(Click here to see my previous post about Dead Dad feature films.)
[This the only footage I have of my dad. My dad died before I was born. My mom said that her dad (my grandpa) died in December 1973. She was using up the film on his movie camera, so this was probably taken in 1974.]
Family movies. About once a year, when I was young, my mom would force my Gramma to get out the films (Super 8?) and the projector and we would watch them. Usually this was a few months after it was first discussed, because it seemed like my Gramma always needed to buy a new light bulb for the projector. There were about 15 reels of film. My mom always wanted to watch the one with my dad on it first. No one could ever remember which reel it was on.
The family movies contained relatives I had never met and would never meet. Relatives that my mom and Gramma had (it seemed) endless stories about. There were movies of my Gramma’s house before the porch was built and before it was screened in. There were movies of my mom and Gramma helping to build my uncle’s house. An uncle I did actually get to meet before he died, but he moved out of that house before I ever saw it.
In the movies, there were many scenes of dogs pooping (Ginger, who was our dog when I was young, and Suzy, my Gramma’s dog that died shortly after I was born, and my Great Grandpa’s future dog, Rusty). There was a flood rushing through my Gramma’s front yard. There were boring movies of driving out West to Yellowstone, taken from car windows. There was a more endlessly boring boat trip to Lower Tahquamenon Falls, which sort of blends in to another at Pictured Rocks. These trip movies also featured everyone walking from the car to the restroom and back again.
I was always disappointed that I was not represented in those movies. Here were my mom and Gramma and uncle, who I actually knew, fraternizing with all these strangers. They were living lives I would never know anything of, except for their stories and these movies. My lack of representation bothered me so much so that in college, studying Communications-Radio & TV Broadcasting, I checked the video camera out one weekend and shot my own home movies. One problem, my movies had sound. My Gramma’s did not. When I watch my home movies now, I watch them on mute. I prattle on about this and that. What I really want to see are my old clothes and furniture and posters on my walls. And I love on the video when my asbestos friend and I go to the gas station (which in a year would be the site of my first real job) and gas is $1.24. She says “$1.24! I should be able to put gold in my car for $1.24!”
In the late 1980′s my mom decided to have the films transferred to VHS. We numbered what order to transfer them in, placing the film with my dad first. At the time, Sears was running a promotion where they gave you a free extra VHS copy to send to America’s Funniest Home Videos (The new hit show:P). It even came in a cardboard box with the show’s address on it, all ready to mail. (Of course, our only funny scene, of a bear trying to get into the sunroof of a Volkswagen Beetle, had long ago been lost to the unfortunate break and scotch tape repair.) So, we kept one tape and my Gramma kept the other. My mom and I could watch it whenever we wanted. We would watch the beginning, with family and dogs. We stopped it when the Mackinac Bridge came into view, always skipping the boat trips.
In the 2000′s, my work had a discount offer to get film/slides/VHS converted to DVD. I decided I should torture the old footage and have it converted one last time. But, what to convert? The film had continued to deteriorate in my Gramma’s hot apartment. So then, which VHS? The one that had been kept in our hot trailer or my Gramma’s hot apartment? (Boy, analog is sure fragile.) I believe I chose my Gramma’s VHS tape, because it had been viewed very few times, as she had given us her VCR, which is what we watched our copy of the tape on.
Yes, the quality is iffy. And all the ritual is gone out of it. No setting the date, buying the light bulb. No guessing what was on each reel, no popcorn. No narration by those who had lived it. But it still feels like preserving history. My history. And now my son can watch them too. He can see the few fleeting seconds that are captured of my dad.
Then, he will know him as well as I do.
Looking to convert your own memories? I recommend The Archival Company. Who do I NOT recommend? Walmart.