Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Moving Memories

One of my favorite things to do as a teen was to pull out my daddy's film projector and the old family movies on reels, and watch home movies. We took a picture down and shone the movies on the dining room wall. That was back in the 1970's.

We had my parents' wedding on video, from 1955. We had births, holidays, birthdays, and summer vacations all captured on silent, color film. My daddy was a diligent recorder of family life. Movies (just think of that word! It's like a cute nick-name for things that move.) preserve little moments of life that become THE image we all remember. My brother Mark, learning to walk as a baby, strutting around with his arms out like Frankenstein's monster. The flame of pink azaleas running on either side of my grandparents' steps to their home. (Fifty-six steps up a steep West Virginia hill -- that's a lot of azaleas!) My brother Max plunging back and forth rather violently on a rocking horse with a grin on his face. And that's only from one reel.

The tapes eventually dried and began to break, and we stopped watching them. Stored in hard metal cases, they were put in a closet and became like other family treasures: remembered but unused.

After my parents moved from their North Carolina mountain home back to West Virginia, I visited briefly with old neighbors near the mountain home. They asked if I wanted to go back to the house one last time to look around and say good-bye to a lovely place. So we did. And being a Nosy-Nelly, I poked around in closets and made sure nothing important had been left behind.

And in a closet I found, sitting in a stack alone, all the home movie reels in their metal cases.

I grabbed them like a baby lost in a grocery store. Suddenly they were quite precious. Years and years of family moments! I wanted to see them again.

Before this, I'd already planned to hand the home movies over to my son Philip. He works at a company in Chattanooga that specializes in transferring any data on VHS tape or photographs, or any other kind of movie tape, onto DVDs. I need my own wedding transferred to DVD at some point. But the old family movies were the first concern. They were so old, brittle, damaged. But Philip said that didn't matter; they handled such things all the time.

I brought the reels home from the mountains, and at Thanksgiving I gave them to Philip. This past weekend he called and said the movies were in process. (Thank you, thank you, Philip! You're a gem!) And yesterday as I sat in the Starbucks parking lot in New Bern, I checked my phone. I had some MP4s from Philip. It was all the home movie reels, delivered straight to my phone. I sat in the car and watched the first one, cradled on a little screen in my palm.

The entire first reel we call the Lynn reel -- my mother's family. I saw my grandparents, my great-grandmother, her siblings, my granddaddy's brother Lawrence -- all young and lively, some downright silly like Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe is now in his 80's, living alone and suffering with dementia. I saw his lovely wife Rita, gone now for many years. Mother said Joe was recently found by his kids walking in the street, looking for Rita.

Now I'm 52, and it's sometimes difficult to watch the family movies because so much has happened in our adult lives -- glowing successes and abject failures. And when I look at the faces of my family, I see all that will happen to that darling baby on the screen, and I cringe and shudder a little. Our families are all this way, yes? The memories dredge up thoughts both sweet and bitter, producing longing and sorrow.

The overriding emotion I felt while watching the first two reels was a deep attachment to my mother. After the first viewing at Starbucks (where I'd picked up coffee grounds for our compost!), I called her immediately on my phone, trying to describe to her how the old movies had been 'sent' to my phone and I could watch them there. Modern technology seems so like magic.

My mother was a stunningly beautiful young woman. She did a little casual photographic modeling for a friend, and  have a few enlarged photos from that time. But nothing -- absolutely nothing -- compares to seeing someone in motion. Watching her walk, sit, laugh, smile her big smile. Watching my daddy laugh and throw his head back, and put his hand in the small of her back, and play basketball, and walk in his dark suit and fedora hat and wing tip shoes. He was married in a lovely white suit -- how handsome he was! As I watched them, I felt my eyes unashamedly drinking up two people I adore. I miss them and I still have them.

I'm now older than my grandmother was when my parents were married. How is that possible? I thank my daddy deeply for preserving our lives in motion. I hope to watch the movies with them and record an audio that Philip can overlay on top of the video. They can identify all the old family members that the rest of us don't remember. Fifty years from now, without the names and relationships spelled out, the movies will again be worthless to anyone. Adam and I, in spite of having better technology, have not recorded our kids' lives on film. We have photos, and nearly all of them are digital, on the computer. I wish I'd been more diligent. I wish I'd taken the time. I wish I'd caught them moving. Life moved faster, and now it is too late to capture them learning to walk, to ride a bike, playing in the yard. Those fading movies are only in my head.

Thank you, Daddy.


  1. Lovely post. I'm sure you will do a great job of identifying everyone for the the future generations. They will definitely thank you for it. We have a lot of videos of our daughter until she was about 4. After that it is just photos, but I make sure I save them in many places. I still print off the best ones and I recently brought the photo albums up to date. I love looking through them and often spot a gap where our daughter has removed a favourite photo.

  2. I have many old 8MM home movies too from the 50's up to the mid 70's.
    Years ago we set up the projector and as we watched them on the screen we recorded them with our camcorder onto VHS tapes.

  3. It's amazing how quickly technology becomes obsolete. We have years of VHS tapes of our kids competing in taekwondo tournaments. It would cost a fortune to have them put on DVDs, so they'll sit in a box for now. I find it emotionally exhausting when I try too hard to hold onto these past memories. I don't want to spend too much time preserving the past and miss the present. A little bit goes a long way for me. What my kids are up to right now is always the most interesting thing for me. But everyone has their own feelings on this. It's fantastic that Philip has access to the equipment to put all of your old tapes on DVD. I have a DVD my stepdad put together with some old movies of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. It is a treasure. :)

  4. Oh, how I wish I had the few old movies that my father took! All of them are long gone.

  5. Stunningly beautiful, yes. I see you and your girls in your mom's sweet face.


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