november nineteen

Around le Café Wittifini, we hold November 19 as a date deserving great respect, reminiscence and sadness within celebration.

Tina’s mom passed away on November 19, 1995 — just 16 years ago. There’s no time limit on mourning the loss of a loved one, not to me anyway. Hell, Alfred Lord Tennyson penned In Memoriam over 17 years, and there’s no evidence he ever got over the passing of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam who died suddenly from some kind of brain hemorrhage at a young age.

Like Hallam, Tina’s mom JoAnn died suddenly and too young as well. It was from complications of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, I never met JoAnn. From stories told around dinner tables and between Michael and Tina, I feel like I’ve gotten to know an essence that is Tina’s mom.

What is certain is that JoAnn was a loving, hard-working mother. She kept a few jobs at a time to put Tina and Michael through school. She accepted Michael’s homosexuality unconditionally despite living in a time when acceptance wasn’t popular. She loved Tina beyond measure, and they were closer than best friends. Sometimes it makes me jealous how close Tina and her mom must have been.

About two weeks ago, Tina transferred several old VHS tapes to DVD. One of the tapes was a group of student projects that Tina did back when she went to Columbia. There was one short video in which a dude’s dude goes to get a haircut and leaves the salon as a transvestite.

It was awful.

One of the DVDs was a vacation that JoAnn took with friends to Cancun back in the 80s when there was a huge video camera boom. That was the time we bought our first video camera, too. I remember it well. It was from Radio Shack, and it cost about $800. The battery life sucked, and the picture quality was crappy at best.

But the damn thing was awesome.

And what sucks even more, our family didn’t have the fucking foresight to not record an episode of The Cosby Show over our family movies instead of buying or using a new tape. Or not recording the show at all for preservation of the movies.

There are so many moments lost.

But Tina kept this video of her mom’s trip to Cancun. And it’s some of the best home film making I’ve ever seen.

On the trip, there were seven total people. Six women and one man. I don’t know any of these people’s names. But they were all JoAnn’s friends.

The camcorder appeared to be the man’s, something he just bought specifically for the trip. His modus operandi was to set the camera on a tripod and point it at a group of people and let it roll.

So there are long scenes of just echoey, impossible to clearly understand talking. Everyone on this vacation was in their 30s or more. There was an elderly woman, who was the mother of the man and three of the women. Everyone’s ages varied.

There was this great scene in which the camera first came out. The guy was trying to explain to the women what it did. It was like the scene in “The Gods Must Be Crazy” when the white man gives the aborigine a telescope to look through, and the aborigine says, “How did you get all those little people in there?”

There’s a part where JoAnn is befuddled over the camera, and she wants to know what she looks like. The guy tells her to go look in the eyepiece. She gets up and sees where she was sitting, but she says, “But this doesn’t let me know what I look like.” Then her head pops around the front of the camera again to look straight into the lens.

Over time, the group forgets the camera is set up. It runs for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Or there’s a long scene that shows the group seeing the Caribbean for the first time. None of them are in their bathing suits, but they are all enamored by the views and climbing on some rocks by the water.

JoAnn was the only one brave enough to climb the rocks, and for a moment, you can see her waving from the top of a beautiful mound well above everyone else.

The transfer went long, so I went back to my office to work. But Tina had pulled up a chair and was sitting right in front of the TV. I could hear long scenes of the man narrating walks. Or pointing the camera at a restaurant dinner table telling his audience about everyone and their eating habits.

After twenty or thirty minutes, I walked back by Tina and her eyes and face were as wet as if she just got out of the shower. I hugged her and kissed her wet cheeks. “Hearing her voice and seeing her move makes me miss her so much,” said Tina.

Tina says that after you lose someone, there are times when you wonder if they ever even existed. But then you have the bitter-sweet moments of watching an old VHS tape. Their existence becomes a low-fidelity version of a faded memory. And the sweet voice that soothed the mind as a child is resurrected for a short, sweet time.

That’s when it feels so good, so warm, so cozy and so shitty to cry, all at the same time.

One thought on “november nineteen

  1. Awww, give Tina hugs from me. I lost my mom two years ago after walking through a six-year cancer battle with her (and my husband lost his mom to cancer around the time we started seeing each other 13 years ago). I still miss my mom every day and it doesn’t seem that two years, or 13 years, or 16 years make any difference on the gravity of the loss. I will believe for both of us that you will meet Tina’s mom one day.

    Sadly…we have no videos from my growing up household. My parents weren’t big into that thing. We’re lucky to have some pictures, and most of the picture of my mom were taken by me as I grew up.

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