Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Memory

Last night, lying in my bed of cough, sweat, and mucus induced misery, I flipped though the TV channels to find something to keep my mind off how much my forehead ached, the pain being caused by the roots of my teeth in my gums, and the almost uncontrollable tickle in my throat. I settled happily on "The Glen Miller Story" a movie I hadn't watched in 55 years.

I remembered it, though, very clearly. That movie is one of the stand-out memories of my childhood. Starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson, it recounts the life story of Glen Miller from 1929 until 1944 when he was lost in an airplane during World War II. I have few intact memories from my childhood and I don't honestly think I can tell much about the year I was eight, but I sure remember seeing that movie.

My dad, working for the local newspaper, used to get movie passes for the opening night / week engagement of the big movies in town. This was when going to the movies was an event. Your mother wore stockings (and girdle and garter belt), your dad wore his suit, and you wore your Sunday shoes. You drove downtown to the big movie theater -- each of which were done of in gilt and stars and had velvet seats even in the balconies.

Mother always had us on a budget so you never got popcorn and a soda. You just got to sit still for two hours and act like a grown-up. As I remember it, I loved movie nights. Sometimes we ate at the downtown cafeteria before the movie. In that case you were required to have the cheapest thing on the menu. You were warned by Mother that you couldn't order extra things like desserts or salads. Mother always ate the green stuffed pepper. Dad, who didn't like stuffed peppers, had chow mien. I liked the crispy noodles so much that I could ignore the mostly steamed celery in the dish and I would order my own plate of the gooey stuff, too. You were also allowed a milk and roll. Odd, having milk and a roll with chow mien -- but you got filled up. Then we'd walk to the theater.

Dad got three movie passes for us one Friday night in early 1954 to go see "The Glen Miller Story." We happily went. I remember being sad that in the end Glen Miller died. I also know that I sat, quietly absorbed by the film, without being reprimanded by either parent. I never was a problem in the movie theater because I knew that to get to go along, you had to behave.

The next day, Saturday, was a big event in my life. I had been invited along with a bevy of other little girls to a popular girl's birthday party. I don't have any idea who she was. I only know that my mother seemed to think I had finally arrived socially. We were to attend an appropriate movie after being served birthday cake and opening presents.

At the party, I think because some parent had complained about the "appropriate movie" we were to see, the plans changed and instead of the announced movie, we were all taken to see "The Glen Miller Story."

I clearly remember not wanting to go. I didn't want to see the life story of that poor dead man again. A shy kid, though, I couldn't tell anybody I'd just sat through the entire movie only last night. At the theater we were partnered with another girl and given a small box of buttered popcorn to share and a tiny drink of our own. I remember thinking, "Okay! I'll get some good popcorn and this will make up for the next two hours." Of course, the moment we sat down, my partner spilled the corn on the floor -- and then, hissed at me, "We can't tell. We just have to act like every thing's alright. It wouldn't be fair to ask for more." So I sat, huddled in misery, though the film waiting for Glen Miller to die again.

Last night, as I watched this movie, I was aghast. The movie is NOT for kids. Well, it's not like kids shouldn't watch it -- it's just that is has almost absolutely nothing in it that a kid would really like -- especially an eight year old. Just how fricking old was I at eight? I must have been the best darned well-behaved eight year old in the history of eight year olds.

The movie has almost no plot, just long, long, long sequences of famous jazz musicians playing. It runs 115 and maybe 20 minutes of that is plot. The rest is just 1940's music played by big bands. Mostly instrumental music. And at the end the hero dies and everyone cries.

I don't know of a single child that would sit through this movie today. Not one. And I did it twice in a twelve hour span and never once complained. No wonder I never watched the movie repeated on late night TV again. Poor kid. Poor, sad kid. I'm quite sure I wouldn't be so well behaved now!

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