Beyond Memory

To ease our access to history my mother pulled our home movies from the closet and transferred them to disk. As I pop DVDs into my player, images of my mother in her youth move before me – parading coyly before the camera, in a cowgirl costume dancing with friends, posing with her brother – and I sit transfixed meeting a person I’ve never known.

And the journey continues from my parents as teens freshly in love before the promises of forever to my sister’s arrival. She appears serious and observational, the dramatic demonstration of the personality she still inhabits. My brother comes next, altering the family balance and casting the players into new roles. Finally I appear causing yet another shift.

I watch myself as a baby and a toddler living a life of which I have no memory. “But that’s me,” I think to myself. It’s so foreign, so inaccessible. It might as well be someone else’s life. And I can’t help but wonder how to calculate the value of what I can’t remember.

Seeing my family before my existence, in motion, offers a kind of understanding that anecdotes, still photos, and description will never provide. The way my mother walked as a teen. How my grandfather always mugged and performed for the camera using whatever props were at hand – a garden hose, a diving board, another person. His spirit of play greets me in a way that I never experienced in the flesh. Unknown faces appear representing an unknown story. It’s a tease. I want to dig deeper, to sit my mother down and ask questions.

I continue watching and come to a gap in the history. Life between my third and eighth year doesn’t exist. “Mom, there’s nothing of all the roadtrips we took when I was four.” I say. “Sun Valley. Crater Lake. Nothing.” And her simple response of, “Really?” rather than, “You’re kidding? We were shooting movies all the time,” leads me to imagine that the films aren’t missing from the neatly labeled and organized box of 16 and 8mm treasures.

If the cameras stopped rolling, what altered my parents’ need to preserve our adventures and milestones on film? Had they recognized they would not go forward as a family? Had the unraveling begun? Or was it just the syndrome of an aging family where the tireless documenting slows down?

1969 and 1970 present two offerings: my sister’s high school graduation and a random day as I played with my two dogs. Then all the recorded moving history ends, as did our family unit.

I think of the closet of home videos of my son. Will he recognize the day his parents split up by the sudden absence of his father in the videos? Will the visual shift speak poignantly or appear as a simple marker in our family’s history?

And I see that I owe my son the preservation of his father in this time, that since the camera lives in my hands, I should film his dad whenever he appears, whenever they are together, or in the least, hand over the camera to them to capture their own moments. My son will want to remember.

My mom asked me to edit the films she gave me, to compile them in a neat and tidy way, to remove the boring and the blurry, but I can’t get myself to do it. Out of focus or repetitive, lingering or chaotic, all are precious moments, and I don’t want to lose any of them. Adults often say to children, “I was once a kid, too, you know.” The viewable proof is breathtaking.


Anonymous said...

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Girlplustwo said...

ah. i would love to see footage like this - because it's so altogether easy to keep our own assumptions and beliefs close and warm without realizing the wholeness of life that came before us.

i think yes, on the dad taping. just my .02.

Trouble said...

This is a great post. My daughter asked me about a purse today. It's a leather backpack that X gave me before the divorce. Among other items that remind me of him, I can't bring myself to carry it. So, I gave it to her. It is a nice bag, and it was only collecting dust in my closet.

I would wipe every trace of him from my life if I could, but that wouldn't be fair to them. They deserve to have those memories of how things were before.

They deserve to have him in their lives now.

fringes said...

Very nice. I'd love to have video of my parents as kids. What a treasure.

QT said...

Yes, I would love to see my parents at that time as well. I really like this post, it made me think about what some of my earliest memories are as a child.

As for your son's father being included, I also cast my vote in the "yes" category.

Willie Baronet said...

Does this mean they will be on YouTube soon?? ;-)

Unknown said...

You really capture the intrigue of home movies. The way it captures these moments forever, moments we can hardly remember.