As personal historians, we bring skill sets from a variety of backgrounds to our work, but we all share a desire to apply those skills in a way that will have lasting meaning for the families we work with/for. As we strive to do this for others, it’s instructive to witness the raw power of a family member making his or her own, direct connection with a loved one, as Jim Walsh does in Baby Bigfoot on Ice. This short clip about his own father is a personal history that is truly personal—and very effective.
If you’ve not yet seen the clip, watch it now, and then keep reading to find out just why this tribute works as well as it does.
“Baby Bigfoot” is essentially a poem that reveals layers of his father’s struggles, quirks, courage, and ultimate dignity, providing a deep understanding of his life within the confines of a five-minute video. Jim’s use of elegantly simple language to vividly share specific memories overcomes any limitation of visual materials to provide a loving and complete portrait. By hearing Jim’s emotion-filled adult voice as we see him in early family photos, we are able to enter the story ourselves and join the family in that clunker station wagon in the rolling hills, feeling what it was like to be one of those “seven little faces steaming up the car windows.”
Since the video follows the arc of Jim’s personal journey of growing in love and understanding of his dad’s life, the use of actual trip (on a tandem bike—perhaps a symbol of their relationship with each other) through scenes of his father’s past is a perfect device to resolve the story. Using current footage of his dad at the end gives us a sense of connection and completion to the journey we’ve just taken with Jim as our guide.
Jim’s story also provides an example of how personal historians can learn by observing each other’s strengths. The visual elegance could have more closely matched that of the writing by more nuanced use of existing visual materials throughout…and perhaps ending with current video of Jim’s dad dissolving into that starry sky to reinforce his final words. But we could all learn by and appreciate the depth, clarity, and efficiency of his presentation and content, whatever medium we work in. If we can approach this level of connectedness in our next personal history project, we will have done a very good job.