Vocal Cassette Recorders

I loved the movie Super 8 and the Netflix sensation Stranger Things. It wasn’t even the stories- they were rehashed sci-fi go-to’s with brilliant kid actors and a nostalgic setting. AMC has proven for years, get the characters right, have the best writers, and you can put a story in any setting. How about: teacher with cancer decides to make crystal meth to pay for his hospital bills? Or, an ad agency exec that gets paid to make everyone feel good about themselves, but never feels good about himself? Or, zombies take over the world? Get the story right, write well, and you can make anything work.

What I liked about Super 8 and Stranger Things was the nostalgia trip. A bunch of kids running around in the 80’s filming things. Now that brings back some memories. If I had to go back to the beginning of my life and pick an art that I would want to excel at, it would definitely be movie making. I get it, there’s nothing like a good book, but there’s nothing like a good movie either. I pick movies.

As a matter of fact, I had my stint. It was the 80’s and I played with a neighbor’s home video camcorder and wrote and directed a couple of short films myself. They were terrible. But they were so fun. The way that I remember it is that I spent an entire summer filming a Superman movie with my 8-year old brother as the lead. The special effects were nothing short of, well, turn the camera sideways and blow a fan in his face and he looks like he’s flying. Editing consisted of, get the take that you like and stop for the next scene. If you didn’t like that take, record over it. Who needs all of this newfangled equipment and CGI and and green screens and stuff?

My generation was the first to have our entire lives recorded on video. I had a friend try to show me his birth when we were in elementary school. His mom said no. While all of the cool kids were walking around with giant cassette tape player boomboxes on their shoulders, just before a break dance battle in our parachute pants and jelly bracelets, our parents had a giant video recording suitcase on their shoulder asking us to, “Do that again. I didn’t quite catch it.” We were the first generation to have to reenact the monumental moments of our childhood. It wasn’t long before television started offering a cash prize for our blundered moments caught on camera. More than once we tried to fake one.

These new kids are beyond spoiled. I get it, my grandparents thought we were spoiled because none of me or my friends died of polio or got trapped in a broken refrigerator before suffocating to death or got drafted. But these new kids think there’s always been a time that we video chatted on Facetime and texted. We’ve gone from dufflebag sized camcorders to full 4k quality video recording on our phones that fit into our pockets.

Tiffanni used to say, “Can’t you just pay attention and put that thing down.” It was sporadic, but I was faithful to home movies.

“You’ll thank me one day.”

We filmed our wedding, our honeymoon (some of it)- we rented a moped in the Bahamas and I filmed us riding for about 15 uneventful minutes just before I propped it on the double seat, pressed record, and we reenacted a Baywatch slo-mo scene in the middle of January. We filmed the kids’ births, birthday parties, Christmases, school musicals, baby dedications, water baptisms, college graduations, vacations- the memorable moments. And then I stopped filming.

It’s obvious to me now why I stopped. I just didn’t want to remember those moments anymore. While they were memorable, they weren’t remarkable. Or maybe they were, just not the way that I wanted them to be. We always catch our greatest moments on camera, delete the rest, and file all of the memories away in a cabinet of perfect pasts. I guess I deleted a lot more over the past few years.

Not long ago, I asked a friend of mine to loan me his Hi-8 camcorder so that I could go through some old movies to show the kids. That was last year. For some reason, it felt like time a few days ago, so I called all of the kids into our bedroom. Tiffanni laid on her side, eyes rolling back, falling asleep. And the kids and I gathered at the edge of the bed for the fun. “What is it dad? What are we watching?”

“I want to show you some old movies of your mom.” They froze their hyper, ADD, Red dye number 5 selves and stared motionless, eyes glued to the television. “This is Addyson’s baby shower before she was born.” Thirteen years ago. We were in the church foyer, filled with people that we loved. I kept making faces at the camera, Tiffanni chastising me in her Southern accent. I had forgotten her voice. And it jarred me.

“Look, there’s momma!”

“And there’s Aunt Stacey, Aunt Katye, and Aunt Candy!”

“There’s grammy and nana.” (Yes, just me and the ladies. Not even my own flesh and blood brothers could suffer through with me. Neanderthal sexists.)

“Listen,” I said. “What do you hear?”

“That’s momma’s voice.” Carsyn stared intently at the screen. “I love her voice.” It was lost on me until that moment, Carsyn was five years old when Tiff was diagnosed and she declined rapidly. The kids didn’t remember her voice.

“Do you remember mom’s voice?” I asked all three. They shook their heads.

We listened closely for over an hour. Laughing at and absorbed in dozens of scenes from our life. All of us captivated by the same thing. We didn’t care about the setting. The other characters faded into the background. With bedtime long past, we wanted to hear one thing, one voice say as many things as it would.

While I believe in the power of words- the ability to give life and take life. The responsibility to nurture and discipline, to shape and to challenge. It wasn’t the words that mattered this time. Say something, please say more things, just say anything. We each hung on every word and smiled each time that she spoke. I don’t remember one thing that she said and I’d be surprised if the kids did either. But we got what we wanted. Her voice. The kids love it. And I just miss it.