Monday, November 20, 2006

do it for the parents

So generally my parents can be very hard to buy gifts for, my father especially. Every Christmas my sister and I put our heads together and try to think up something creative to give them. Usually we can come up with something for mom, but dad, who staunchly refuses to make a Christmas list because he'll only be disappointed when he doesn't get what's on it (1. Toyota Rav 4 2. John Deere tractor 3. Lexus 4. Kayak 5. meeting at the Oval Office - you get the idea) is always a struggle, especially because his birthday is December 19th. He spent his whole childhood celebrating his birthday and Christmas together (therefore only getting one gift. Not cool) so the three lovely and intelligent women who share his abode (me and my mom and sister, you pervs, he doesn't have 3 wives!) try to make a big deal out of his birthday AND Christmas. Two gifts for the most impossible recipient within 6 days! Unbelievable!

Amy has come up with some brilliant stuff before - last year she scoped out a model of Marine 1 on eBay. See the thing is, my dad likes everything. I swear. Ok, so not everything, not typical "man" things like golf and cigars, which makes buying him a gift on damn near impossible. He loves sports, aircraft, and the Beatles, and appreciates books about any of them. He collects license plates and model helicopters. He is the GRILL MASTER. He's obsessed with clean cars and neat yards. He loves movies. WHY IS HE SO HARD TO BUY FOR? grrr

Because of this difficulty, Ame and I usually try to get something really cool for our parents, a joint gift they can both enjoy. This year I started brainstorming early. Then the moment I wait for every year happened - a gift idea fell right into my lap. The local news station did a feature on turning your old VHS tapes into DVDs. Apparently, VHS recordings start to degrade about 10-15 years after they're shot, if not sooner, while DVDs can last 50 or even 100 years before degrading, depending on quality and how often they're played. That's what I like to hear. I told Ame about it and we agreed that we'd convert several of our favorite old movies to DVD.

We decided that we'd take the tapes to our local Ritz Camera. This way, we wouldn't have to send them out to some unknown company. This was due to the fact that we were taking our oldest VHS recordings- Christmas 1985 and Christmas 1986 - to be converted. Those two years my father rented a video camera the size of a Volkswagen and propped it up on a tripod to catch the Christmas memories. These tapes not only feature my sister and I at the tender ages of 1 and 3 and 2 and 4, but dearly departed family members: my Grandma Kitty, my great grandfather, my great uncle and my cousin. If anything happened to these tapes, Amy and I would probably not be having any kids if you get my drift. Not really....but we would have to move out, that's for sure.

We went to Ritz and discovered that the DVDs can only be 2 hours long. The woman there had a lot of trouble explaining what would happen if the VHS feature was over two hours. She said something about it going on to a second DVD, then said something about not having to pay more. It was a bit unclear. Then there was something about picking music, and how we should skip that part because it was cheesy. All in all my sister and I were a bit apprehensive about the whole deal, so we only left one tape with them and crossed our fingers. They said they'd call us when it was ready.

Well, today I realized that about 11 days had gone by since dropping the tape off. Knowing that the tan babies depend on me getting that tape back, I swung by Ritz after a long day at school. After a split second of panic when the girl behind the counter told me they'd call when it was ready and if I hadn't heard from them something weird was going on, she went to the bins of photos and pulled our the envelope containing my DVD. I was giddy, though annoyed at myself when I realized that there was only about 1 1/2 hours of home video on the tape, not the 4 hours Amy and I had guessed, and that the last 1/2 hour of the DVD is occupied by early 80's television and news broadcasts, though they'll be good for a laugh. I could hardly wait to see the thing, but braced myself for disappointment, because of the confusion we encountered when dropping off the tape, the weird music selection option, etc.

Oh. My. God. When I saw it, I laughed so hard I nearly cried. The DVD is perfect, just perfect. If you have old videos, I highly highly recommend getting them converted, even if it's just so you have an excuse to watch them. Seeing my three year old self on tape brought tears to my eyes - it was so funny and so heartbreaking to see how tiny I was - Amy too, she was even smaller at barely 17 months. My Grandma Kitty was there too, commenting on our antics, giving us kisses and hugs. It brought me back to such a happy place. My parents are probably gonna bawl when they see this stuff, but it's the greatest thing we could give them. What's even better is that the scenes are automatically set at 5 minute increments, so the recording is so easy to navigate. The quality is incredible too, I was so surprised considering the condition of the tapes, but the picture was more than decent. Oh I just can't wait til Christmas morning comes and they see those. We're going to have a film fest I'm sure, but considering everyone who'll be over my house for Christmas dinner has a feature role in the film (except my cousin Andrew, who hadn't been born yet!) I think the family will enjoy it, especially my cousin Jess, who was about 13 months old in the tape and stumbled drunkenly around our old living room, tripping over presents and getting tangled in wrapping paper. Classic.

Anyways, like I said, if you have old tapes, convert them. It really will warm your soul. It did mine. My final thought is this: my parents always said that raising us was fun. I never really believed them. I figured that they said that to be nice, but really it was pretty challenging, and it made me sort of dread having kids in that way that you anticipate doing something because you know it's going to be the best thing you ever do, but incredibly challenging and difficult. After today, seeing these tapes, I know it's true, they really did have fun raising us. I watched us as little kids bumbling around on the floor, ripping open presents, spreading wrapping paper and toys all over the living room, and all you can hear in the background is laughter: my mother and father, aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather and Grandma Kitty all laughing. It's the sweetest sound. I hope someone records me laughing like that one the tan babies, of course. :)

No comments: