Friday, August 19, 2011

Glimpsing Ghosts

By Kim

In April of 2009 my beloved aunt Siegie lost her life to cancer. While going through her things, Siegie’s son Chris came upon a box of home movies. Most were filmed in the early 60’s and featured my father and aunts as teenagers and young adults. Chris had watched them several times as a kid. One box appeared different, however, and the only hint as to its origin was the name printed on the outside.

Stephen Jones.

Stephen and Sigrid (Ahrens) Jones
Stephen is a character in my novel, The Oak Lovers. He was a photographer for the Toronto Star back in the 1920s and 30s and husband to my great-aunt, Sigrid Ahrens. Why we had it and not Sigrid and Stephen’s descendants remains a mystery.

Chris decided to hire someone to transfer all the videos to DVD and brought along the mystery box. It was good he hadn’t investigated the contents himself, because the roll of nitrate film inside was highly combustible.

The man doing the conversion called Chris later that day and said the video was very old, professionally done, and it featured a wedding, honeymoon, and young children. The wedding part struck me at once. It would be Sigrid’s 1929 wedding, of course, and her parents, Carl and Madonna Ahrens, are the protagonists of my novel. Surely the film would show the parents of the bride! While I wouldn’t be able to hear them (no sound) I would at least be able to see them move and smile – ghosts would come alive, briefly at least.

In the end, I was disappointed to learn that the parents of the bride were not filmed at the wedding. Carl is, in fact, not in the video at all, but Madonna makes several short appearances. The footage is still incredible because it offers moving glimpses of candid scenes from the past. Stephen and Sigrid strolling the streets of Quebec City (streets I walked myself half a century later as a teenager). A father roughhousing with his children. Doting grandparents. The clothes are different, but the people aren’t that different from today.

I am sharing the video here. It’s eleven minutes long, but quite fascinating. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, but wish to see Madonna (a main character in The Oak Lovers) here are the spots to skip to.

1:37 – Madonna and her daughter buying fruit.
1:43 – train station, Madonna and Sigrid walk by. Madonna is the short one.
7:05 – Madonna holding baby Ingrid’s hand as she tries to walk.
9:45 – Madonna holding baby Stephanie.

Enjoy! I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. This is a wonderful treasure -- and opportunity to see family members from the past; ones we never knew or don't remember meeting. Filming is good too. I watched the whole film.

  2. I also watched the whole film but have had difficulty responding in time to your posts because my little boy fusses when I am the computer or phone. He covets the computer and phone, wanting to fiddle with them, but since he is eight months old, he will likely destroy both gadgets, so I hardly use these things anymore. When I get the chance, I look at this blog, and it always has some good treats for me.

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film and seeing Stephen bond with his children. As you noted before, there is something very touching about a man, especially from that era, uninhibited in his display of affection toward his kids. Seeing Madonna after learning so much about her was surreal.

    We are all eagerly anticipating the completion of your novel. The story you are going to tell has so many elements: romance,adventure, controversy, etc. Carl and Madonna are also such unique and complex characters and it will take quite an artful craftsman to tell their story, so it is understandable that it has taken some time to complete the novel.

    Just know we are rooting for you!

    K. Nunez

  3. Thank you so much for stopping by Anonymous and K. Nunez.

    I'm amazed that you have time to look at the blog at all with an eight month old, K. I particularly enjoyed watching how Stephen was with the kids. He took the kids with him after he and Sigrid divorced, which would have been a rare thing, then.

    Thanks for being such a cheerleader. I hope to finish the manuscript soon now.


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