Friday, December 5, 2014

The Importance of Story

With so much strife going on in the US, not to mention the world, and my own ongoing melancholy, it was a pure pleasure to lose myself to the self I was in December, 1960 when the teleplay, starring Mary Martin first aired in dingy black and white. I tried showing a tape of the show to my sons when they were old enough but they were like fleas on a griddle and didn’t last ten minutes. Me neither.

 I remember laying on the floor in the living room watching it on the big console TV that dominated the room, indeed, our lives. Beyond that I am shy of situational details – who was there, what I was wearing - the kinds of things I usually have plenty of. I was oblivious to the world because I was completely absorbed by the story. As overblown and self-indulgent as it remains, there were elements of the story that really got my eleven year old attention.

Here was a family asunder and yet, the kids were the focus and they were having a hell of an adventure! My parents, who were on the brink of divorce for as long as I could remember, had called the annual December truce, something I had learned to be distrustful of. New Years Eve invariably brought emotional disaster and heralded a long, bitter winter. It's no wonder that I spent much of it outdoors despite the harshness of a New York winter. I learned to dress like an Eskimo early. If I wasn't moving, building, burrowing or throwing snow, I was on skates out on the ice.

Back to the Darlings, the family name alone was gag worthy. So here we have this girly girl Wendy with her tongue hanging out for this rangy boy Peter who was deeply clueless about the whole boy-girl thing. He was retarded after all, my assessment at the time of all boys. Thanks to my parents I had long been aware of the ongoing war between the sexes. I was still unclear on the point of the whole two by two thing, there seemed to be little pay off for either camp.

 Poor Wendy, she seemed to want something from Peter that she couldn't even articulate. I didn't figure it out until I realized that Tinkerbell was a girl and Peters interest in Wendy was making her jealous. It seemed like this boy-girl thing even troubled fairies.

I know my attention wandered back then because last night (in glorious color that we so take for granted) scenes played out and subtleties emerged that I no memory of. Christopher Walken's droll turn as Hook was riddled with snide little asides that made me laugh out loud. And the bit about clapping to save that jealous little tramp Tinkerbell after she saved Peter by taking his poison. You bet I clapped, but back in 1960 it was not because I wanted to save her, I did it because Peter wanted me to. Peters motivated me to do a lot of things in the coming years.

Flashback to 1960. I do remember not being able to identify with any of the players until that magical moment when Wendy, who had allowed herself to be conned into mothering a rabble of dirty teenagers and never got to be anyone's Girl Friend, Bride or Wife, tucked them chastely into their beds and sang them that heartbreakingly sappy lullaby.

That was a crystallizing moment for me. It became clear to me that the point of being a female was to eventually have and love and guard over these babies who might never grow up. Self sacrifice seemed to be the order of the day for girls. It was sobering and galling at the same time.

I remember being overcome with emotion. I was a terrible tomboy, all scabs, dirt and attitude and I think my mother was relieved to see me snuffling and trying to hide embarrassed tears. She had had a daughter after all, and not a troglodyte.

The deal was sealed three years later when I sat in the exact same spot and watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. In front of my entire family, I screamed (into a couch pillow) cried and clutched my hair with the best of them, but this time I was totally unembarrassed. This flock of Peters were not looking for a mother. They wanted to hold my hand! Thanks to Wendy's timely warning and my parent's bad example, I was ready to play the game and win.

This may not have been what JM Barrie was gunning for but it's what I took away from it.  I'm sure there are learned thesis out there that have picked the bones of this story, but this eleven year old miner found her own treasure, however unintended.