By now you've heard all about my father's massive tape collection and all the weird things I've found in it. He had over 10,000 tapes. What you don't know is that, the first time I went down into that basement, I was looking for ONE specific tape.
I've now sifted through and digitized 99% of that collection. But I never found that tape.
I can't trade for it. I can't find it on a private tracker site. It's irreplaceable. It was a home movie.
Sometmes when I went down to that trash-filled basement my dad would say I didn't have to rush through them so fast. But....I did. I was trying to get through as much of his collection as I could before LIFE happened to them. There had already been a flood in that basement a year before I started. Who knew what else could strike at any time -- a fire? An earthquake? My #1 goal was to get far enough that I might maybe possibly find the home movies, and one home movie in particular.
Dad moved out of his old house years ago. I've seen every remaining tape with my own eyes. I did find a handful of the home movies, but not the ones that truly mattered to me. Every home movie my parents made while they were still together is gone. Never turned up. I can't tell you how crushing that is.
But it's extra-crushing that this one particular tape, my personal favorite, the one I watched and rewatched over and over, the one I borrowed several times to watch at home (never to keep -- Dad was weirdly territorial about these tapes, but it goes to show how bad he was at keeping them). It's gone and I can never see it again. If I found a genie, I'd blow one of my three wishes on getting this tape back. Heck, if I had ONE wish I'd wish for this tape. Screw world peace, I want to see Christmas Eve 1986 again!
So...this is the best I can do. I'm going to pull a Doctor Who and reconstruct with drawings, to the fullest of my spotty memories, what happened on this unrecoverable tape.
|The first thing that appears on the tape is this screen, which is the one thing I CAN reproduce faithfully, as it's on some other things my dad taped around this time. He would use this cable access channel and its teletext screens to attach a date to anything he was recording.
|The second thing that appears is this message. It might sound weird to meet Santa at a furniture store but...that's what I was doing that year.
|Unfortunately I remember almost
nothing about my conversation with Santa, save one
moment, when I could not spit out anything to ask him
for...despite being very good at starting the sentence.
"Well, what I want IS.....the one thing I'm really hoping for IS.....I was walking down the street, and everybody HAD...."
Santa interrupted me at that point and suggested something, but I don't recall what. The truth is, I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas, and had already told my mother. And the poor woman was now in a pickle.
|Some backstory: Portland used to have
this place downtown called the Children's Museum that had
all sorts of great things to mess around with. I had been
there not too long ago.
1986 was also the year Portland debuted MAX, its light rail mass transit service. The Children's Museum, that year, had a miniature model train version of the MAX running in a circle around its second floor.
Some fool had told me Santa's elves could make anything. This year, I asked for THAT.
|The second thing on the tape is a
video of my receiving a "letter" from Santa in
the mailbox. I know not who really wrote it, but if it
was Mom, this was her one chance to put in something like
"Ho ho, I'm sorry, but this year we're short on the
materials to make miniature MAX trains...how about a
rubber ball instead?"
But she didn't. She believed the mini-MAX was a real product and had been running all over town trying to find one. She didn't stand a chance.
|The third thing on the tape, and what
took up the majority of it, was Christmas Eve. My cousin
was over, the one I idolized and was always trying to
impress (and failing at it).
Dad from off-camera: "All right, say the date."
Chris: "Hi, this is Chris Lundgren."
Me: "AND PETER!!"
Chris: "Welcome to our tape. It's December 24, 1986."
Me: "AN' WE'RE GONNA DECORATE THE TREE!!"
Chris: "And we're gonna have lots of fun! So stay tuned."
A piece of audio from this specific scene survives -- three seconds' worth -- on a cassette tape somewhere. I tried to locate it in time, but....needle in a haystack. If I ever find it I'll add it to this page. It's sadly all that remains.
|Chris and I got to work picking out
ornaments from a box and hanging them on branches.
These backgrounds have been lifted from the closest comparable scenery I've got, the Christmas 1988 video. In 1986 the tree was on the LEFT side of the room, not the right, and in 1988 the ornaments were splayed out on the couch instead of in boxes. But otherwise, the living room looked like this.
|Mom: "So, what do you boys want
Me: "A TRAIN! A 'LECTRIC TRAIN, I SAY."
Chris: "Oh, I asked for some M.U.S.C.L.E. Men. See, they're these pink weird guys, and they're called M.U.S.C.L.E. Men."
|As we went back and forth grabbing
ornaments and hanging them, some strange non-sequiturs
came out of Chris.
Chris: "Hey, I must be Santa, look how fat I am."
|Chris: "Goodbye, goodbye.
I'm gonna die.
I'm an eskimo."
|Chris also picked up a gingerbread man
ornanemt and turned to the camera with a booming
Chris: "IF YOU'RE ON A DIET, THEN TRY THIS NEW....DIET-TRAN COOKIE! IT TASTES JUST LIKE A COOKIE...EXCEPT, YOU'LL SHRINK!"
|Chris: "And you really will shrink, I had these customers come in, and they were like these little bitty ants, you know?"
|Me: "OOO! I HAVE A
Dad: "Okay, Peter, let's hear it."
Whatever Chris did, I had to do. I wanted to impress him. But how could I? Chris was a BIG KID! He was almost seven years old!
|What were BIG KIDS into?
....Superheroes? I'll do a superhero ad, I thought.
Me: "HEY, UH, THIS IS STAR MAN HERE! WE WANT SPIDER-MAN TO MEET YOU ALL DAY! COME DOWN TO OUR HOUSE TODAY AN' YOU CAN BE AS HIGH AS SUPERMAN."
Of course Chris couldn't make any sense of this. "Spider-Man?" he said with a puzzled tone in his voice.
|Mom: "Hey, how about we sing some Christmas carols? How about that?"
|ALL OF US: "WE WISH YOU A MERRY
CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR! GLAD TIDINGS WE BRING, TO
YOU AND YOUR KIN...."
Except me, who thought the lyrics were "GOOD TIDINGS WE BRING, TO YOU AND YOUR KING..."
|EVERYONE: "GOOD TIDINGS FOR
CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
Chris, suddenly: "--AT VICTORY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL!!"
|Chris: "Hey, that's where I go to
Yeah, don't bother."
|One of the ornaments was actually a
gift for the both of us: miniature stockings from
McDonalds with Fievel from An American Tail
printed on them (in theaters now!) Some totally 80s
pencils with neon designs were tucked inside.
CHRIS: "Oh hey, it's Fee-vel."
ME: "NO THAT'S WRONG, IT'S FIE-VEL."
DAD: "Peter's right, it's Fie-vel."
CHRIS: "My mistake then."
What an explicitly Jewish mouse would be doing on a Christmas stocking was a question no one brought up.
|There was a stack of papers near the
TV. Dad asked me to pick one up and read it aloud. I
started reading books at age two, which blew his mind. I
could already read at an adult speed at four.
I don't remember what I was reading here, I think it was some dry communications letter from the phone company Dad worked at. I could do it pretty fast, but for my own amusement, I started making up things that weren't on the paper.
Me: "IT SAYS TO BE EXTRA CAREFUL WHEN ON...WHEN ON ROCKY ROAD."
Dad: "You're silly."
I'd seen commercials on Saturday Morning for a new cereal called Rocky Road, and it was the first thing to pop into my mind.
|My uncle arrived to take Chris back
Dad: "Hey, do you have anything to say to the camera?"
Uncle John: "Bah humbug!"
|With Chris gone and the tree fully
decorated, the only thing left was to sign off.
Dad: "You wanna say goodbye, Peter?"
Me: "NO! DON'T SAY BYE-BYE!! DON'T SAY BYE-BYYYYYYEEEEEE!!"
Dad would mock me for years about this. This was my reaction EVERY time he was wrapping up a home movie. The truth was, I didn't want the cameras turned off. If it were up to me, I'd have been making videos of myself every day.
|Before I was about to head to bed, my parents stood in front of me and said, "Most of your gifts are for tomorrow, but we have a special one we thought you should get tonight...."
|"OH BOY!! COMIC BOOKS!!!"
My first ever comic books! I had asked for comics for months, yet was repeatedly denied, because my mother was one of Dr. Wertham's last holdouts and thought the medium would turn me into a criminal. Eitehr she or Dad must have asked around to find out if there were comics safe for a preschooler.
Good thing, then, that Star Comics was in its prime. The Care Bears fought an evil witch! The Get Along Gang explored a haunted house! The Ewoks met the Droids! I treasured these issues for years and read them many times. And I still have them today!
|The final thing on the tape is footage
of Christmas Day, when all the relatives came over and
crowded into the living room to open presents from under
our freshly decorated tree. I don't remember nearly as
much about this part, unfortunately.
This photo isn't from Christmas -- it's from earlier in 1986. I don't even have pictures of this! But this is what it would've looked like.
What I can tell you is that I was still trying to impress people. Chris could always make them laugh and I wanted to as well. And now that the audience was larger, I remembered how Mom had laughed at what Uncle John said.
|So I stood in the middle of where
everyone was sitting, started pointing and yelled
"AND A BAH HUMBUG CHRISTMAS TO YOU, AND YOU, AND
YOU, AND YOU...."
Mom: "Peter, that's not very nice."
It didn't play quite as well.
|Everyone started opening presents. Chris got his M.U.S.C.L.E. Men. I teared open a large package, expecting to see the MAX staring back at me.
|I got a Pound Puppies train instead.
Yet this didn't shake my faith in Santa one bit. I just figured he goofed that year.
Also, this was the only year I asked for a train of any kind, yet I was given presents of toy trains from Dad for several Christmases afterward. I never touched a single one.
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