If I Had an Hour With… by D. Randy Riggs from VM issue 2014.3 – May/June 2014
Someone recently posted to my FaceBook page a most interesting question. If I could have one hour to talk to anyone who has existed since the beginning of time, who would it be?
Well, I had to think about that for a few minutes but then there was no question in my mind who that person would be—my dad.
George L. Riggs passed away in 1976 when I was just 30 and of course, I miss him to this day. And that’s exactly why I’d love to have him back for an hour, although that short amount of time would be excruciating since there would be so much ground to cover over the 37 years that he has been gone.
I’d start by telling him about the wonderful woman I met about a year and a half after he died. I’m sorry my wife Karen and he never had the chance to spend time together or meet, although she’s heard recordings and seen many photos of “Pop.”
A little background: My dad was a World War II Navy photographer who was drafted at the age of 35 in 1943, a surprise to him since he had flat feet and a successful plumbing and heating business in Trenton, New Jersey. So when the Army said they wanted him, he went for the Navy instead, and found himself in the 117th battalion of the Seabees after boot camp and primary training, heading for Honolulu as a First Class Shipfitter, aka plumber. When he was reassigned and off to the South Pacific island of Saipan, there in an interview they asked what his hobbies were and he said, “photography.”
Since they needed a battalion photographer who knew how to develop and print photos he got the job, and they even built him his own office, complete with darkroom, sleeping quarters and his own Jeep. Manned with a Kodak Medalist, 4×5 Speed Graphic and Kodak 35, he went to work, documenting much of what was taking place on that war- battered island in the Marianas. I still have those cameras and many of his photos.
In a roundabout way, his photography experience was passed on to me, since we had a darkroom in the house and he taught me how to use complex cameras. Right away I loved everything about photography and I am lucky that I have so much of my early life in photos because of him.
Fortunately, Pop was around when I began my publishing career and was happy and proud that I was in the magazine business getting my photos published. He would’ve loved to have been a pro photographer but he was making too much money as a contractor to leave that profession.
So, in my hour I’d sit him down with me in front of the computer, and alongside I’d have my iPhone and iPad and IPod. And I’d say, “Pop, Kodak is about out of business, cameras are now digital and look here on the computer screen to see what you can do with photography now.”
And then I’d show him Photoshop, Lightroom and all of his old photos that I now have digitized, and, wouldn’t that blow his mind! He was always interested in technology, even selling electric ranges in his showroom that featured tiny tv screens in the early 1950s. Short wave radios, we had those too. Radiant heat in our home. Pipes under the driveway that melted the snow in the winter. And was he ever happy when they came out with a remote to change the tv channels.
Cars? Oh boy, would we have fun with that subject. He always worried when I took up motorcycle racing, so I’d wonder what he’d say about vintage racing and the five motorcycles under my roof—one in the foyer. I could walk him out to the garage, and wouldn’t he be pleased? The Porsche he’d understand and want a fast ride but my little Morris Minor van I’m not so sure. He wasn’t so sure about my MG in high school either.
And then I’d get him to talking about all the cars he owned, the ’37 Packard with the rumbleseat that he courted my mom in (see photo above), the ’42 Buick convertible he bought just before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, his ’49 Caddy fastback coupe, the portholed Buick Centurys in the mid-’50s, his ’57 Nomad wagon, the tri-power ’58 Chevy 348 convertible, and of course his ’56 Corvette. And then I’d tell him what they are worth today.
That I know he’d have a hard time comprehending, but not the big hug I’d give him before he left. That hour would just not be enough…