Taking a videotape trip through my past

Sue and Fred Lick 1995
Sue and Fred in 1995


I recently went through at least 50 VHS tapes as part of a massive clean-and-sort operation inspired by my friends and across-the-street neighbors who have been overwhelmed by stuff as they prepare to move to the East Coast. (Good luck, Carol and Wayne.)

I’m not planning to move anytime soon, but things could change and I have too much stuff.

It was raining that weekend. With advice from a British guy on YouTube, I built a bad-ass fire in the woodstove and settled in to watch movies. I had to at least see if the tapes were still good, right?

Most of the tapes were homemade, bootlegged off TV shows by my mother-in-law, my husband or me back in the ’80s or ’90s. Do I need the first “Sex and the City” movie when it’s on TV every other day? Am I finally over my “Northern Exposure” obsession? Do I need movies that I never cared about? No. But do I need to keep the three-part “Beatles Anthology?” Absolutely.

Considering that almost any TV show or movie can be viewed online these days, I probably don’t need to keep them. But there are some tapes I may never let go of. One is the video of my 40th-birthday party. I cried a lot watching that one. Everyone was there, including so many loved ones who have died. There’s Fred and my mom and my uncles and aunts, alive and talking just the way I remember them. There are my niece and nephew as little kids. Oh look, I still wear that flowered jacket. I remember buying it at Sears.

Videos from my 20-year and 25-year Blackford High School reunions also went into the keeper pile after I watched them all the way through. The sound is terrible, the picture not great, but look at all those young, eager graduates in their 30s. God, the memories. I wonder where those people are now.

I also kept the video from Fred’s 40-year John Burrough’s High School reunion in Burbank, California, the first one I attended, when people kept saying, “And this is Annette.” We had to inform them that no, Fred and Annette got divorced. This is Sue, who is 15 years younger than all of you. Anyway. The tape contained a lot of palaver from old guys who were full of themselves, but then the camera focused on Fred and me slow dancing. My polka-dotted blue dress and red jacket, seen in the picture, didn’t look as swell as I thought they did then. (You can’t see the ruffles on the short skirt.) I don’t know about that pageboy hairdo, either. I was a terrible dancer. Still am. But we were so happy, singing to each other, kissing now and then.

Another tape was one Fred’s mother had made from a 1948 home movie of Fred and his little brothers Don and Conde playing on the beach and in the yard. Fred, the oldest, was the tall skinny guy with glasses, his hair blond in those days. Conde was chubby with wild curly hair. Don was the adorable one, also blond then. The pictures are faded, but I treasure this bit of history I wasn’t around to see in real life. Both Fred and Don are gone now. Keeping that one.

I also reluctantly saved the video my aunt Suzanne shot of my “spotlight concert” at a coffeehouse in Campbell in 1994. I had been sick for days before that, probably from nerves. There was a weird vibrato in my lower notes, and the upper notes were on pitch but thin. The worst thing: I looked fat in my purple Hawaiian sundress. I mean seriously fat. I had no idea. I still had that pageboy hairdo and the huge glasses. And my piano playing, oy, not that good. Twenty-four years later, I hope I’m better at it. Why did I choose those songs? What was I thinking? Why did I shift from “Your Cheatin’ Heart” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “Have Mercy on Me”? Pick a genre, Sue! My voice sounded too operatic for most of what I did. I should have pitched the songs lower. It may be a blessing that the background noise was really loud. On the video, it sounds as if nobody was listening. The crazy part is that I’m still doing a lot of the same songs in the same way. Thank God I got rid of that dress.

I considered throwing that tape out, but I decided it was my history, and I should save it.

By the end of the day, I had thrown away a lot of videotapes. I am quite aware that VHS technology is passé. But I still have two machines that play them. When they die, I will thin out my collection again, maybe getting the Fred tapes converted to the latest technology.

What do you do with used VHS tapes? I can’t sell the bootlegged ones or give them to Goodwill. I’m not even supposed to have them. Besides, nobody wants tapes anymore. Even DVDs are fading away. I hate to throw them in the landfill, but that’s what I did. When I thought I was all done, I found another whole box hidden away in a cabinet. Most of those went into the trash, too. I still have a box of blank tapes. What should I do with them?

The clean-a-thon continues. I have approximately 50 books to sell or give away, got rid of lots of CDs and audio cassette tapes, and I have started on the closet. Anybody want a pair of giant Peavy speakers and an amplifier I don’t need anymore? Contact me.

You can’t take it with you, the priest stressed at Mass yesterday. True whether you’re going to heaven or a smaller home. I’d rather sort my junk now than have somebody else do it later.

How about you? Are you drowning in your possessions, too? Got any VHS tapes left? What are you absolutely unwilling to let go of?

Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

One thought on “Taking a videotape trip through my past”

  1. Oh boy, this is a familiar subject, since we downsized to a condo 2.5 years ago. We got rid of SO MUCH STUFF. I insisted we get a 2-bedroom unit, so that I’d have room for my books 🙂 but even then, I had to get rid of a lot of them. Dh said I could bring whatever fit on my IKEA bookshelves — we have three full-sized & one half-sized. I lost count after we hauled more than 60 liquor store cartons full of books to Goodwill. I gave my old stereo & vinyl LP collection to our older nephew (I couldn’t stand seeing him pay $40 or more for the same album that I paid $5 for that was now sitting in my basement gathering dust…!), and some of our VHS movies & TV shows (storebought) to the younger nephew. Most of the ones I taped off the TV set got thrown out. I still have our original wedding VHS tape, but my sister’s techie boyfriend converted it & some other old family videos to DVD for us as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. A lot of photo processing places will do it for you — I think Costco does.

    I used to scrapbook and got rid of almost all of my pretty paper. I still have two rolling drawer units and two Rubbermaid containers full of supplies, though (sitting in our storage locker). I kept all of my tools & stamps, and some unfinished albums/projects. Someday, maybe, I’ll get back to them…!


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