|My Dad and I at Camden Park, August 1999|
“I think I’ll miss you most of all”
– The Scarecrow to Dorothy Gayle
I became a film aficionado in 1968. I was 6 years old, precocious and unapologetic for my advanced appreciation of the arts, and hesitant to publicly out myself as a movie slave. While the other girls were watching “Peter Pan” and “Pinocchio”, I filled my free time reading “Charlotte’s Web” and “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle”. See, I’m a believer in the written word in both print and song. I believe the mind is at it’s healthiest when absorbing knowledge from books, sculpting those hard to reach cognitive muscles. I believe music is the manifestation of raw emotion and unbridled talent. Movies, on the other hand, were simply an inferior form of artistic expression for folks who had lost their mental energy. In short, I was a 6-year-old upstart living a double life and about to be exposed.
I first realized I had a problem with “The Wizard of Oz”. Now, back then it was less about the quality of the acting or the depth of the message or even the complexities of the plot twists and turns. I’m not denying that I loved those ruby slippers. I dreamed of wearing those shoes with a black hounds tooth check jumper dress and starched white blouse for my second grade school photo. I couldn’t wait for the on screen appearance of those flying monkeys, and I still want a Horse of a Different Color. No, back then it was all about the popcorn.
I have a kid brother named Jay who was 3 years old at the time and back then “The Wizard of Oz” was an annual event that we looked forward to all year long every year. In today’s world of Netflix and On Demand, it seems implausible that the Television Gods once reigned with so much power over little children, tormenting them, denying them the thrill of melting witches and talking trees. Shameful really. But it was a different time.
“The Wizard of Oz” always played on Sunday night and Jay and I spent the week before planning the evening’s events and arguing over whether we would have popcorn or ice cream with our movie. We went to church on Sunday mornings and evenings back then. Mom played the piano for the congregation and kept us in line with “The Look” and a threat of things to come if we didn’t heed “The Look”, so fortunately only the Lord knew that even Jonah getting swallowed by a whale couldn’t keep our minds on the sermon that evening. We knew what our evening held in store for us.
Sometimes we were still debating the popcorn versus ice cream issue even as we left church. See, my dad made the perfect popcorn hands down! This was before the microwave junk. He used a huge pot, a little hot oil, and real popcorn kernels and when that oil got hot and those little kernels started popping, there was nothing in the world that smelled our sounded better. Jay and I bounced around the house in footy pajamas like we’d just opened a happy meal and found the coveted Hamburgler pencil eraser. And we weren’t fighting!
The anticipation was building as the 8:00 p.m. hour approached. Jay and I brought out blankets and piled them on the floor in front of the TV. I can almost remember the lights dimming as the music swelled on the TV and Mom and Dad entered from the kitchen reverently and delicately carrying the popcorn in its esteemed metal pan that my 6-year-old mind remembers as being 24” long, 18” wide and 8 “ deep. It was scratched from years of loving use and would remain in our family for ages as a symbol of those magical evenings.
There were many years when one or all of us fell asleep before we saw Dorothy make it back to Kansas but it didn’t matter. Like I said, it wasn’t about the movie. It was about the celebration, time spent together as a family, the memories and, of course, the popcorn.
In 1999, while refinishing a leg to an antique table for my Mom, my Dad sat down, closed his eyes and took his leave of this earth for a better place, taking his secrets to the perfect popcorn with him. I’ll forever long for those movie nights, the building excitement for a moment frozen in time, the celebration of just being a family, and that precious metal pan of popcorn. But I think I can speak for Jay and my Mom when I say to my Dad, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”