Everyone loves classic westerns and there’s no better place to see them than on the silver screen. But one man’s trip to the theatre for a screening of True Grit was much more than going to the movies.
RECENTLY, FATHOM EVENTS, Paramount Pictures, and Turner Classic Movies, sponsored a Fiftieth Anniversary showing of the John Wayne film, True Grit, in movie theaters around the country. Naturally, I was drawn to the film, since it was something I first saw upon its release, when I was only ten-years old. Not only was this a chance to once again see John Wayne, a larger-than-life, Hollywood icon, back on the big screen, this film was also a chance to briefly relive my childhood, to become a young boy once again.
Even my wife didn’t fully understand why I was so driven to see this picture, something she knew I had already watched on television dozens of times. However, I already knew this airing of the film would be different for me, in a way I couldn’t adequately explain. It was only later, after returning from the theater that evening, that I was able to fully articulate to her my many reasons for purchasing a ticket and driving twenty-five miles to the theater.
My blessed mother passed away, much too early in 2003, only about five years older than I am right now. She was a very old, sixty-five, eaten away by diabetes, a bad ticker, poor circulation, faulty eyesight, and weak kidneys. My father was taken from us only last November, killed in a farm accident, a young man of only eighty-one. I still miss the two of them greatly and Dad’s loss is still pretty raw in my heart.
As I entered the auditorium and chose a seat, I sat there by myself in the darkened theater. But as I sipped my Coke and munched on my popcorn, I was certainly not alone. As the film’s opening credits rolled and Glen Campbell began to sing the first strains of the title score, I was immediately transported back to 1969. Dad and Mom were there with me, along with my two brothers and sister. We were all together in their old, station wagon, with the back seat dropped down to make more room. It was a warm, summer, Saturday night at the Jungle Drive-In, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. And if I looked really hard into the darkness, I could still see my dear parents there, sitting alongside me.
It brought back a flood of memories and I happily relived every one of them.
Mom always brought pillows, along with blankets or sleeping bags for us, because we normally crashed out soon after the end of the opening feature. And, yes, kids, they actually showed you two films, for one price, at the local drive-ins, back in those early days of yesteryear. After their children drifted off to sleep, there is no doubt Dad and Mom enjoyed the second feature, the solitude they rarely experienced at home, and the albeit brief moments of rest from their tiresome labors on the farm. The next morning, the four of us children awoke to a bright, new day, safely tucked away in our own beds at home, after Dad had carried us all up to our rooms the night before.
For those two wonderful hours, this aging grandfather was able to fleetingly become a boy again, to reenter a time when the world was much easier to understand, and life generally held no great concerns. It was also a chance for me to follow the Ten Com- mandments’ teaching, to honor my father and mother. And that is what I did.
For two hours, I wasn’t simply watching a nostalgic Western. It was more, much more. I was also honoring my late parents, their precious memory, and the teachings they instilled in me.
I treasured every moment.
Soon after Mattie Ross finally earned justice for her father’s murder, and Rooster Cogburn’s new horse jumped the four-rail fence, the closing credits began to roll and I was instantly ushered back to reality. Immediately, I became a grandfather again. The concerns of this world were once again mine to confront. Dad and Mom were still gone from my life and I was still a somewhat elderly orphan.
But as I walked out of the cinema, heading to my pickup truck, all was not lost. John Wayne’s films survive. Robert Duvall, Lucky Ned Pepper, still lives.
The Western isn’t dead.
And cowboys still ride among us.
These mythical figures of a bygone era come to life every time I put their stories on paper. Perhaps that is the legacy my parents left me, fifty years ago, bringing the Old West to the heart and mind of a young, impressionable child, a boy who would eventually grow up and become an author.
My parents taught me, like young Mattie Ross, that, even when they’re dead, I was to always see a task through until the end, not to let anything stop me, and perhaps most of all, to be willing to ride alone. “True Grit,” you say? True grit, indeed.feet