The VCR whirred into life at the exact moment when my mother had overpowered my father. He was lying on his back, trying (and failing) to defend himself from her tickle-happy fingers. The camera jiggled in my brother’s hand as he shook with laughter.
My brother had returned home to Kolkata for a visit, after a year in the US where he was helping our aunt set up her fledgling business. He had acquired the videocam with the first of his American earnings and zealously recorded our family life.
In agonizing detail.
As is usual for older brothers, Dada (my name for him) assaulted my 19 year old nerves with practiced ease (and glee), hovering over embarrassing moments and zooming-in on mundane ones for long (loooong!) shots that made me grind my teeth. Also as usual, my entreaties morphed into impotent threats and eventually crescendo-ed into the ultimate appeal (“Maa! Make him STOP!”).
She took up the cry and he...casually turned his camera on her. Maa’s admonitions similarly escalated but to the top of the food chain (“Can you please control YOUR son?”). Poised at that pinnacle however was a usually grim man who, as evidence shows, can be overpowered by his wife’s tickle-fingers. What chance had the women in his family against a besotted father re-united with his son? Dada ceased recording at some point of course, when either battery life or my father’s drawn-together eyebrows signaled “Enough”.
Looking back from a distance of 25 years, I’m breathless with gratitude that Dada haunted us with that damn videocam as doggedly as he did. A few weeks after that delightful play fight, a massive heart attack froze my father into memories which dimmed over time.
The tragedy of Age and Time have less to do with that slow-fade however, than my own intent. That my dad is not in my life still feels like a cold, hard, obscenity, one that I want to shake my head violently and expel. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. So I choose to forget, grinding away at de-programming my sentimentality in at least this area. I control that slow-fade, that it's speed slips from time to time.
I stopped the video after previewing this short clip, ejected it and slid it carefully back into it’s tight, sealed case. My job was done: the media was undamaged and ready to be shipped to the DVD conversion company.
Strains of “Wake me up in the morning dew” (by the Grateful Dead) floated into the room, efficiently dispelling the echoes of my parents’ giggles from another lifetime. I put the tapes safely in my bag and walked down to the basement, ostensibly to change the laundry load but really, to forcibly enter my Present. My husband’s the Deadhead in the family, not me, but reality is hearing the music that I can, not the one I pine for.
Tomorrow, when my 10 year old son gives my husband the Father’s Day present that he has been gleefully hiding, I know I’ll be hearing the echoes of my father’s helpless laughter again. In this kind, privileged Life that I live today, I'll be hoping that Gratitude crowds out Grief.