There's a whole subcategory of movies that my mom likes to call "uplifting." The typical trademark of these movies is an hour and a half of tragedy, death, and misery, followed by about three minutes of pure joy and redemption. Think: George Bailey's impromptu party at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life," or the brand new puppy running through a field at the end of "Old Yeller."
These are ostensibly happy endings, or as my mother calls them, "uplifting" endings. Because despite the fact that George Bailey hated most of his life, and Old Yeller is dead and replaced in a manner that I doubt he would very much appreciate, the ending makes it all worthwhile. It lifts your spirits to see those three minutes of happiness after all that pain and suffering. And my mom loves that.
Frankly, my mom must be a much happier person than I, because those kinds of movies depress the heck out of me.
I almost always refuse to watch a movie that my mom has described as "uplifting"; it's become a running joke in our house. But last weekend, when Mother's Day rolled around, I realized I would finally have to make a concession. After all, a good daughter would watch Tom Hanks die of AIDS in "Philadelphia" with her mother when she requested it, wouldn't she? A good daughter would watch a marathon of rousing, supposedly inspirational movies; she would endure everything from "The Pursuit of Happiness" (or, as I like to call it, "It's a Terrible Life 2.0") to "The Green Mile" (I'm sure all the reviews described that one as an "uplifting death-row drama"). A good daughter would subject herself to these movies without complaint. She would do it for her mother.
In the end, though? We watched "Jaws," one of MY favorite movies. So I guess it's really the things our mothers do for us.
MY mother's been gone nearly 20 years now. Back in the day, she made Claire's mom (my wife) look like Mother Teresa. She was half German and half Scotch-Irish. I used to accuse her of being mean and cheap. She never denied it.
For a small, skinny woman, she also was pretty tough. I remember the night (aka early morning) I came home from a dance at Willow Grove, the teen hot spot of the 1960s. I did my best to sneak up from the garage to the kitchen, and onward to my bedroom. The suds sloshing in my belly must have given me away. Suddenly, Mom leaped out from behind an open door, straight onto my back. Grabbing my Brylcreemed ducktail with one hand, she vigorously slapped the side of my head with her other. Thus did we gallop a couple of laps around the kitchen table, before the grease in my hair plus my frantic bouncing caused her hand to slip loose, enabling me to make a mad dash up to the safety of my bed.
Mom and I had our quiet times, as well. On rainy Sunday afternoons, we liked to sit and watch a couple of old movies on TV together. Although the available channels were few in those days, you could count on at least one of them to air a Fred Astaire musical or a Bogart "Sam Spade" film, always in black-and-white, and always with plenty of Tide, Ipana, and "Carter's Little Liver Pills" commercials. I think that, as she aged, Mom enjoyed those quiet afternoons more than almost anything else. When we got a little hungry, she'd heat up a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup for each of us. We'd crush a couple of handfuls of Saltines and sprinkle them into the broth. Add a big glass of A-Treat Cola and life was darned near perfect on those lazy Sundays. I never felt safer.
Looking back from this distant perspective, I guess I agree with Claire: whether administering her own inimitable brand of corporal punishment, or serving up a can of soup on a cozy afternoon, the old Gal gave back to me more than she got.