The year was 1985, which, by the way, I contend is one of the best years of the 1980s as far as movies are concerned (likely the subject of a later post). I was heading into public school for the first time, entering fifth grade. Prior to my mingling with the heathens and sociopaths I expected to find in the public school system, I had spent the previous four years being indoctrinated into a private Christian school system, which was really about 20 kids under the same roof, all homeschooling together at the same time and place.
If I were to say something good about my time in this system, it would be that it taught me the value of initiative and independence, because if I wanted to learn something, I had to seek it out myself. That quality alone has served me well throughout my life, and it is a quality I strive to instill in my kids as well.
Anyway, I was petrified at the thought of having to leave behind the safety of my self-paced, independent education and enter a school system populated by non-believers and Satan-worshipers who involved themselves in weekly ritual sacrifice. This was the mindset instilled in me by my somewhat overzealous parents and siblings, one of whom had already been in the public school system for the prior year and who I assume was taking great pleasure in trolling me by inciting such terror. That sibling, the older of my two sisters, even went so far as to suggest that I walk different routes home from school each day (we lived about 2 miles away), in case bullies decided to follow me and beat me up in a back alley along the way. Thanks, sis.
I was pleasantly surprised within my first week to discover that my peers were not anywhere near as bad as they had been made out to be; in fact, I found myself taking a greater liking to them than ANY of my previous peers. I may have liked them even more than my family at the time. As they wooed me over to the world of sin, I was slowly being accepted into the fold and made several friends without having to share all that much of my personal information with them, which was good for me, considering that, other than my movie and comic book habits, I had lived a fairly sheltered life up to that point. Things were going swimmingly, and I almost seamlessly meshed with my new peers like a chameleon among new foliage.
When Mrs. Ruff, my fifth-grade teacher, announced a writing assignment, where we had to write a fiction story and share it with the class, I felt an unfamiliar spark. Here was an adult who was asking me to share my creative and original ideas with not only her, but the rest of my peers, and that was a foreign concept to me, having always worked alone and independently on schoolwork. To me, this assignment was less like homework and more of a challenge. I set out to write the next great American classic, and when I shared it with my class, it would have been like the reception Ralphie got from his teacher when he wrote the theme about his beloved official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.
It didn’t take me long to craft my story. Having been a superfan of some of the greatest cheesy horror movies the mid-80s could produce (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Sleepaway Camp, etc.), I decided that I would write a gory, horror-inspired short story called, “The Midnight Meat Market.” This was a campy tale about a 10-year-old who accidentally gets locked in a supermarket after closing time, only to discover that the meat section came to life once the store closed. In my sloppy fifth-grader handwriting, I penned a four-page document that I was sure would thrill all who listened.
The day came when everyone was slated to read their stories, and I was slated to be last. Though I hated having to sit there and let my nerves build, I appreciated knowing that, if my story was the hit I thought it would be, that I would anchor the program. Pretty soon, I noticed that my nerves did not so much resemble terror or anxiety, but the thrill of anticipation. When I stood to read my work as a newly inducted heathen among my fellow sinners, my story was met with cheers and laughter. Even Mrs. Ruff was entertained, despite the somewhat bloody nature of my tale.
Then, the unexpected happened. One of the students lamented the cliffhanger at the end (like all great 80s horror flicks, mine left room for a sequel), and begged for resolution. Other students chimed in, and before I knew it, even Mrs. Ruff’s curiosity was aroused. They wanted more. This story marked the beginning of a 7-week series, where each week, I would deliver the next installment in the Midnight Meat Market franchise. Suddenly, I realized I had a knack for writing, but even more than that, I loved the thrill of sharing that with others.
In recognizing the source of my inspiration (a flowering movie and library book addiction), I nurtured my habit. Every month, I would take one of my mom’s Avon boxes to the library and load up on books for the month. I studied subjects like the paranormal, aliens, historical weaponry, archaeology, fantasy, and botany. Yes, I said botany. Don’t judge. Every week, I would go to the 99-cent video rental store and load up on at least 3-5 movies for the weekend. Believe me when I state that I watched nearly every movie in the horror genre (minus silent films) up through about 1989, but I also picked up every Chuck Norris, John Carpenter, Sylvester Stallone, and John Hughes flick, along with every movie in which Tom Savini did makeup and effects. Luckily, the lady at the counter eventually got to know me, which is how I managed to score so many R-rated videos as a preteen.
Fast forward to today, where I am a 40-something husband, father of four, and communication professor in the Pacific Northwest, who still has a love for movies, books, and all-around great storytelling. In my household, we have had weekly family movie nights, where we all sit around and spend time soaking in a great story, but we also have a sacred weekly tradition called “Daddy-Kid Movie Night,” which is held each and every Friday without fail. Granted, it’s usually my youngest son and I, since he seems to have inherited my love for movies, while my daughter doesn’t care for them as much.
She says movies are too long to have to sit through. Seriously, WTF? I blame my wife and her lack of patience/short attention span.
Anyway, every Friday, we load up on snacks, which must always include popcorn (that’s a cardinal rule), and we choose 2-3 movies to watch together after bringing my son’s mattress out to the living room and setting up the space like a giant, stuffed animal infested bed. We don’t merely watch – it becomes an exercise in trash talk, cuddling, and critique – and it culminates in falling asleep together after making memories for yet another week.
With all this background in film appreciation, one might be tempted to think that I have developed an eye for critique and rhetorical analysis, but one would be wrong. I simply love movies and stories. Perhaps it’s my Choctaw roots, since they were based in the oral tradition for tens of thousands of years prior to colonization, or perhaps it’s simply because I appreciate the ride and don’t want to ruin the experience by thinking about it too much. After all, thinking is what I do for a living.
Either way, all these movies have turned me into a walking movie quote machine. My brain is a bit like IMDB (if you don’t know this resource, you need it – this is my second most-used app of all time), and if I’m in a conversation or writing something, it is only a matter of time before something will jar loose a memory of a movie or a connection, resulting in an obscure quote being sewn into the conversation.
Nearly 1400 words later, and there you have it, folks: more than you probably ever cared to know, but it’s my origin story. I love movies, and more than that, I love the way movies help make sense out of life’s experiences. I love all the memories I’ve created by spending time with my family.
To function well in society, my kids needed a movie education. They needed a movie-cation. And I gave it to them.