How Horror Movies and Natalie Wood Changed My Life

After reading Alan Decker’s “The Canon” (you can find this on this very blog site I got to thinking about my own experience of watching movies with my parents, well specifically my mother.  My mother was an avid reader and every week she took me to the library to pick out books. I have to confess that by the time I was three and four years old, I was reading books far above my age range. This is because of my mother. She made me read and let’s face it TV was not that great back then. My love of books comes from my mother’s pushing books upon me at the uncanny speed of light, and once they were read we would discuss them.  Books were not static entities.  If you read a book you had to be prepared to talk about it.

My mother opened up the world of movies to me too. My dad, sure he loved movies too, but it was my mother’s love of movies that kept me home on a weekend night to watch with her. My father took me to movies like James Bond and Star Wars because my mother wouldn’t go with him and my siblings were much older than I and had their own lives.   I was probably much too young to see James Bond because of some of the sexualized content but my dad was unfazed by it and therefore so was I. To this day, I think Sean Connery was the best Bond (don’t hurt me lovers of other Bonds). “Oh Moneypenny” in his unique accent is still a part of my vernacular.

Even still, my mom’s love for movies from the 1950s and 1960s was pervasive. My mother loved Natalie Wood films. I think my mom was somehow haunted by the fact that Natalie Wood died long before her time in a boating accident. Before I saw my first Natalie Wood movie, I knew the story of her death. At ten years of age, I saw Gypsy. It’s the story of Gypsy Rose Lee who was a burlesque dancer and stripper. My mom never saw the content (let’s face it nudity wasn’t shown) as inappropriate. West Side Story, also a Natalie Wood film, introduced me to cultural issues and racism. And yes there is a love story inherent within. Obviously, Romeo and Juliet is a parallel that my mom was sure to make.

These movies seemed so old to me, but these were movies from my mother’s youth. These movies shaped her understanding of the world. Really, through watching these movies, we became closer and she could also approach touchy subject matter with me as my mother never discussed sex. That’s where she drew the line.

Danny Kay made his way into my life whether I wanted him to or not. From the time I was three years old, I had a Danny Kay Kids Stories 8 Track tape. I knew the sound of Danny Kay’s voice and could pick it out any time I hear it. Anyway my mother’s love for White Christmas and Danny Kay precipitated my need to watch the movie, but now I can’t let a Christmas pass without watching it.  I’m not sure what her motives were for introducing me to old movies and actors, but it was a good choice. At the time, I had no idea that these movies and story lines would shape who I am and how I perceive the world.

My mother was the best story teller I knew. She had a gift and she knew it too. Her siblings would beg her to tell them stories. However, she loved scary stories and the scarier the better. She did ruin me…I can’t watch horror movies now. By the time of my eleventh year, I had seen Damien Omen; Poltergeist; The Shining; The Exorcist; Carrie; Halloween; and The Hitcher. For my mom, these movies were a right of passage. She saw nothing wrong with being scared and played upon it. The upside to this is that there was never a dull moment.  A blackout made for the perfect venue for a scary story about a bloody hand. My neighbor ran home screaming after that. And Dracula, well I had a vampire sighting at my bedroom window, but it was just mom tapping her fingers on the window and they looked like fangs. She really did not miss an opportunity to scare the heck out me. You’d think that I would be desensitized to horror movies, but not at all. 

So I guess the moral to my blog is that whenever you are passionate about something and share it with your kids, that shapes their life as much as yours. After all, I still have these wonderful memories of my mom.

~Jennifer Ward

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