Not surprisingly, I was a bit of an odd kid growing up, and while I might not have been the typical child by any stretch of the imagination, she always encouraged the weirdness instead of stifling it. If I had an opinion on something, even if it was of a contrary nature, she was all for my voicing it as long as I had something to say. When I grew up and decided to pursue a degree in theatre in college, she did not try to convince me to follow another line of study that might have been more useful in the real world but which would not have interested me nearly as much. When I elected after school to pursue a career as a film critic, a profession that even then made the theater seem practical and stable by comparison, she never tried to dissuade me.
I never asked why she allowed me to follow these pursuits but I suspect that a big reason for it was because she possessed a bit of an artistic streak herself. When my brother and I were growing up, she used to make soft sculpture dolls and Christmas ornaments that she’d sell at local art fairs on weekends. When “Star Wars” came out and became the biggest thing around, she made me a Darth Vader costume for Halloween that was so impressive I actually wore it two years in a row. In junior high, we were doing soft sculpture things in art class and I, being helplessly uncoordinated in such things, asked her for some pointers since I clearly wasn’t getting it. She obliged and I improved enough that the Home Economics teacher—a woman whose bad side I had gotten on long before—publicly accused me of cheating by having her do the work. Needless to say, Mom raised the holiest of Hells. Mind you, not just because her son was unjustly accused of cheating—but also, as she later told me—because she didn’t want people to think that what I had done was representative of her own skills.
You will recall earlier when I said that Mom was not much of a cinephile. In fact, my Dad was far closer to an actual film fan, but his tastes leaned exclusively towards musicals, mystery programs featuring the likes of Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes, and World War II sagas. That said, she did have two favorite movies—the first was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” of which nothing more really needs to be said. The other is slightly more obscure and that would be the 1984 romantic caper comedy, “American Dreamer.” In the movie, JoBeth Williams plays a frustrated housewife who wins a trip to Paris as part of a contest to write a story using the glamorous international spy at the center of her favorite series of books. She gets knocked on the head and wakes up in a hospital believing she actually is said spy and gets involved in some form of international hijinks. Trust me, the film is terrible, but something about it resonated with her. And during what would prove to be her final days, I am glad that I was able to track down a copy and show it to her again as a temporary distraction from all the crap that she had to endure.