Classic Movies with My Mother: A Remembrance

My mother died on a Tuesday.

March 22, 2016, to be exact. Less than two months ago.

That day will always be etched in my memory due simply to its utter ordinariness. I had some free time that afternoon, and the weather was that rare perfect mix of brilliant sunshine and cool breezes (blessedly minus the searing humidity of a typical Georgia day), so I sat on the front porch with the dogs (all six of them), laughing at the antics of the newest addition, a poodle named Pepper.

And then my cell phone rang, and I haven’t had a peaceful moment since.

For the rest of my life, I think I will measure time in how long it’s been since my mother died.

Six weeks. Five days.

Mom, 1982.

Mom, 1982.

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s going to be a difficult day. First Mother’s Day with no mom. Does Mother’s Day have a function for those with no mothers? Or is it just another day to feel the melancholy in your bones, to sit with the loss and grieve for all the things you’ll never have again? Phone calls. Hugs. Laughter. Stupid fights. Holiday visits. I love yous.

Watching movies together.

That will be one of the things I miss most about Mama. It’s something we bonded over, especially in recent years–a shared love for movies, particularly the old ones. We both adored Bette Davis and (most) Christmas flicks, arguing every year about who played the best Ebeneezer Scrooge (she maintained it was Alastair Sim in the 1951 film; I championed Patrick Stewart in the modern TNT version). She fostered my early affection for classic animation and–driven by her great love for classical music–Mom introduced me to Fantasia, which to this day remains one of my favorite movies, animated or not.

Still, she could never quite convince me to enjoy some of her particular favorites, such as her beloved Vincent Price horror movies. I couldn’t bring myself to watch them with her most of the time, but that didn’t mean I was opposed to supporting her habit; in fact, the last Christmas gift I ever gave Mom was a collection of Price horror films, and she squealed like a delighted child when she opened it on Christmas morning last year.

Mom loved monster movies. The classic Universal gang–Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy–friends old and dear to her, and she loved every one of their scary adventures, even their later B-level shlockfests. We watched the original Godzilla together (the Americanized version with Raymond Burr, not the original Japanese film), and though I had a low level of tolerance for those types of movies, she watched every version she could find, whether Godzilla was fighting King Kong, Mothra, or whichever weird monstrosity stupidly decided to challenge him.

As for me, I never could convince Mama to like musicals. Over the years, I tried to get Mom to watch several of them with me, but she always took issue with the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing. Once, she admitted to me that she actually liked The Sound of Music, but only if she fast-forwarded through the musical numbers.

I stared at her. “The music is the best part, Mama. IT’S IN THE NAME OF THE MOVIE. How do you skip the music??”

Mom: “It’s just not natural to interrupt yourself to sing a song, and HOW do they all know the words?”

Me: “Oh, but Vincent Price killing people and making them into wax figures is completely natural and believable?”

While we never totally agreed on the musical thing, I have to admit that it tickles me to no one end that one of the last texts we sent to one another, back in January, was related to a musical airing that evening on TCM.


(Mom wasn’t the best at texting, but damn, was she always funny.)

We introduced each other to favorites and not-so-favorites. I showed her Bachelor Mother. She called it “cute.” She showed me War-Gods of the Deep. I called it “putrid.” I made her sit through Gone With the Wind. She thought it was “okay.” She made me sit through Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way–twice.

The less said about that, the better.

The last movie I ever saw with Mom was The Good Dinosaur, back at the beginning of March. Mom was into week three of her recovery from heart surgery, and I had come to Birmingham to spend a few days with her while my dad headed back to work. She had not yet seen the two Pixar movies that had been released last year, so we made it a double feature with Inside Out and Dinosaur. Contrary to popular critical opinion, she liked Dinosaur best.

Then again, anything with dinos was a guaranteed Mom favorite. More of her dear creature features.

But the last time Mom and I actually went out to the movies together was in October. The Alabama Theatre in Birmingham hosted a screening of Lon Chaney’s 1925 silent version of Phantom of the Opera with live accompaniment, and I drove over from Atlanta to take Mom. With her love of classic horror, she was in her element, completely transfixed. It was her first time seeing the movie, and she thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. And for the rest of my life, I’ll treasure those two hours we spent in the balcony of that grand old theatre, just watching those shadows flickering on that giant screen. If we had to have a “final” movie-going experience together, I honestly don’t believe we could have picked a more perfect one if we’d tried.

Halloween, 2009, Mom and her friend Terry. Mom made her own Carol Burnett/GWTW costume.

Halloween, 2009, Mom and her friend Terry. Mom made her own Carol Burnett/GWTW costume.

Over the years, Mom amassed a small collection of films on DVD and Blu-ray (and just about every popular Britcom imaginable). I sent a few off to new homes, but most of those movies now rest on my shelves, nestled among my own collection. Some of them are movies I will probably never watch again, like Arnold’s Jingle All the Way. I loathed that movie, but it was one of Mom’s favorites, along with the Santa Claus series and the abysmal Jim Carrey version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And because she loved them, I just couldn’t get rid of them. I’ll never watch them again, but there they sit, because just the sight of their brightly-colored spines reminds me of her, and of all the lovely and loving Christmases we spent as a family of five.

We’re a family of four now. And Christmas will never be the same. And neither will the movies. I’ll never again watch a Christmas movie without thinking of my mom, and the way she laughed so hard every year when the cat was fried in Christmas Vacation, and how the end of Home Alone made her tear up without fail. There’s a lot more movies I’ll never watch again without thinking of her–hundreds of them that we watched over the too-few years we had together.

And someday, that won’t be a bad thing. Someday, watching The Man Who Came to Dinner won’t bring a pang, but a smile, a genuine smile of warm remembrance and love. I’m not to that point yet, but I’ll get there.

I love you, Mama.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Mom, my younger brothers, and me, 1985--the first picture of all of us together.

Mom, my younger brothers, and me, 1985–the first picture of all of us together.

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