This Christmas, my family started a new tradition. After dinner we laughed until we cried at home videos taken when we were kids. Those of us featured in the videos also hung our heads in shame. That hair. Those outfits. It’s like we were children of the ‘80s or something. Later, to recover from the experience, we ate a platter of cookies. A spoonful (or pound) of sugar makes the embarrassment go down.
The reason this is a new tradition is because it took my dad a couple dozen years to get the tapes organized and transferred to DVD. For a long time I even mildly discouraged him from doing so, fearing that suitors or my now-husband would flee the house upon seeing videos of younger, totally uncool me. I had no idea what was on those tapes. I just knew my dad always had his video camera with him.
Big deal, you’re thinking. People take all kinds of videos of their outfits and personal rants nowadays. But friends, this was long before easy-to-use and effortlessly portable smartphones and camcorders, and decades before children were experts from birth at on-camera appearances. My dad spent a fortune on that video camera, and he was the only guy in our circle who had one back then for personal use. It required a briefcase-size battery and weighed a ton. And he had to lug around VHS cassettes, which don’t exactly slide into your back pocket.
He filmed birthdays and football games and vacations, but aside from a few screenings when we were kids, we hadn’t seen any of it until Christmas. Luckily it will be many months before we collectively view the next batch, because my abs still ache from the uproarious occasion.
And so, with your future family mirth in mind, here are 5 reasons you should keep your home videos edited and organized and backed up for posterity:
- In 25 years, your kids will experience the same mix of discomfort and unstoppable giggling while watching videos of themselves screaming about a stupid toy or playing plastic machine gun-toting “Ramboettes” in shorts and knee socks. And you will (maybe?) enjoy seeing your olden-days style. The true question: will you look chic, or will someone be compelled to submit to Awkward Family Photos on your behalf? (Ours is definitely the latter. There was one scene in which I am wearing a long nightgown and sitting in a large chair with a Cabbage Patch Premie in my lap. I just sat there and stared without saying anything and it was kind of creepy.)
- Videos let you revisit friends and family who have passed. When my grandpa popped up on the TV, just about everyone in the room went quiet and maybe even cried a little and blamed invisible onions. My husband finally got to see this amazing man in person and appreciate how magnetic and funny he was, how easily he laughed and how happy he made us. He now knows why it’s such a compliment when I tell him he reminds me of my grandpa in subtle ways. I also fought back a sob fest seeing my first dog chasing tennis balls in our sun-soaked backyard in the L.A. 'burbs. Go, Jack, go!
- When you need proof about an epic family tale, you’ll know exactly where to find it. My family is looking forward to the Great Tooth Pulling in particular. When I was a kid and had an annoyingly loose molar that I complained about constantly, someone got the idea to tie one side of a string to my tooth, and the other side to the knob of an open door. The door was slammed shut but nothing happened, so without a second’s hesitation, my grandpa grabbed the string and yanked as hard as he could. I screamed, the tooth went flying and everyone else howled and slapped their knees in delight. There was talk for years about submitting it to America’s Funniest Home Videos. I’ll be vindicated when we finally watch the infamous event and everyone realizes it was dental abuse, not comedy — or more likely I’ll get a kick out of my crybaby antics.
- You'll get to revisit how you lived in your home way back when. Sure, you might wince at the occasional décor misstep, but you’ll also get to see all your savvy choices. And unlike photos, which can be staged and lighted just so, video shows how you really interacted with your space on a day-to-day basis. I was delighted to see how my childhood home looked before my parents had it remodeled. I had long since forgotten the original version, and realized what a terrific job they did in improving the place.
- The most important reason to organize your videos is that if you don’t do it now, you might never have the opportunity. A folder full of forgotten digital files is no different than a big box of unsorted photos under the bed. Case in point: My 91-year-old grandmother is still compiling photo albums from the ‘90s. On the bright side, she’s planning to stick around long enough to catch up to the present day, but I bet she wishes she’d spent a little more time organizing as she was going along. Don't let that be you! Also, if you’re going to screen videos for a not entirely willing audience, you should be able to pull them up immediately so there's less time for excuses and escapes. But seriously, today's technology makes it easier than ever to record our whole lives. You're going to deeply appreciate watching your keeper videos someday, so make sure they're saved with names and dates, and backed up in multiple places. And most importantly, don't forget to put yourself on camera too. Only my dad's voice has made an appearance so far — and he still sounds exactly the same as he did when we were little.