Memories may be all we have, but mine are not reliable. My memories have been corrupted by several Oscar-winning movies.
Here are some examples.
Honeymoon at the Grand Old Opry, watching Loretta unravel
In 1974, on our honeymoon, my wife and I attended the Grand Old Opry in its new venue at Opryland. A few years later, I saw performances of the Grand Old Opry in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” involving many of the same performers that I saw in person.
In my memory, I cannot distinguish who I saw in person from who I saw in the movie, to such an extent that, before catching myself, I would swear that I saw in person the scene in the movie in which Loretta Lynn (played by Sissy Spacek) collapses on stage. In reality, I don’t know whether I saw Loretta Lynn when I was there. If I ask my wife, we probably will disagree about who we saw that night, other than Stonewall Jackson, who is unmistakable.
My son, my niece, a politician, his son, Camden, “In the Bedroom” and “Peyton Place”
In 2001 and 2002, I visited my eldest son in Camden, Maine, a lovely town on Penobscot Bay, where he worked during two summers while in college.
Later in 2002, I saw the 2001 movie “In the Bedroom,” which was filmed in Camden. About the same time, I saw the 1957 movie “Peyton Place,” which was also filmed in Camden, using many of the same or similar locations as “In the Bedroom.”
One of my son’s college classmates (whom I met briefly many years ago and to whom I apologize for this story) seems to me to resemble the actor Nick Stahl, who played a college student who was spending the summer in Camden, becoming romantically involved with a young mother, played by Marisa Tomei. My son’s college classmate was a high school friend of my niece in Iowa, and his father (who is a public figure often in the news, also named Tom) resembles Tom Wilkinson, at least in my mind’s eye.
The lobsterman ex-husband of Marisa Tomei’s character (played with great menace by Tom Cruise’s cousin William Mapother) kills Nick Stahl’s character, whose physician father, played by Tom Wilkinson, kills the lobsterman in revenge.
My memories of my son and Camden are an unmanageable tangle of visual memories of real experiences with memories of movies, imbued with the deep and evolving emotion of family relationships (my son, my niece, her father who is my older brother).
My mental images of Camden have the bright Technicolor of “Peyton Place” and an undercurrent of tension about what my son was up to in Camden that summer, because I’m somehow confusing his college summers there with those of the Nick Stahl character. My connection of the two Toms and my son’s classmate who was my niece’s friend only add to the stew that continues to simmer.
Bewildering even myself, I caught my mind wondering whether the character played by Tom Wilkinson had taken over the medical practice of the town doctor in “Peyton Place.”
My aunt Wanda, the mission at San Juan Bautista and “Vertigo”
In late 2005, I visited my aunt Wanda at her home in San Juan Bautista, the picturesque mission town in California, just inland from Santa Cruz and Monterrey. She lived only a few blocks from the historic mission, where Hitchcock filmed the climactic scene in “Vertigo.” In this movie, Jimmy Stewart’s character overcomes his fear of heights, which had previously prevented him from ascending the stairs of the mission’s belfry.
A few years earlier his fears had kept him saving his beloved from plunging from the tower to her apparent death.
Though I had seen “Vertigo” long before I visited the mission, and even though the stairway to the belfry was locked the day I was there, in my memory I had the opportunity to ascend the stairs to the bell, and was chided by Aunt Wanda for being a chicken. But unlike Jimmy Stewart, I could not overcome my fear.