I had a date with myself last Friday night. I made something special for dinner, and popped some corn, and bought an actual Coca-Cola and some Red Vines. I get movies at home via Amazon dot com, so I cued up "Saving Mr. Banks." I love Tom Hanks. I love Walt Disney. I loved Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. And then there's Emma Thompson (P.J. Travers), another favorite, all in a "true" story about the making of a classic movie - - Mary Poppins. It was a movie about the story behind the story, and how it affected how things got done. Mrs. Travers did not want animated penguins in Mary Poppins. I don't blame her.
When the movie was over, I was soaked in tears and nearly shaking from the sobs that come when I watch a sad movie. I knew the movie was going to be a tear-jerker, and I had a box of tissues handy. But what happened with the massive waves of tears that went on for an hour after the movie ended, was more complicated than just the superb performances - - and it took me awhile to realize what it was.
The year that Mary Poppins was released, I went to New York City to visit my grandparents. They had a list of wonderful activities planned - - The World's Fair (it's a small world after all), a trip to Rockaway, deep sea fishing (major puking), a trip to Bloomingdales (my first bra), and the world premier of Mary Poppins at Radio City Music Hall. All meant to delight a young girl, and rightfully so - - until something went horribly wrong.
Grandma and Grandpa lived on the sixth floor of an eight story walk up on 52nd and Riverside. They had a tiny two bedroom apartment, and two not so tiny Dalmatians - - an old one, and a puppy named Ali. The morning after I arrived, Grandpa woke me up and we climbed up to the roof where he kept a cage with pigeons. (Later I would learn that pigeons are called "squab" when you eat them for dinner.) Grandpa opened the pigeon cage and a couple of birds flew out - - and Ali flew playfully after them - - over the edge of the roof - - into the blue, blue sky.
I heard my grandfather scream. I heard people on the streets of New York - - eight stories below - - scream. Grandfather was screaming for grandmother. I was on my hands and knees peering over the edge of the roof, looking down to see Ali squished like a cartoon dog hit by an anvil. I heard my grandmother screaming.
I don't really know a lot about what happened then. My grandfather had to run several blocks to get a car. My grandmother was on the street covering the dog with her good quilts. Everyone looked like ants. No one remembered that I was on the roof. I was frozen with fear and stayed there until it was dark and cold, and finally my grandmother came back to get me. The dog was alive, but all his bones had been crushed, and it would take days and days for him to die in a cage at the vet's.
The next afternoon we went to see Mary Poppins. My grandfather, a big, macho, Croatian man, wept quietly during the entire movie. I thought the animated penguins were stupid. I hated the fox and the hand drawn carousel horses. People laughed, and clapped and sang around us. "Let's Go Fly a Kite" was the last song of the movie, and I just kept picturing that beautiful spotted dog flying - - flying - - flying off after the pigeon on a beautiful summer day.
Now it's 50 years later, and I'm bawling my eyes out - - remembering that day - - that trip - - that dog - - half a century ago.
So what's the motto of this story? Only that I was glad I was alone, because it would have been nearly impossible to make somebody understand why I was crying hysterically after seeing a movie about Mary Poppins. I guess the point is, and what "Saving Mr. Banks" was about, is sometimes people are carrying around stories that we don't really understand - - and sometimes they don't understand them either.