Monday, November 07, 2011

Three Films

The Wizard of Oz (1939), Victor Fleming, director

This film speaks volumes about my upbringing. I don't mean the theme of valuing home and family.  I am not referring to the parallel of a little girl out wandering the countryside with animals for her only companions.  It's not even Dorothy's fears, although there is certainly something there. 

The Wizard of Oz points out how integral church was in my life.  Yep.  Church.

I lived right behind Keeling Baptist Church.  I could roll out my front door and wind up at the bottom of the hill up against the church's back wall.  We were church-going peeople...well, my mother and siblings and I were. My father wasn't a churchgoer.  His membership was recorded at the Cypress Hut, a beer joint down in the Hatchie bottoms.  But we kids went to church.  Oh, yes.  Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday prayer meeting.  And we didn't miss for anything.

Well, there was one thing.  Sometimes.  Every once in a while there was The Wizard of Oz.

Once a year, the local tv station would show Dorothy and her pals on a Sunday night.  As soon as we heard the promo, we would beg to be allowed to stay home to watch.  Julie got the privelige way before I did.  My mother felt I was too little to tolerate the Wicked Witch without nightmares.  When I was old enough to stay, Julie still poked fun at me about hiding my eyes during the scary parts. 

Who killed my sister?   It terrified me.  I inevitably had trouble sleeping.  And yet, I couldn't wait to watch it again the next year.

Funny how the real life terrors never got that much attention. 

My father was a terror.  He delighted especially in scaring Julie on the way back from the outhouse.  Our little house on the hill wasn't equipped with a flush toilet.  We used the outhouse at the back of the church property until I was in second grade.  She used to ask me to go with her.  I wasn't as afraid of the dark as she was, even though I was four years younger.  With Daddy out there to torment her, who can blame her?  He was tall, well over 6 feet and Ichabod Crane thin back then. 

He would alternately pound on the walls of the stinking shithole or lay in wait for her on the way back. Sometimes he would say, "Something is gonna get you out there," with a gleeful grin on his gaunt face.  And then, he wouldn't do a thing.  The trip to the toilet would be full of anticipatory fear and nothing would happen.  He was clever about his terror tactics.

Dorothy walked a scary road with her companions too.  The witch was always there in their minds, with her threats hanging in the air like fog.  I'll get you, Pretty, and your little dog too.

Sometimes the wait for the Wicked Witch to pop up was worse than the reality of her appearance in a cloud of hellish smoke.  Same for Daddy.

Dorothy left Oz.  I left Tennessee.   

There ends the parallel, though.  When Dorothy went back to Kansas she found her truth: There's no place like home.  When I left Tennessee, I prayed there would never be.


All three of my films are The Wizard of Oz.  I first viewed Dorothy's story as a way to learn to take my eyes down from my face and see my fears without letting terror control me.  This was a handy skill to have.  I wasn't done facing the dangers of the road when Daddy left my life.  It's a lot easier to fight a witch when you can see where she is and find a big pot of water. 

Next, The Wizard of Oz became something else for me, as I focused on Oz, the Great and Powerful.  Oz, it turns out, is just a man and not even a very accomplished or erudite one.  He did what he could with the Emerald City and they benefitted from it, even after he flew away on a balloon.  I have tried to do that along the way...leave a little something behind.

Finally, TheWizard of Oz is for me a story of home and how to make home with those you find along the way.  It's embracing the misfits of life and finding that they have your back and will go right into the witch's castle to rescue you. It's looking back on that life later and saying it was a good one.  It's appreciating how a life's story can turn out.

All those other Sunday morning and nights were filled with stories.  They provided a kind of map of the road.  Turns out all that church attendance was useful.  I would hide out there and the other local church to escape from what was at home.  Church saved me, and not just in the usual sense of the word.  It was a place of sanctuary for me.  It modeled a safe haven that I used later to create family. My road would have been much longer without it. 

Thanks for meeting me at this place on the road.

And you were there.  And you, and you...