Thursday, February 2, 2017

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Mom and Dad: Spirits of '76

As usual in my retrospectives, I will go through the nominees in 13 different Oscar categories. That's nothing new. But something has changed: my parents will be joining in the fun, ranking the movies, and sometimes adding their own commentary.

I think this was 3 or 4 years ago?
Mom and Dad are celebrating 38 years of marriage this May, and have been together since high school. The story of how they met is a legendary one in my family: he was on the wrestling team, Mom saw him during practice, and without even knowing his name, announced to her mother that she saw the boy she was going to marry. Sometimes, you know. Both are retired: Dad was a firefighter, Mom worked at a Jewish pre-school.

They had four children together, including me, the youngest and only boy. My father, too, is an only son, born in Puerto Rico to German immigrants, with two older sisters and one younger one. My mother was born in Pensacola, FL, on her older brother's birthday; she is also the third of four kids, and grew up all over the place.

From Dad, I got my sense of humor; from Mom, my practicality. From both, my love of movies and books and music, as they were always in steady supply growing up. I once watched A Clockwork Orange after they forbade it; when they found out, instead of punishment or a scolding, we discussed its merits. While other parents may hope for their children to choose a practical career path, mine not only defended my majoring in film - it was their idea in the first place. Mom occasionally sends me texts - or, more often, handwritten letters - that include her reviews of the cinema's latest offerings, while Dad and I discuss older films he caught on TV or On Demand. And their tastes run the gamut from The Man Who Shot to Liberty Valance to The Other Guys to Trail of the Screaming Forehead.

So it was only natural that I wanted to learn about their own experience with the movies, especially in regards to their youth. And what better year to ask them about than 1976?

Where were you in 1976? Age, grade, did you have a job? Were you two together yet?
MOM: Junior year with Senior friends, Senior year began [with] not as many friends. In fact, Dad and I were in art class together at the beginning; I transferred out, saw him in wrestling room, transferred back in. Teacher said she was glad to see me return, the first time I had “a little chippy” on my shoulder. I worked babysitting.  Dad and I got together October, November.   
DAD: 17 years old, 11th-12th grade. Worked at Precision Auto as an auto machinist apprentice. Simple machining work, refacing valves, knurling guide cutting piston rings, rebuilding engines.  Working in the auto industry was my goal, the fire service didn’t pop up until the following year, which changed my direction a little bit. We got together in winter of that year when she went with her friend to drop some papers off to [Coach] Bagnoni at wrestling practice. She saw me, I barely noticed her.  But, she wouldn’t go away after that so... 

What did you do for the Bicentennial?

MOM: Didn’t do much for bicentennial that I remember, sure there were a lot of specials on TV.  I remember the fire hydrants went patriotic and were painted in various motifs.  One at our school was a Continental Soldier. 
DAD: Bicentennial was spent watching fireworks on a very crowded Ft. Lauderdale beach. Some Brtiish sailors were on leave and a couple of them got into a fight with each other. Broken up by their mates, who seemed to really love being part of the celebration. 
What are some of your movie-going memories from 1976?
MOM: I went to the movies every week as a kid. We walked to the theater until old enough to ride with driving friends, then went to drive-ins, too. I remember once we came out of a movie theater and one of our group began interviewing people who came out with his hand holding nothing and no camera crew.  It was a hoot.  My faves were Silent Movie and Silver StreakSilent Movie had all these stars in it, and of course, the one word in the entire movie uttered by…you know who. [She means French mime Marcel Marceau]

DAD: Not much of a movie goer, and the majority of the movies were at Airport drive-in, with planes flying over head every few minutes and the smell of mosquito coils permeating the car. The coils were handed out with the tickets and were free, complete with a little metal stand to stick the coil on. You would leave it burning as the occupants of the car went to the snack bar. How I never saw a fire is beyond me!
What was your favorite movie of that year?
MOM: Loved Rocky, my absolute favorite because ultimate American story, the underdog is underestimated and wins.  Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man got the Oscar (I think) because he played such a bad guy who was so old, so old [Ed. note: Jason Robards won for All the President's Men].  I know I’m forgetting something because I’m doing this on the fly.  

DAD: I’m guessing my favorite movie that year was Rocky 
Dad second from right, Mom fourth
How has your relationship with movies changed since? How have you changed since?
MOM: I have changed because I have grown older.  As a teen I enjoyed horror and gore, now not so much. I like the supernatural (The Omen, poor Gregory Peck forced to extremes), now, it depends. I do not like all the sex, sex, nudity, and casual cussing, if a story can’t be told without it, it must not be worth the paper it’s written on.  I am tired, oh so very, very tired of “message” movies that masquerade as life stories.  I guess that’s why so many of us enjoyed La La Land.  A little cussing, but a story told simply, sweetly and completely. Absolutely no interest in any shades of grey whatsoever, though the trailer was titillating, just like they wanted. 
I enjoy going to matinees because they are cheaper and not as crowded, so the pleasure of being part of a large group sharing an experience has definitely changed.  We used to smoke inside the theater and ushers kept the peace and quiet.  And there were no service animals allowed…EVER. 
DAD: My view of movies hasn’t changed, I do enjoy a good movie. What has changed for me was all too often theater-goers became loud, rude and no was there to ask them to be quiet. The planes at the drive-in were quieter, but as real estate became more valuable, drive-ins soon disappeared.
[While Dad did not initially provide an answer for how he's changed since, he sent me a text that he said I could use. I include it here both because it contextualizes a later statement, and also reflects how he did change. It tells of the time his parents caught him smoking pot...]
I naively thought smoking pot was no big deal. Then you watch your parents cry. Really, really cry, Dad smacking me in the face left, right, left, right...and crying. It made me realize, at age 16, a kid who adored his parents, how easily I destroyed what they thought they had made for all of us. Immigrating, working, working, working. All was well until that moment. I'm pretty tough, but there are a few things in my life that I did which, to this day, I consider unforgivable. 
What did 1976 mean to you?
MOM: To me, 1976 was a milestone personally, but also nationally. Jimmy Carter, a “peanut farmer” from Georgia was president. Johnny Tremain was shown in every classroom. Greatest of all, I met your father and won his love (don’t ask me how).  His love opened me to appreciate the love of God, and the love of and for our children.  I will never, ever be able to give enough thanks for all of that. 

DAD: 1976 turned out to be a pretty good year, made amends with my folks after the weed fiasco, went to San Francisco during the summer with Karin and Jim [his sister and her husband] a la a road trip. Oh, yeah, met your mom that year. Yeah, that too.
After high school, but not by much
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