One Sunday afternoon in June of 1993, while we were at home and my mother’s brother-in-law talked about his car-dealership the phone suddenly rang. My dad came stumbling into the living room with a ghost like expression on his face – my aunt had phoned to let us know that my grandfather (my mom’s father) had passed away. I was eight years old at the time and this was my first encounter with death. A few days later we attended the funeral in Warmbaths where most of my family lived including my grandparents. I remember feeling very anxious while watching a coffin being lowered down into the ground and I still remember the smell of the mountain of fresh soil next to the hole where he was being buried. The rest of the week was spent in Warmbaths with the family and sometime during this time I saw a video that ended up haunting me for about 18 years of my life – the death of my grandfather caught on video tape. I remember the scenario of how I (an eight year old) came to see a video of my grandfather passing away – his eyes rolling into the back of his head and people yelling and screaming.
My mother decided to watch it for the first time. I remember her telling me to sit with my back to the television, as she didn’t want me to see whatever it was that she was about to see. Of course, the curious child that I was caught glimpses of what was happening on the old TV-set in my grandparents’ living room. For a few weeks after these events I had dreamt a lot about my grandfather and him coming back from the dead. And for years I felt haunted by the video, only remembering the horror of it all, especially when we visited the grave (something we did for many years every time we went to visit in Warmbaths).
In January of 2011 our family was eating lunch together at Cappacino’s when my mom suddenly started tearing up, telling us how she had recently been missing her father and how she had longed to see the old video tape again, but was too scared to watch it. Plus seeing as technology had advanced so much we didn’t have a way of watching the old VHS tape anyway. Being the techno-kid that I am, I told her that I would see if I could convert it into DVD format. For many years I had wondered about where that tape was and how it would be to see it again, but never dared to ask my mom, avoiding any chance for tears from her. So this became a great opportunity to satisfy my curiosity yet again. My sister and I began to convert the footage from the tape and once we had it, we suddenly discovered something we never thought would happen. We discovered a work of art.
The video displays footage from the 6th of June 1993 of my grandfather telling a story about an experience he had during World War II. According to my grandmother, this was the first time he had ever spoken about his participation in the war. The day of the footage was a day of celebration as the family welcomed my grandfather home after being discharged from the hospital. Someone (we are unsure who) decided to test out their new video camera during this gathering. It became a day of storytelling and my grandfather slowly but surely began revealing a secret he had kept buried for almost five decades. At first he doesn’t want to go into detail, but in the end he tells us exactly where it lies buried. This story would ultimately end up to be the very last one he would tell, the very last secret he would ever disclose.
Now after 18 years of never having watched the video our family is reminded of a terrible day, but one that if we look back on it now, was one of wonder and amusement. No one really knows who the camera man is and no one really seems to care. Now years later, our family is less intrigued by the death in the video and more interested in the secret my grandfather reveals. A secret of a bomb buried in Soekmekaar, the place where my mom and her three sisters grew up. Of course for my mom and her sisters it is still hard to watch the video and some of them haven’t yet. But for me who only knew my grandfather for a very short time of which I only really recall his funeral, these events have sparked some interesting experiences for me. For years I had glorified the video in my head as something horrific and to my surprise death brought so much more. I was amazed at how I had over the years added scenes in my head that I thought were in the video and how I made it worse than it really was. I began to think, what if we had video footage of all the supposedly ‘bad’ experiences we‘ve had in our lives? Ones we feel shaped who we are and how we act? What if we could see those things again today and see that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t that bad at all.