This is a repost from my former blog, originally posted in January 2009. But this is something that must be shared and shared again. Meanwhile, I will not be videotaped this year. Happy Thanksgiving!
My dad has this really quirky ritual. He sets up the video camera on a tripod and tapes our holiday meals. Thanksgiving and Christmas. He pushes the red button as we're starting to set the table, and it doesn't go off until the last dish is cleared. It is, frankly, bizarre. Embarrassing, really, to explain this tradition when we have guests for the meal.
His reasoning is that it's interesting to hear "what we're talking about that year," which probably means he has expectations of our intellectual political conversations or current events of the day that will be fun to watch later. But in reality we end up with some snarky comment about some friend or family member, rendering each tape unwatchable in the future for fear of WHAT WE SAID.
He started this fun game in 1991. Which, if you do the math, means we have about 36 hours of tape of our family...eating. Tape that has never been watched by anybody. Ever.
In the seventeen years of taping holiday meals, my dad has only changed cameras once. So the technology required to watch these tapes - if one ever wanted to - has become dated. Last year he asked me to get them all transferred to DVD. Just to stay current, I suppose, not because we were going to have a marathon viewing session. He shipped me a medium-sized box full of dusty Hi-8 tapes. I had no problem taking them to get transferred until I looked more closely at the tapes and realized that they were in no particular order in the box. And they weren't labeled. I couldn't just dump them off to get transferred like that. They would come back a mess. In order to figure out what year and meal each tape was, I was going to have to watch every. single. one. Can you imagine this uphill climb?
So obviously I didn't do it. I have my own ritual of not doing things I don't want to do. The box sat in a corner of my bedroom collecting even more dust and just being a general eyesore around my pretty decor. Periodically The Gorilla would ask what I was going to do with that stuff and I would groan.
Finally, after 18 months of staring at that box and staring at my Project List, I decided to conquer the one project I dreaded. My goal was to watch three or so tapes a day until I got through them. I didn't even need to watch the whole tape - one can figure out fairly quickly by hairstyles, topics of conversation, and who is or is not at the table what year it was. I figured if I inched through it, eventually I'd be done and wouldn't have to think about it anymore.
This weekend was rainy in Los Angeles, so I thought it would be a fine time to start this stupid task. I sat down at 1pm, giving myself two hours to see how far I got. Seemingly moments later, my time was up. Turns out my dad taped more than just our family meals. I kept extending my project time by an hour or just a few more tapes and telling myself I really needed to get out of my sweats and do something else with the day. But I didn't move from my chair. At midnight I was finally done. I had viewed parts of all 49 tapes. I was exhausted and sad. And so grateful.
Interspersed with the holiday meals were tapes of me dancing and swimming at summer camp and headed to my junior prom. I found multiple tapes of my many high school musical performances, tapes I had no idea existed. It was a mix of wanting to turn them off forever and watching with my jaw open.
There were tapes of birthday parties and New Year's parties and playing at the lake.
There was endless video of my nieces when they were the only two little ones in our world. A lot of those came from the years after I moved to California, so not only had I never seen those events, it made me realize how much I was missing.
There were tapes of both of my sibling's weddings.
And apparently there was a camera running when I had no idea. These are the ones that made my heart hurt and forced me to take a Deep Breath Break (translation: pad to the refrigerator for another drink). I was suddenly watching my biological grandmother, who we met in 1998 and only saw a few times before her death. Then it was two of the most important days of my life: my college graduation, where I have never looked happier, and the day I moved to California, where I have never looked more terrified.
Of course, there was the hours upon hours of holiday meal footage. Once I determined the year, I didn't sit through the whole thing, but you know...my dad may be on to something here. In the bits I did watch, some very funny things were said. Like my sister swearing up and down that she wouldn't ever have a fake Christmas tree (for the record, my sister has had a pre-lit plastic Christmas tree for years and years now). Some meals featured different significant others than those who became our spouses. Other meals were notable for who wasn't there - the first Thanksgiving I missed and the holidays when my brother was in Iraq.
It was interesting to watch our appearance change year to year. It was funny to see both me and my brother in glasses (we both had lasik surgery nine years ago), and I noted that I appeared to wear the exact same outfit to Christmas Eve dinner two years in a row.
Once they come back on DVD I may - may - watch them completely for little gems I can splice together as a "Best Of" compilation. But I can't really make fun of dad for his weird tradition anymore. The holiday meal is, in fact, your Year At A Glance.