Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Watching Home Movies With My Dad

So, Monday was my dad's 84th birthday.  Sunday night my brother and my mom got him out of the nursing home where he lives so that we could have a nice birthday dinner at their home:  turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, corn, salad, and cherry pie for dessert.

My dad thought it was possibly Christmas.

He was pretty good:  sometimes, it takes almost the whole visit before he will join the party, and talk.  Last Thanksgiving he kept falling asleep until just before we took him back to the nursing home.  But Sunday afternoon he got in a few comments.  I thought he was going to start telling "Knock Knock" jokes.  He didn't, but when my brother and I started imitating the old "Axel" character from past local children's program, he knew right away it was Clellan Card.

After dinner and before the cherry pie, my mom had a special event planned.  We were going to watch old home movies.  One of our old friends had taken some of our old home movies and put them on a DVD, so that we could watch them again.  We hadn't seen those movies for a long time, but I remember sometimes, long ago, that we would have fun putting up the movie screen and pulling out the movie projector and watching a bunch of those 8 millimeter family shows.  Most of them were various Christmases, with a few camping experiences thrown in.  We used to love to run the Christmas ones backwards, so that we could see everyone re-wrapping up their presents.  Simple pleasures, you know.

So there we were, all sitting together in the little family room, my dad in his wheelchair, right in the middle of all of us.  One of the unique features of this DVD is that there is background music, and you can choose which sound track you'd like: classical, country, or folk.  Another unique feature of the DVD is that the movies are arranged in no particular order.  So one moment we might all be visiting the farm and it's before my parents were even married, and the next moment, all three of us kids are sitting under a tinsel-laden Christmas tree, and then the next moment it is another Christmas, but I'm the only one around, and I'm a baby (I'm the oldest.)

So we're watching all these little episodes, all out of order, and shouting out to one another and to my Dad, "Look!  There's uncle Dick!  There's Norma!"  I still remember the first time my brother appeared on the screen, shaking my dad's arm and saying, "There's your son!  That's David."

The one thing my mom kept saying:  "You took these pictures.  Do you remember?"

My dad isn't in any of the movies.  He was taking them all.

From a professional standpoint, my dad was not an excellent filmmaker.  He tended to cut off people's heads, for one thing.  We were teasing him about that.  He didn't have a great instinct for "the scene", but he loved us and he wanted to record a bit of our lives.

For us, we just wanted to say, "thank you."  Thank you for not being in the movies, but taking the movies.  Thank you for recording our lives, in little bits and episodes.  In the movies, I can see through my dad's eyes, just a little, and I see how much he loved my mom, how much he loved us, even though he wasn't the type to say it much.

It's funny how much those few seconds of videotape can say -- how a few seconds of me chasing a kitten, or my little brother trying to blow out his first birthday candle, or his uncle hoisting all of us kids up in the air (except me, I was scared) brought back a flood of other memories and pictures.  And my father isn't in any of the pictures, preferring to take pictures of all of us, his family.

Happy birthday, Dad.  Thank you for taking the movies.  Thank you for helping us remember, even if you don't.

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