Old School Stories
I watch more TV than I should. I’ve always loved stories. Whenever I’ve stayed up too late, when I look at the clock and suddenly realize it’s 1 a.m., it is because of a story that I’m either watching, hearing or reading.
When I was a kid, we used to travel a bit more. On the car trips to visit family — the only reason we’d ever drive more than an hour — my brother and I would listen to books on tape from the library. Our favorites for a long time were the Freddy series, books about the adventures of a very smart talking pig and his friends. Then, as we got older, we listened to the Artemis Fowl series, fantasy novels that would become my favorites for years to come.
Gabe and I both got bright blue, metallic-plastic, over-ear headphones for Christmas one year. They were the definition of early 2000s cheap headphones. Now you can get decent enough headphones for $5. These were the ones you’d want to pick apart, especially being a little kid. Their too-tight earpieces were covered with that thin layer of foam that was so easy to tear through, and the outer part popped off in a very satisfying way. But they were my first headphones, bringer of one of the first freedoms I received as a child — to not have to be a captive audience to the car stereo — so I revered them.
I was raised on old media. My Ma and I, oddly, always had pretty similar taste in books. We both like kind of stupid, quick and enthralling stories, often those aimed at Young Adults. She liked Freddy and Artemis Fowl (at least the first time around) probably as much as my brother and I did. She read the whole Harry Potter series to my brother. When we went to the cabin in Wayne that we rent for a week every summer, we’d always go to the big Barnes & Noble in Augusta on rainy days and buy the newest Harry Potter book. I’d lie awake in the other room, half listening to what she read. I was too young not to be scared at that point, but when I got old enough to read the series, I found the plots too slow and boring.
Ma would read different books to me. We read the whole Little House on the Prairie series, The Penderwicks, Tintin, and books I found in her childhood bedroom: The Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, etc. I’ve always loved more fantastical stories, but I have a special place in my heart for old books. Perhaps it’s the writing style or the picture-perfect relationships in them, the idyllic middle-class lifestyle. Or maybe I just like the pleasant predictability of the old formulaic series.
My Dad, for his part, introduced me to old movies. Musicals have long been my favorite genre. I would give up all other media in a heartbeat for musicals — which is ironic, as I have no rhythm, dancing abilities, or tone. I had a huge crush on Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire all throughout my childhood — in fact, I still have a Top Hat movie poster hanging on my door. I’ve watched all the Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire movies, as well as the Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra movies, more times than I’d care to admit.
Dad also introduced me to old comedies. Katherine Hepburn, in her movies with Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy, was my first real role model. But my first love was the Marx Brothers movies (even though you have to ignore three or four of them). I’d make my family watch one at least once a month, and I can still recite entire scenes from At The Circus.
I can’t explain my penchant for old movies. I absolutely adore the singing and dancing in the musicals, and I do find the comedies quite funny, but that shouldn’t keep me as attached as I am to the classics, especially since I consider myself a rather modern woman. I’m not at all traditionally feminine, nor do I define myself by, or defer to, men. I am not racist and my community is not white-washed in the least. My story does not revolve around a white man, and there is no “black face,” like the scenes I prefer to pretend don’t exist in Jeeves and Wooster or Top Hat. So I don’t know why the old gender and race roles that are present in so many of these movies — especially the objectification and minimizing of women — don’t bother me that much. At least not enough to deter my love for the stories. Perhaps the stories are so deeply embedded in my childhood that I don’t want to let them go. Or maybe the narratives really are that strong, possessing the power of myth. They haven’t damaged me yet, so I might as well keep singing along — way, way off key.