Daddy at the Movies

Jess Jr. was a demonstrative soul, without reserve when it came to expression of any kind, a candor that was celebrated by most, but often trying for my mother. She said it was especially difficult when they went to the movies, since my father’s tastes in movies resembled those of a little old lady’s rather than a middle-aged man, a World War II vet and a veteran prosecutor in Mississippi courtrooms. She said he would hear about these movies from a whole slew of waitresses, secretaries and beauticians who kept him up with the latest Hollywood gossip, and whenever they went out of town he’s drag her to screenings of such films as Peyton Place,  Madame X (his favorite courtroom scene) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

“My God, Barbara! Can you imagine what that woman must be going through!?” he’d exclaim at the screen as Lana Turner took the stand, being (unsuccessfully) defended by her own son (whom she cannot acknowledge) for murdering a blackmailer . “Why doesn’t she say something? That judge would let her off in a heartbeat if she’d only say who she is!” Mother would never respond, just stared resolutely at the screen, avoiding the chilling glances of others in the theater. On more than one occasion, Daddy was reduced to great heaving sobs of woe, like when they had to pull Susan Kohner off Juanita Moore’s coffin at the end of Imitation of Life. Mother just kept a nest of clean handkerchiefs in her purse and passed them his way.

She always said she was glad none of us inherited this sense of drama, with the exception of my sister, who bolted screaming out of a Memphis theater during The Snow Queen and was half-way down Union Avenue before they finally caught up with her.

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