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Home Movies: Memories in Motion

By Theresa Anthony, author, In Search of Gopher Hollow

Prior to selling the family home, whenever I'd open the hall closet I was greeted by stacks of clunky black plastic VHS tapes sitting up there on the shelf. Each of those VHS tapes bore a label meticulously listing the events and years contained within. I admit that after my divorce in 2006, it was hard for me to even glance at this physical evidence of a family that hadn't made it, much less pop one of those old tapes into a VCR player to revisit the era. So, in the closet they sat gathering dust for years.

When I decided to sell the home and downsize to a condo in 2014, I boxed up the tapes and schlepped them to my new abode where they spent the next eight years stored in the garage. I no longer even owned a VCR player, so I wasn't able to watch them even if a wave of nostalgia were to wash over me.

But the truth is, after the loss of my son in 2013, I couldn't bear the thought of viewing them. It was hard enough just to look at photos of my boy, but to see him talking and smiling and just breathing was something I knew my poor heart couldn't handle.

In 2022, I made the big move across the country to my new home in Tennessee. Once again, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with these old videos. A faint little voice deep in my heart told me I would regret getting rid of them, so I loaded the box of tapes into the moving van.

This summer, in 2023, with my son's ten-year memorial anniversary approaching, I decided it was time to have these home movies digitized. It just felt right. Surely by now I could handle watching the videos that captured those nineteen years of my married life. I placed the order on, packed up the old tapes, and shipped them off.

Granted, the process of having the ancient VHS tapes converted to digital files is one that is both pricey and lengthy, but finally, after ten weeks, I received the finished product. I dragged the box inside the house and stared at it unopened for a day or two, trying to muster the courage to open it. I had to psych myself up to face that box full of memories now that they were accessible to view. When I opened the box, there, sitting on top of all the original tapes, was a small envelope containing two thumb drives, one for me and one that I'd purchased for my ex, who, after all, had done the filming.

After uploading the files on my computer, I opened one at random - of Christmas 1997. It was our annual tradition to document the tree-decorating process while Christmas tunes played in the background (followed by hot chocolate). Oh boy, was I deluded in thinking I was ready to confront these memories!

So, there I sat in front of my computer absolutely gob-smacled, gut-punched, leveled by the powerful emotions that this sweet video evoked. I wasn't just weeping. No, I was sobbing big ugly sobs, the sobs of a broken-hearted mother watching her then nine-year-old son laughing and goofing around in a Santa hat.

My brain struggled to reconcile what I saw - this happy, joy-filled kid hanging all his favorite ornaments on the Christmas tree - with the excruciating reality that he is gone. I wailed so hard it hurt, asking God, "What happened to my boy, Lord? What happened to my beautiful, happy boy?"

As we always did once the decorating was completed, the five of us then assembled in front of the tree shouting, "Merry Christmas" followed by the year (1997) at the camera. While viewing this, I felt so sad recognizing all that I had lost ... not only my son, but my family. I had always been committed to keeping my family together, that divorce was never an option. Sadly, in my case however, divorce was the only option. The breakup of our family still hurts me to this day.

I could only handle watching that one video because it crushed me. But after regrouping the next day, I decided to open another video, this one from 1993 when my little baby girl, my third born, took her first steps. Seeing that big smile as she accomplished this feat made it impossible for me not to smile, too. So, this was a turning point.

I have since watched each and every one of the seventeen home movies, reveling in all the cherished moments that were caught on tape. I revisited all the birthday parties, family vacations, Halloween costumes, school events, beloved pets, parties at our house, and glimpses of relatives who have since passed away. Seeing the family videos again was like breathing new life into old memories, and I felt a renewed appreciation for having experienced it all.

Sure, while watching the home movies, my emotions ran the whole gamut from laughter to tears. Mostly, though, I felt immense gratitude for these beautiful moments - memories in motion - that my ex-husband captured all those years ago for posterity.

Last week he received the thumb drive I'd mailed him, and was very grateful I had taken this step to get the videos digitized. But he said he will have to wait a month or so to watch them, just to gear up for the difficult experience of seeing our precious son in action. Trust me, I get it.


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