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home : features : local life February 26, 2015

5/6/2013 6:00:00 AM
Family picture has another story behind it
Ben Klemp, owner of Big Sky Digital Imaging and Photography, sits with Birdie Ybarra as she displays some of her old photographs.JC AMBERLYN/Miner
Ben Klemp, owner of Big Sky Digital Imaging and Photography, sits with Birdie Ybarra as she displays some of her old photographs.
Kim Steele
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - Ben Klemp didn't hesitate when he heard Birdie Ybarra's explanation about why she only had a few old photographs of her family.

Klemp, owner of Big Sky Digital Imaging and Photography in Kingman, was so touched by her story that he gave her a large cherry wood frame Friday and offered to retouch one of her photographs at no cost to go in it. Ybarra chose a picture of her and husband Sam Ybarra frolicking at the beach two years after they were married in 1965.

"As I've retouched past and present photographs, I've found that they all have a story behind them," said Klemp. "Birdie originally brought in four small, old pictures and told me about herself. After I heard her story, I thought about it and realized that I take cameras and photos for granted because they're easily available to me. I was so drawn to her story that I felt I needed to do something for her, so I'm giving her this package."

Ybarra said she learned about Klemp when she took her old photographs to Walgreens to have them placed on canvas.

Because the pictures were faded and cracked, store employees recommended she take them to Big Sky to have them retouched and fixed. Ybarra said she presented the photographs to Klemp and he was surprised at how few she had from her childhood. Ybarra said she has three pictures of her brother and sister, a couple of herself, three of her father and none of her mother.

"I was born in Zaragoza, Mexico, and as a child, lived in an adobe hut with dirt floors and a thatched roof," said Ybarra. "We were poor, but I didn't know it then. We didn't have electricity or running water, and we cooked on a fireplace. My father grew corn, wheat and cotton around the hut. I remember him working the fields, and while that took a lot of labor, those were happy times. He would get out his guitar at night and sing to my mother."

Ybarra said she learned about the U.S. from her father, Cruz Aguinaga, who had lived in California and Texas before returning to Mexico to marry her mother, Maria Isabell, and live there. Ybarra said her mother wouldn't move to the U.S. because she would have to leave her elderly father, but Ybarra was fascinated with her dad's tales, especially of machines that could clean floors. Ybarra said she spent a lot of time trying to imagine how such a machine would look.

But Ybarra's life changed suddenly when her mother died seven years into the marriage in 1952 and her father died two months later. Ybarra, 6, and her two younger siblings, Gilbert Philip and Mary Patricia, were split up and sent to live with relatives for two years, then reunited when their father's family in Los Angeles sponsored and brought them there. Ybarra said everything her parents owned was distributed to family in Mexico, including photographs and the guitar.

Over the years, Ybarra has accumulated several old photographs of herself and family members from relatives, including the only picture she has of herself as a child. Another photograph shows Ybarra and her siblings, and yet another pictures her father dressed in a suit. Ybarra said she can still remember her mother's eyes and dark hair, but the image in her mind has faded and she has no photographs to refresh it. Ybarra said she appreciates Klemp's gift.

"I think Ben has been very kind and gracious, and he has saved the memories I have of my past life," said Ybarra. "I have the strength of the people I was born to, and these pictures are a reminder of my roots. Ben is sentimental and he enjoys his craft and loves the stories he hears. I am grateful for what he's done for me."

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