On this season’s pivotal episode of “This Is Us” (read: the one where Jack dies), Kate Pearson spends the deathiversary watching a home video of her dad. It’s just her annual sobfest—until the VCR eats her VHS. And so begins Kate’s reluctant acceptance to put her precious video in the cloud.
I was in Kate’s shoes just a few months ago. Except instead of one video, I had cardboard boxes full of photo albums and home videos. They’d sat in my dad’s garage ever since my mom died 15 years ago. And they probably would have stayed there, if not for my 2-year-old son asking: Why I no meet your mommy?
The photos were scattered, and the home video formats were no longer watchable. It was time to digitize our past. But with a million companies in the memory business, who would we trust? Options range from DIY scanning, to hiring a local pro (find someone APPO-certified or read reviews on Yelp), to going to a big box chain (Costco, Walmart), to using a mail-away service (Legacybox, iMemories). Finally, we decided to try Legacy Republic, a personalized photo and video digitizing service in which a local “Legacy Maker” comes to your home and helps you through the process. To be honest, we needed the hand holding.
The hardest part was the homework. Over the years, my mom had assembled dozens of photo albums. But instead of divvying up and digitizing them, we wanted to downsize to three physical albums: one for my dad, one for my brother, and one for me. (This way one person wouldn’t hoard the entire Grand Canyon trip.) After three days of Dad and I sitting around his kitchen table poring over our memories—a process both cathartic and draining—we finally reached our goal.
Once our albums were ready, a Legacy Maker came to my dad’s house. The photos were easy: she digitized them on the spot using a mini photo booth and their iPhone app, and each album took about 20 minutes. Basically, we’d stalled for 15 years on a process that took an hour total! Within a few days, our photos were in the cloud (a private account on the company’s website).
Next, our home videos—a dozen MiniDV cassette and VHS tapes—were shipped to a factory in Georgia. I watched like a hawk as our Legacy Maker labeled each video, terrified of losing these irreplaceable items. She must have smelled my paranoia because she offered to package them up later at home when she could give it her undivided attention. I quickly agreed. Within a few weeks, our videos were in the cloud and we received our original tapes and new DVDs. (Phew!)
I’m relieved the process is now behind us. And I treasure flipping through my photo album, and loved sharing a digital photo of my mom on social media to honor her 75th birthday. But I get the biggest boost from watching our home videos. It’s then that I truly get to introduce my toddler to his Grandma Sally.
Loud and hilarious, she’s clearly the ringleader of our circus. She smothers my brother and me with hugs and kisses and “I love yous.” She nags us to smile for the camera and is met with eye rolls and turned backs. She and my dad bicker constantly about the video camera (“Are you sure the red light’s on?”).
She’s not here anymore. But on screen, she’s alive and real and hopelessly human.
And while most daughters cringe at becoming their mothers, the video proof that we’re similar thrills me. The way we grab our kids and kiss them. The way we interview our little ones in the bath. The way we’re happiest with our families, whether celebrating holidays or just hanging out at home.
The only thing I mourn is that the videos don’t capture the mom I miss the most. The quiet, serious, late-night conversations we shared when I was a teenager that I long for as a grown-up and especially as a mother.
Even so, watching the videos is not the sobfest that Kate experienced on “This Is Us,” and that I’d anticipated for myself. I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Blame pregnancy endorphins, or the joy of watching my mom talk and gesture in a way that’s been missing for more than a decade. But I’ve found that connecting with my past has only rooted me more firmly in the present. I watch these videos with my son in my lap and my husband at my side and a daughter growing in my belly. And instead of mourning all I’ve lost, I’m in awe of all I’ve gained.
Marisa Bardach Ramel is currently working on a memoir, “Sally’s Circle,” which she co-wrote with her mother, Sally, before she passed away. She’d love for you to follow her on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Disclaimer: Legacy Republic provided a small portion of their services for free in order to allow the author to test their product. The author then signed on to digitize the majority of her materials at their standard rate, paid in full.