Growing up, my cousin Lauren was one of my absolute favorite people. (She still is!) We lived close when we were babies and very little children, but after my parents moved three hours away, I only got to see her when they made the trip to Detroit or my aunt and uncle made the trip to Northern Michigan for a family function or a weekend vacation. We always tried to finagle ways to spend more time with each other. Begging to spend spring break, Christmas break and a week or two in the summer at each other’s houses. We schemed and plotted and presented our plans to our parents with butterflies in our stomachs and arguments on the tips of our tongues. Thankfully, our parents usually said yes and we rarely had to pull out the extreme negotiating tactics.
For the time between our visits, we wrote letters. I was far better at it than she was, writing and decorating long letters in my school notebooks and sending them off, sometimes needing two stamps. Often Lauren would present me with ten letters when I saw her. She wrote them, it just seemed that sending them was where it all fell apart. But one day she did something that I was never able to do. She made a video tape. See, back in the day, (you know, the day?) we didn’t have cell phones with video capabilities…or cell phones at all. There was no YouTube or Vines. There were big clunky VHS tapes and a huge video recording machine. You recorded a tape and then played the tape on the VCR. On an actual TV. In your living room. Not in the palm of your hand. Crazy.
So, Lauren made me a tape. It started with her telling me what was going on around her house and school, and saying how much she missed me and that I should check out Joan Osbourne, because she was really cool and she probably wouldn’t be cool way up north where I lived for another six years. (Truth.) Then the video stopped. A little white noise later, it started again with Lauren and her friend, who became my friend, Kelly. They were hanging out in Lauren’s room, and acting like crazy fools. Dancing, singing, laughing, making hilarious faces…things that are hysterical to twelve year old girls and probably massively annoying to their parents.
This video was fifteen minutes of gold. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen and when ever I was sad, or mad, or missed my extended family, I popped it on and I watched it. Swamp Buggy. That is what was written on the little label stuck to the front of the tape, the originally recorded cinematic event that lost it’s life to my cousin’s gift to me. I always assumed it was a movie but I Googled it and I cannot find a movie called Swamp Buggy. Maybe it was some kind of show about Swamp Buggies? I hope my uncle isn’t reading this thinking, “That’s what happened to that amazing documentary I taped!” Sorry, Uncle Scott.
Swamp Buggy was rewound and watched a gazillion times all through middle school and high school, then it was packed in my boxes when I headed off back to the Detroit area. I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend right out of high school. We lived together for a little over three years until we broke up, and in that time I subjected him to Swamp Buggy more than once. He didn’t get it. I’m sure not many adults would find it entertaining, but in my mind it was timeless. These were not just two little girls being crazy, these were the young versions of two girls who I still loved dearly, being crazy. I hoped to be able to show my own kids, and theirs, this video one day.
I came home from work and found Swamp Buggy laying on top of the VCR. Instantly, I knew something was wrong. I was fairly sure my boyfriend hadn’t been watching it without me (Hopefully!) I raced to the VCR, popped in the tape and rewound it to the beginning. I closed my eyes as I pushed play, hoping to hear my cousin’s high pitched voice greet me as I had so many times before. Instead, I heard commentators and a crowd. I opened my eyes and all I saw was hockey. Swamp Buggy was snuffed out by the Detroit Red Wings. Never before had I felt like I lost a part of my child hood. I would have been furious if I wasn’t so sad. When my boyfriend came home I confronted him with the horrible crime he’d committed and he apologized. Somehow he had never thought to check to see what he was recording over, and he knew the title Swamp Buggy meant nothing to him. I guess I should have re-labeled the tape. There wasn’t much else I could do, so I forgave him. (Then I broke up with him. Later though, and not because of Swamp Buggy. Well, maybe a little bit.)
Swamp Buggy, in all of it’s childish, hilarious glory is gone. It still stings. Lauren has two beautiful kids now who are old enough to really get a kick out of watching their Mom jump around and fall in a pile of limbs and giggles with her best friend. Kelly just had her first baby boy and I of course, have my two guys. Maybe our kids would think it was stupid. Maybe they would think we were the lamest parents ever for making them watch such silliness. But I doubt it. I think they would think it was really funny. I think I would still think it was funny.
So, the lesson here is: Protect your memories. Oh, and don’t move in with your boyfriend right out of high school.