From a Closet to the Youtubes

I recently got a small device to pull several old VHS tapes to digital. You simply plug the cord into the back of the VCR, and then hook the other end into your laptop, press play and record.

Things I’ve learned in this process:

– VCRs are no longer being made. The last one was produced in 2016.

– My particular GE VCR will ask if you’d like the menu in “English, Spanish, or French” every time you turn it on. I don’t really think it needs to speak any language, but the VCR is desperate to know your preference and won’t play anything until you answer. If you have a remote, you select 1, 2 or 3. If you have no remote, like me, simply insert a commercial VHS. The professionally produced VHS tapes are set to play automatically and will bypass this screen. A home video VHS is NOT set to play automatically and can’t bypass it. I used the live action Jungle Book (each time I turned the VCR on again I’d hear: “It’s Shere Kahn!”).

– How to take a VHS cassette apart and reattach the tape if it’s come off the spool. Also that VHS cassettes are held together by 5 small screws and repairing them is very satisfying!

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I think there is something very charming about the quality of VHS tapes with their jumpy transitions, occasional wavy stripes and split color glitches. There’s also something to be said for the effortless editing, simply turn it off and back on again.

The video above captures beloved grandparents, much-loved cousins, and 2 spaces (that backyard and my Mama Johnnie’s living room) which were the context for so many of my establishing experiences. What is a birthday like? What does ‘Christmas with family’ mean? What do you eat at Thanksgiving? I learned much of this and more rambling freely between that green backyard and the front room.

I think one of my favorite parts of the video is my father’s voice in the very last seconds of the video as he zooms in on me and whispers “Happy Birthday” in a gentle tone and voice that I know so well. I couldn’t hear him at the time and wasn’t paying any attention, but it’s so nice to hear it now.