‘Tis The Season for Warm Fuzzies! …and a couple of Capra Classics.

Tis the season for family, friends, and lots of warm fuzzies. But like almost everyone else I know, I haven’t been feeling very warm or fuzzy lately. So, when the warm glow of the season starts to sputter and dim, I do what any self respecting sentimental cinephile does. I turn to classic Hollywood.

When it comes to classic Hollywood, no one did warm and fuzzy quite like Frank Capra.

Ask anyone for a list of their favorite holiday movies and somewhere on the list you’ll probably find Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life, It’s a Wonderful Life is the 1946 Frank Capra classic, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, and a cast of Hollywood mainstays. It’s explained by IMDB as “An angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman, George Bailey (Stewart), by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

While watching ‘Wonderful Life’ for the umteen-hundredth time the other night, I couldn’t help a despairing feeling that bank CEOs apparently haven’t changed since 1946. Lionel Barrymore’s Mr Potter could very well be the CEO of Citi Group or Goldman Sachs.

‘Wonderful Life’ is an excellent movie with a superb cast but I always feel a little sad for George Bailey. He dreams of someday seeing the world but spends his entire life being the responsible citizen, putting the needs and wants of others ahead of himself. Indeed, if uncle Billy hadn’t been so careless George might not have considered such desperate measures. The extreme nature of George’s crisis is probably what makes the ending so effective. It’s why we root for George Bailey. He’s our ‘everyman’ who fights the system and wins.

george-bailey


Trivia: Thomas Mitchell (Wonderful Life’s Uncle Billy) plays Judge Henry Blake in Pocketful of Miracles


On the other end of the spectrum is Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961) which, in my humble opinion, because of it’s bright view of the world and almost absurd optimism, is a better representation of the spirit of the season.

In Miracles, gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) and his girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange) try to turn pan handler Apple Annie (Bette Davis) into a society dame when they learn that Annie’s daughter (Ann-Margret) is coming to visit from Spain with her fiance, a royal. The storyline is convoluted and far-fetched but it hits all the right bells and whistles.

What appeals to me about Pocketful of Miracles is it’s charm. Unlike the seriousness of It’s a Wonderful Life, Pocketful of Miracles is utter nonsense. It’s how we wish the real world worked. It’s a sickeningly sweet saccharine saga full of hope and improbable expectations and I love every single minute of it!

large_pocketful_of_miracles_02_blu-ray_So, whether you’re a George Bailey or an Apple Annie, I want to wish everyone a Happy and Joyous Holiday!

May 2015 bring Peace, Love, Happiness, and Good Health to all.

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Dad wasn’t perfect, but…

My Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

This August will mark the ten year anniversary of my Father’s passing. He was 62 years old.

My Dad struggled to make a comfortable home for us. Along the way, teaching me never to be afraid or ashamed of the work you need to do in order to put a roof over your head, or food on the table.

In the 1970s, the economy was much like it is today. Dad was often out of work. On weekends you’d find my Father at flea markets, selling items he found at the curb on trash nights. He knew the Bulk Trash Pick-Up days of all the local municipalities. These were the days when you could put large items out on the curb for trash collection. You’d be surprised what people are willing to throw away. My Father was able to support his family like this for nearly a year. Though he hasn’t picked trash since the 1970s, he continued to buy and sell flea market items to supplement his income until the end of his life.

By the way – There is nothing wrong with picking through trash in order to support your family. The alternative is to resort to crime, or lose your home.

I’m proud of my Father for that. I credit him for my work ethic.

In August 2003, my Father had a heart attack. It was his third. His Doctors moved him from the smaller Delaware County area hospital to a larger Philadelphia area University Hospital in the hopes that access to more resources would help him recover more quickly.

Though cutting edge, the care wasn’t as personable as his local hospital. My Dad was not happy. Against my Stepmother’s wishes, he petitioned his healthcare team to relocate him. Though my Stepmother tried to keep my Father where he was, the Doctors relented. By the end of the week, my Dad was relocated to his local hospital.

I talked to my Dad on the phone that Saturday afternoon. He was concerned that I might be mad at him for choosing to return to the smaller hospital. I told him I wasn’t angry with him. I believed that he would receive better care at the larger University Hospital, but he is entitled to have his wishes met.

“You’re my Father”, I said. “I Love you.”

“I love you too”, he replied, and hung up the phone.

I didn’t give it much thought. But when the phone rang at 11:00pm, I knew. For some reason I just knew what I was about to hear. It was my Stepmother. My Father had just died.

After hanging up the phone, I got dressed and left my apartment. I didn’t want to be alone. The obvious place for me to go was a local watering hole that had been an important part of my life for almost two decades. I didn’t go there to socialize, or get drunk. I just wanted to be surrounded by people.

Through several interactions with people who knew my Dad was in the hospital, I processed this new information.

One acquaintance, who knew my Dad from the flea market circuit, revealed several stories told to him by my Father. Apparently, my Dad held me in high regard. He bragged to everyone he knew about every accomplishment in my life, no matter how small. The stories contained such details that I knew he wasn’t just telling me what I needed to hear.

My Dad was proud of me. I had never heard him say it. Just like, until that day, I had never heard my Father say I Love You. It was the first time I remember hearing my Father say I Love You to me. I was 38 years old, and I had never heard those words.

I spent the next few weeks in a fog. On one hand, I was sad. On the other hand, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You”. How was I supposed to process this?

I believe my Dad knew he was going to die. I believe he wanted to die close to home. I also believe his last words to me were intentional.

Whether true or not, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You.” Nothing can ever change that. And I will hold onto that for the rest of my life.

After all, my Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

FranksDadDennisGrandmotherAnnaHerBrotherDannyBW

My Dad smiling affectionately at my Grandmother (his Mother) during a family gathering.
My Grandmother never sat down. In this photo, she was probably setting out dessert and pouring coffee after one of her many delicious Sunday meals.
I got my love of cooking from her.
I miss them both.

Note: This post originally appeared on June 2012 at ADignorantium.tumblr it has been updated to reflect the passage of time.

Ode to South Philly

My nice, quiet, elderly, next door neighbor moved out. Her son removed the last of her belongings on the last weekend of March. Her health was such that a warmer climate was necessary. I don’t blame her. If I could afford it, I’d be right behind her.

My landlord had tenants lined up to take her place. Within hours of my neighbor’s son’s departure, a family of fourteen had formed a fire brigade, and was shuffling boxes into the house. Among them was a ten year old boy with enough energy to power a small city for at least a year.

South Philly houses are built virtually on top of one another. They were originally built as housing for factory and ship yard workers. Through the years, scores of immigrants have raised families in these tiny abodes. Families whose existence is witnessed by the many Churches, Synagogues, and Buddhist Temples that seem to be established, like Starbucks, on nearly every corner.

Such close approximation forces interaction and sometimes collision. Forget about privacy. Forget about a quiet, romantic evening watching the stars. (There’s too much ambient light to observe the heavens). You can, of course, journey over to Fairmount Park, Penn’s Landing, or the myriad public squares and local parks.

There’s no such thing as a “Back Yard” in South Philly. Instead you’ll find small, paved-over plots which overlook your neighbors’ small paved-over plots, and a parade of feral cats searching for food and the occasional romantic liaison.

For a change of pace, there’s the front stoop.

Sitting on your front steps, or “Stoop“, is a tradition in most urban areas. South Philly is no different. Where else can you find out the who, what, where, and postulate on the why? Friends are made, marriages arranged, and business conducted on many a front stoop. It’s also the place where you’re most likely to overhear your neighbor’s latest quarrel.

And now, to add to the entertainment, I have the noise of a ten year old ball of energy screaming with excitement as he runs through the empty house next door.

Such is life in a South Philly row home. 🙂