My roommate had never seen "Star Wars" until last night. I sat on the couch warmed outside by fleece and inside by pasta drenched in Velveeta cheese. She giggled over jawas and mocked Skywalker's orange uniform. I smiled with content every time a much younger Harrison Ford than I've never known appeared on screen or a reference to an earlier plot was made. I'm no sci-fi geek but "Star Wars" is comforting ... tradition.
Growing up my dad and I watched a Christmas movie every year on New Year's night after my mom and brothers had gone to bed, still tired from the night before playing Clue and eating the ruffled kind of potato chips. We didn't watch just any Christmas movie, but the grand-daddy of them all, "It's a Wonderful Life." I thought it was scary at first -- the stark black and white frames, the fear and eerie music played hard on childhood perceptions when he wandered lost in a cemetery or screamed into an empty home. But then I grew to love it ... at least parts of it. Now there's not a scene I wouldn't watch over and over again.
When I was seven I identified with the little girl named Mary because she had frizzy hair. Beyond that, I found more similarities, or at least wished I did, with the boy-hero of the story George Bailey. I wanted to travel and do things and see things and I didn't blame him a bit for calling Mary "brainless" when she had no idea where coconuts came from. I wished like crazy there was 1990's version of a corner drug store to work at after school or that I had membership in something official sounding like the National Geographic Society. I was just sure that if my little brother went crashing through the ice and bitter currents were sweeping him downstream that I would be the first to jump in after and pull him to safety.
Years later with braces and cheap lip gloss in the pocket of jeans that just wouldn't hang right, I yearned to be Violet. Winter break was just days from ending and thoughts of returning to school hallways where I wanted to hide in my locker when certain ninth graders walked by and where my stomach dropped just about any time I opened my mouth sent me gratefully into the couch for respite when my dad turned on the VCR. What would it be like to be the girl that can stop traffic with the flip of a few blonde curls or turn heads merely by walking past? I clung to hope that if I couldn't be Violet, maybe just maybe, I would be like Mary and grow out of this horribly awkard phase and be snatched up by the nicest guy in town.
Just a year or two later I flung myself on the couch with some snarky teenage remark to my dad about how old-fashioned this movie was and some "I'm 15 and you're older than 40 and therefore I know more than you do" comment about why it was ridiculous we hadn't bought the movie on DVD yet. I'd gotten over Violet and I'd definitely gotten over being like George. Who wanted to be the guy stuck holding the bag and cheated out of a college education? Who never, ever get on that train? The man perpetually frustrated by what should've, could've, would've been? No. The whole movie made me grateful I wasn't born in 1919 and sure I would be smarter, much smarter, than George Bailey or Mary Hatch ever were. Come hell or high water I really was going to figure out a way to shake the dust of that crummy old town and see the world.
Somewhere in between then and now I learned to love myself, and by extension, the movie. I stopped wishing for more and just loved it for what it was ... an incredibly entertaining piece of cinema.
This year tradition changed a little. I'm not home on Christmas break. I don't dread going back to school because that college education I wanted so bad has been complete for more than two years now. I watch the movie the day after Christmas with my 18-year-old brother while my parents are gone and I wonder if he's trying to find a little of himself in George Bailey. It's with some disappointment I realize I can no longer relate to the children in the movie; that I'm far more interested in the dialogue of their 20-something counterparts this time around. I notice things I never have before. I can't help but put myself in Mary's shoes as she holds up an entire life savings as a sacrifice for the masses on Black Friday. I giggle as the narrator explains that "Mary worked day after day turning the old hotel into a home, having two more babies and still finding time to run the USO." Some day, I think ... that will NOT be me. (If I'm going to be insane enough to try to be Wonder Woman, you better believe I'm hiring someone to wallpaper for me.) I still want to be more like George than Violet. I settle into the couch comfortable, warm outside from a blanket and warm inside from a frozen pizza. Every year I watch this movie, and every year I find one more reason to think that I really do have a wonderful life ... it's tradition.