Joseph F. Berenato
On festivities, family and photograph fastidiousness
Last month was a busy one at Mohawk Corner.
On July 16, in the middle of the longest-running Italian festival in the country, my daughter got married. We held the wedding in our side yard; Robyn, my wife, coordinated everything, and I officiated the ceremony.
I will admit, though, that, at first, I was ... uncertain ... about the date—”You picked the busiest day of the year in town! Don’t you know you’re getting married on Italian Christmas in Hammonton?” and so forth—but once I realized I would never forget their anniversary, I was 100 percent on board.
Besides, this was perfectly in keeping with the family tradition that no special day is truly our own; my wedding date, for instance, is also the birthday of my great-great grandfather, Hammonton’s first Joe Berenato.
Or, in this case, “Hey, buona festa! Oh, and yeah; happy anniversary.”
That tradition is also upheld by my youngest son, Jack, and his sister, Taylor, both of whom were born on July 22, 12 years apart.
Both of them live in Texas, but this year they came to visit, and I was lucky enough to see them before, after and on their birthday.
It was absolutely wonderful.
And let me tell you: between their visit and the wedding, Robyn and I must have taken a million pictures.
Some of them we posted to social media, but the vast majority of them we intend to print out and either frame or put in albums.
If I could offer one piece of advice, that would be it: print out your photos.
Picture-sharing has its place, but one day—as surely as the telegraph went the way of the dodo—social media will vanish. Your phone will die. Hard drives will fail. File formats will change or become obsolete, and ultimately unreadable.
Your photos will be gone forever.
If you print them out and take care of them, though, they’ll last for generations.
I have nothing against digital media, but, when it comes to photos? Only as a backup, or as a way to make copies for friends and loved ones.
Case in point: there is a picture for which I have been searching for a copy for decades. It’s of my great-grandfather, sitting with at least two of his brothers and three unidentified gentlemen on the steps of the family homestead, each one holding a musical instrument. Given his age, it’s from sometime in the late 1910s to early 1920s. I saw a copy of it in the newspaper when I was in high school, and a very low-resolution image of it online several years ago, but I’d never seen the actual photo in person.
A few months back I learned that my cousin Denny—whose grandfather was in the picture—had it.
Denny was nice enough to make a copy for me and leave it on my front porch (because, by now, half of Hammonton knows where I live; I mean, Facebook, Instagram and DoorDash recognize Mohawk Corner as an actual place, so...) and now I’ll always have it.
I owe you one, Denny—but I’ll owe ya two if you can help identify the other guys in the photo.
That leads me to another thing: write the names of the people on the back of the picture.
Yes, you know who they all are, but I promise you that in a few decades, that knowledge will be lost.
To wit: when Robyn and I moved into Mohawk Corner, we came into possession of every picture that was left in the house.
With few exceptions, they were all unlabeled.
It took us months of cross-referencing photos and consulting with Berenatos, Paganos, Fords and Emmers before we had a reasonable idea of who most of them were, but there are still many that are a mystery.
Another example: on our first visit with my long-lost cousin Viola, we came upon two unlabeled photos of a man whom she could not identify. After much study, we determined that these were, to our knowledge, the only two photos in existence of my great-great-great-grandfather, Domenico—patriarch of much of the Berenato family in South Jersey.
So please, label your pictures.
One last request—and this is directed to those of you who, like me, prefer to be behind the lens—let other people take your picture.
My mom took almost all of the pictures of my family when I was growing up, but I have very few pictures of her (except her thumb, which found its way into the frame of many vacation photos: “Look! There’s Fran’s thumb in Florida! There’s Fran’s thumb at the Statue of Liberty!”) and fewer with her.
Get in the picture. Hand the camera off from time to time. Take photos with your loved ones.
And take real ones—no filters, no puppy ears, none of that. Be yourselves.
Then, print them out.
Your children and grandchildren—and their children and grandchildren—will thank you.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at email@example.com or find him on social media at @JFBerenato and at www.jfberenato.com.