Yesterday, I decided to sort some of our old home videos. Jim was the cameraman and captured every vacation and important event on tape. Sometimes, I would get irritated with him for turning our lives into reality TV. Usually, I preferred to unpack while he played the tapes for the family.
While Jim was in the nursing home, I couldn’t bear to watch any of the tapes. By then, he had lost his ability to carry on a conversation. He was my best friend and I missed how we shared our deepest thoughts and feelings, our hopes and fears. After aphasia stole his conversation skills, he became more and more silent and spoke only a few words in repetitious phrases.
Jim had meticulously labeled each tape with his initials, JDF, and when, where, or what the tape contained. I picked up a tape labeled: Colorado 1988 and popped it into the VCR/DVD player. My screen was filled with majestic mountain scenery, deer, elk, and coyotes as Jim taped one of our animal watch evenings in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Jim taped our campfire breakfast the next morning, and to keep him from running the video camera while driving the curvy mountain roads, I taped our drive through the park. Jim, as usual, narrated. I turned the camera on Jim and he began to talk about our plans for the day. “We’re having the time of our lives,” he said.
Tears welled up as I watched Jim on the video and was reminded of the man he was before we knew anything about dementia. He spoke in his quick-witted manner, relaxed, and happy in his beloved Colorado. The mountains worked their magic on him giving him an inner happiness and peace that he didn’t have in our normal world. I was beginning to think that watching these films was depressing and a really bad idea.
“We are going to the Big Horn Meadow,” Jim said. “I’m going to feed the chipmunks.” Jim was pretty good to follow all the rules and regulations in the park, but he had always fed the chipmunks.
“Why not? It’s only a $25 fine—per offence,” I said.
“We can afford $25,” he answered.
Jim’s bantering from more than twenty years ago chased away my tears, and I found myself laughing out loud. Somehow in my memories, I had forgotten Jim’s great sense of humor.
During one of our hikes, Jim had the camera, and he said, “I’ve dropped back to film because Linda doesn’t like for me to film her from behind. Ooops,” he said as the camera caught my rear view. He swung the camera aside and then back, “Ooops. And ooops.” As we drove up Fall River Road next to a sheer drop off, Jim teasingly asked me if I wanted him to get closer to my side of the road so I could get a better picture. “Oh, no,” I said, “I’m fine.”
When the tape came to an end, I popped in a couple of tapes marked “Idaho” to see what they were. At least that’s what I told myself. One of them was a trip Jim took to Idaho without me. Jim shot footage of his cousin Joe in Idaho and in the next segment the camera zoomed in for a close-up of a McDonald’s sign. “Hey, honey, guess where I am! This is the only McDonald’s I ever liked to eat at.”
“Estes Park!” I said from my seat on the couch where I still held the remote in my hands.
“Estes Park!” he said…as if I wouldn’t immediately know.
There’s no danger that I will ever forget Jim as long as I’m breathing, but memories are limited. Most of the moments caught on film were buried so deep within my brain I would probably have never retrieved them. Watching the tapes are a way of reminding me of the wondrous moments I’ve lived, even if nostalgia makes me cry until happy memories make me laugh.