I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
January 1, 2023: Alexandra Zapruder
Abraham Zapruder was a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant and the owner of Jennifer Juniors, a Dallas company that made inexpensive copies of designer dresses. On November 22nd, 1963, the presidential motorcade would pass in front of his store. He’d thought about taking his home movie camera to work that day to record the event, but in the end he decided not to. His assistant encouraged him to go back and get it, which of course he did.
Alexandra Zapruder never knew her grandfather Abe. He died when she was only ten months old. She writes, “it occurred to me that there was an access route to my grandfather through the Zapruder film and the assassination. I understood, if vaguely, that his experience held clues about Abe Zapruder, clues no one else would notice or look for…”
On November 22, 1963, I was only six years old, but on that day, I added a whole new cluster of phrases to my vocabulary–including the Texas School Book Depository, the grassy knoll, and the Zapruder film. I was excited to read Twenty-Six Seconds–the big, thick book Alexandra Zapruder wrote about her grandfather and his film with the subtitle A Personal History of the Zapruder Film.
As the title and subtitle suggest, the book is both fact-based and family-rich. It includes documentary details and reference notes on the possession and ownership of the film as well as the feelings of the Zapruder family members for Abe and about this film that changed all their lives, including the feelings of the author as she discovers information in connection with the writing of this book–a significant undertaking that required research into the Kennedy assassination as well as the collection and review of family documents.
On that Friday in November of 1963, when Abe got back to work with the camera, to fill up the remaining minutes on side A of the reel (which was full of home movies), he filmed his assistant. He wanted the motorcade to be the first thing on side B. The film was double 8mm color film, which was difficult to process. Later that day, someone had the presence of mind to contact Kodak, who opened a lab just blocks from Love Field at approximately the same time Lyndon Johnson was being sworn in on Air Force One as the thirty-sixth president of the United States.
Twenty-Six Seconds is a fascinating read for those who were alive at the time and for those interested in history. I didn’t know until reading the book that the film showed the president was dead before arrival at Parkland Memorial Hospital (also part of the vocabulary cluster of that day).
Alex started out as a member of the founding staff of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where she became interested in the ways that young people document their lives and how these records can be preserved. So it makes perfect sense that in 2020, in partnership with the Educators Institute for Human Rights, Alex launched a project called Dispatches from Quarantine, which gave teenagers a way to document their experiences during the Covid-19 Pandemic. You can visit an online gallery to see their contributions in prose, poetry, photography, art, and song.
Alex’s first book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, published in 2002 and winner of the National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category, is a collection of diaries written by young people during the Holocaust. After its publication, she wrote and co-produced I’m Still Here, a documentary film for young audiences based on the book, which aired on MTV in May 2005 and was nominated for two Emmy awards. She has also been published in Parade, LitHub, Smithsonian, and The New York Times.
Come back on JANUARY 1st to read how ALEXANDRA ZAPRUDER spends her days.