skin
  9. Fair skin and freckles
  10. Red hair.

And according to my 23 and Me report, at least one of the 288 Neanderthal variants found in my DNA is associated with height. I’m 6’ 3”.

So what does all this mean?  Well, for one thing, when my wife tries to scold me for leaving a dirty dish in the sink by saying, “We’re not animals!” I can smile back and think to myself, “Maybe you aren’t…”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Color Me Red-Faced

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I see commonality amongst families. We record the same events; we document the same kind of red-letter dates. And we typically have buried in all the reels of film or boxes of home movie videotapes one singularly embarrassing moment captured by the camera that has over time become a family favorite and the cause of much laughter over the years.

Today, I digitized what I can only assume is one such moment and, out of respect for my clients, will not divulge the specifics. But I am sure that when the family gathers to watch the DVDs I’m producing for them from the videotapes they haven’t been able to watch for years, there’s going to be a considerable amount of laughter and love in the room.

I know from experience. I too have such a moment that was lovingly recorded by my darling parents. A moment that was used to try to cause me great embarrassment in later years by my sibling. In her defense, she had a righteous cause. Earlier, I had found an embarrassing photo of her as a toddler, standing naked in the bathroom, reaching into the toilet but looking back at the camera with a big grin on her face. At the time she was nearing sixteen, (and of dating age), I decided to take that photo and thumbtack it up on the community bulletin board at our local pool where all her friends were sure to see it. What can I say? I was fourteen and to me, it was funny.

She waited a long time to get her revenge. Near the end of the summer the following year, our swim team held an end of season picnic and party where the highlights of our swim season would be shown on a Super 8 projector.  It was a much anticipated and well populated event. My beloved sister decided to take the below family movie clip and somehow managed to splice it into our swim team’s highlight reel for all my friends and their families to see. Embarrassment complete. What comes around goes around.

Well done sis.

What embarrassing moments has your family recorded that you can now look back on and laugh?

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Pinball Wizard

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There are some customers with whom I feel a close affinity. Yesterday I had one in my studio. He was about my age, and as we were discussing some of the memories he wanted me to preserve for him, he started triggering some of my own memories.

I honestly don’t remember how this came up in conversation but I shared with him how, when I was in high school, my buddy Gary and I used to climb into one of our cars and, from our home in Rockville Maryland, drive nearly 30 miles to Frederick Maryland. Why you may ask? To go to a bowling alley in order to play a pinball machine.

It made perfect sense to us at the time. In the early 70s, in Rockville, the pinball machines gave you 2 games for a quarter. But in Frederick, at least at this particular bowling alley, a quarter gave you three games. Plus, if you hit high score… you’d get a free game added. And as you accumulated more points, you would be rewarded with more free games.

There were times when Gary and I would play that pinball machine all night long on just one quarter.  Our trips to Frederick became more and more frequent. Because we were both athletes, Gary had the bright idea one day that instead of spending the gas to drive up to Frederick, we should simply run up there. After all, it was just a little more than a marathon (which, by the way, neither of us had ever attempted). Being a teenager and therefore devoid of common sense, I quickly agreed and we made plans to leave early the next Saturday morning.

That Saturday I was waiting on the designated corner that was to be our meeting place. No Gary. I found out later that his parents had planned a family outing that he couldn’t get out of. There were no cell phones at that time so he couldn’t call me.

So I set off without him. Three hours into the “run” I realized that I had made a huge mistake but I was too stubborn to quit. I settled into a “run for a while, walk for a while” strategy. Nearly 8 hours later I arrived at the bowling alley. I played one game of pinball just so I could say I did and then prepared to head back.

Only then did it hit me that a marathon ends after 26.2 miles. I, however, was only halfway there. I still had 30 miles in front of me to go in order to get home.

Thank goodness I grew up in a time when hitchhiking was a tad bit safer than it is now.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd.

Blood Relations

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I love the fact that my customers are comfortable enough with me to share their stories and memories. Some make me smile, some make me laugh, and then there are some that just leave me dumbstruck with awe and amazement. This newest story belongs in the latter category.

A client came in with an audio transfer but that is not really part of the story. Before she left she asked me if I had the capability of converting a .pdf file to a .jpg file. I said I could and she presented to me a usb drive with a .pdf file on it so I converted it as she waited. Upon completion, she asked me if I minded if she told me the story behind it.  “Mind?” I thought… “I don’t mind at all!”

Her story was amazing. About six months ago, her husband gifted her with an ancestry.com DNA test. She was mildly curious but did not expect the results she received. She had always known she was adopted. But after the tests came back and were compared against other DNA samples that had been processed it turns out that she has a brother who had been looking for members of his biological family for decades and that he lives a mere hour away from her.

They’ve met numerous times since and are sharing their stories and histories and it is uncanny how similar their tales are; how much of him she sees in her children; how much they have in common in appearance and personality. My client admitted that it is a joy to have discovered a brother but it pales in comparison to what her brother is experiencing because not only did he find a sister, but nephews and nieces and a host of other family members – members that he had been searching for as long as he can remember. His cup overfloweth.

The .pdf file that I turned into a .jpg? It was artwork that will be imprinted upon t-shirts for people to wear at an upcoming “family reunion.” I am sure it will be an unforgettable time.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit www.homevideostudio.com/mtd