Sunday, July 13, 2014

Worlds in Motion

I’m always on a subconscious search for pleasant memories of my late parents.

I’ll be sitting around, reading or looking at TV and suddenly some random bit of the past will pop into my brain like a hot slice of toast.

I recently recalled a scene from my childhood and even though it’s only a fragment, I think it says a lot about my parents’ personalities.

This was about 50 years ago. (Good God...) I remember sitting in our living room with my dad watching a horrendous Italian science fiction flick called Battle of the Worlds or Il pianeta degli uomini spenti.

The movie starred Claude Rains, one of my favorite actors, in his final movie role.

While he worked in television for a few more years, it’s a shame that Rains, who did such tremendous work in Casablanca, The Invisible Man, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to name a few, should have such a howling dog on his resume. But you do have to pay the bills.

So we’re watching the movie when my mother walks in and sees Claude Rains on the TV screen.

“Oh, Claude Rains,” she said sadly. “He just died.”

“He should’ve died before he made this,” my father said without missing a beat.

And that’s it. That’s all I remember about that particular encounter. But it tells me so much about my mom and dad.

On the one hand, there’s my mother, sympathetic, touched by the passing of such a talented man.

She’d often express sorrow when she learned that some actor or actress from her generation had died.

Being a child I didn't get what was going on there, but now that I’m older and seeing more and more of my favorite actors cropping up in the obituary pages, I understand my mother’s feelings completely.

My mother cried at news stories and old movies, even the occasional commercial. She sold life insurance at the old Lincoln Savings Bank in Bay Ridge and one time a man came into the bank to collect on a policy for his son who had been killed in a car accident.

'Here Are Your Winnings'

The heart-broken father began to cry and my poor mother began to cry right along with him. She told me later that she was embarrassed at breaking down in front of a client, but I said she had shown this grief-stricken man that he was dealing with a human being, not some soulless corporation.

“It’s the bank with a heart,” I said, shifting into smart-ass mode.

And then you have my old man: sarcastic, cynical, and, at times, quiet funny. A veteran of World War II and a career salesman, he had seen plenty of crap as a soldier and as a civilian and he wasn't afraid to say so.

One time he and I were watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite—the late Walter Cronkite—and the venerable news anchor was reading a story about a beloved local mailman in some small town.

Milo Schleishenmuncher was always there when people needed him…” Cronkite began.

I had no idea where he was going with this story, but my dad saw it instantly.

“Ha!” he snorted at the screen. “Who’d he rape?”

It turned out that Milo had been arrested for hoarding tons of the town’s mail in his basement.

But I hadn’t seen the punch line coming, unlike my father.

Instead of getting to straight into what had happened, Cronkite backed into the story, a technique I later used myself as a reporter.

Last week, I decided to watch Battle of the Worlds again after half a century and it was worse than I had imagined.

The special effects were appallingly cut-rate, even by Sixties’ standards, the acting was dubbed and dreadful and the dialog was atrocious, with lines like “most things happen unexpectedly, even the apocalypse!”

I can’t believe I spent nearly 90 minutes of my life tracking down this episode from my childhood. But it was such a pleasant memory I couldn’t help myself.

Perhaps my dad was a bit harsh about Claude Rains, but I prefer to forget this clunker of a film and remember this fine actor walking into the fog with Humphrey Bogart in the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I guess the best way to go through life is to borrow a little bit from both of my parents: take my mother’s kindness and empathy and mix in a portion of my father’s cynicism and humor.

And that’s the way it is.


Ron said...

"I guess the best way to go through life is to borrow a little bit from both of my parents: take my mother’s kindness and empathy and mix in a portion of my father’s cynicism and humor."

Yes, Rob, you're right about that. And that's exactly what I was going to say in my comment, but you beat me to it. It's sounds as though your parents were a perfect match/foil for each other, which you got a little bit of both. Which I think is a perfect blend!

And OMG, I laughed so hard at this...

"my mother walks in and sees Claude Rains on the TV screen.

“Oh, Claude Rains,” she said sadly. “He just died.”

“He should’ve died before he made this,” my father said without missing a beat."

That's HILARIOUS!!!!

Once again buddy, GRRRRREAT post!

Have a super week!

P.S. Btw, I loved Claude Rains. In fact, I have several movies with him in them. Both with Bette Davis as well. They made many movies together.

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, what's up?

So you're a CR fan, too? He was such a fine actor and he had such a distinctive voice.

My parents were a great match in many ways, but they also butted heads a lot. I suppose some marriages are like that.

Thanks for stopping by, buddy, and have a great week!

Bijoux said...

Great wrap up to a great blog post, Rob. I can relate to both of your parents' reactions. I cry when I read the obits, but I'm also sarcastic about most everything I see on TV. I guess both are coping mechanisms.

Rob K said...

Oh, thanks, Bijoux!

I think we need a variety of methods to cope with life.

As long as we get by without hurting ourselves or anybody else, then we're on the right track.

Take care!

CrystalChick said...

I certainly enjoyed reading this terrific post. Gosh, you write so well. I'll probably say that often and you'll get tired of hearing it. ;)
Since I just had a quick trip down memory lane myself with some old photos posted to the blog, I can really relate. I miss my parents very much. They were similar in a few ways but quite the opposite in others. Mom was quiet and had a dry sense of humor, where dad laughed a lot and talked all.the.time (even to himself, which is apparently hereditary) and now I see myself as a good blend of both.

Rob K said...

Hey, Mary, thank you so much for all the nice things you said about me.

For the record, I never get tired of hearing people say they like my writing. My fragile ego is a hungry little bastard and must be fed constantly.

It's so hard when we lose our parents.

There's nothing to prepare us for this incredible void in our lives and I suppose the best way to honor their memories is to enjoy our lives because that's what our parents would want from us.

Btw, I talk to myself constantly. Maybe we're related?

Take care!

Anonymous said...

This is so great and so true. We all take a little of our parents to make up ourselves. I feel I grabbed a little too many of their negative traits to make me up but at least they are both still mixed in there!

Rob K said...

Hi, Shae!

The good thing is that we are all works in progress, so you can always whittle down those negatives!

Take care!

Stephanie Faris said...

What a sweet memory! It reminded me of when I was around 10 years old and we sat down to watch Miracle on 34th Street. My mom said, "The little girl in this just died." I was perplexed. HOW? I didn't get it. She said, "Well, she was much older. This was years ago." I was 10, so that sort of made sense to me, but for some reason it kind of messed up my enjoyment of the movie. From then on I was fascinated by Natalie Wood's story!

Rob K said...

Wow, Stephanie, that must've been quite a shock for you! Certainly not a good way to start a movie.

Natalie Wood's is so tragic and upsetting. She died way too soon.