Monday, March 18, 2013

Quiet Men

The year before I went to university at Camrose, and during the first year of classes, I worked as a pre-board screening officer at Edmonton International Airport.  It certainly wasn't for the money, but it was good work in the sense that you could feel you were doing something worthy, and generally with very decent folks.

It did mean weird hours though, I remember the conflicts with Mum and Dad due to the fact that with ten or twelve hour shifts ending at midnight or two in the morning, I wasn't particularly interested in getting out of bed before ten o'clock or noon on most days.

Sometimes I would come home from work, and Dad would still be up, in the basement that housed both my bedroom, his office, and the bar and tv area.  It was here, and probably at this time, that I made some of my best connections with my father over the movies we would watch.  The basement was where he taught me that those different looking westerns with the bad dubbing on the dialogue were in fact a product of Italy, and not Hollywood.  The basement was where we talked about the appeal and challenge of pulling off a 'caper' like the one in They Came to Rob Las Vegas, was well as the fact that such an endeavour was ethically unsound.

It was in the basement that I came across him watching something I couldn't place, and asked him what it was.

"It's a John Wayne movie; a romantic comedy set in Ireland."

My mind reeled.  John Wayne was far and above my father's favourite actor, and had been for years, but swaggering, drawling Duke Wayne in a movie dealing with the culture shock between old world and new, with all the entanglements of a romance picture?  I expressed disbelief, and took a step towards my bedroom.

"You'd probably enjoy this," he said from the recliner.  "It's funny, with good dialogue, and you can learn a bit about Ireland."

I shrugged, went into my room to change out of my work clothes and came out to watch the rest of the film with him.  In it, there is a scene where Barry Fitzgerald, as the beleaguered matchmaker Michaleen O'Flynn, is in pursuit of  a tandem bicycle ridden by John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, when his horse suddenly draws up short, upsetting O'Flynn in his cart.  When he recomposes himself, he discovers that the horse has stopped in front of Cohan's pub.  Reconciling himself to his fate, he says to the horse, "Sometimes I think you have more sense than I do me own self," to which the horse nods emphatically.

So it was with my father; he was absolutely right.  I did enjoy The Quiet Man, and grew to adore it.  I've made most of my friends watch it, and almost all of them have enjoyed it as well, despite their familiar skepticism.  My family have watched it multiple times, and tonight I got to show it to James and Glen, neither of whom had seen it.

Sure, much of this John Ford film is a caricature of Ireland, but it's a caricature by an Irishman who has a clear affection for his homeland.  Just as his cavalry films weren't intended to be a documentary of the settling of the American West, The Quiet Man using Ireland as a backdrop to show a man coming to grips with not only a strange culture, but his own appreciation of what is actually important.

I doubt I would have paid any mind to it at the time, but my father's approval of the 'quiet, peace-lovin' man', and his desire for peace echoed a lot of his own struggles with local politics, and his sincere belief that great things can be accomplished when less attention is given to gets credit for them.  Despite some gender elements that have not preserved well since 1952 (i.e. "Here's a fine stick to beat the lovely lady,"), a movie that ends with enemies becoming friends, Catholics cheering for a Protestant vicar, and the possibility of a romance blooming between Squire Dannaher and the Widow Tallan has a lot to offer in terms of what a successful resolution of differences might look like, if we have a little luck and a lot of help from our friends.

For father's day a few years ago, we had Mum and Dad over for dinner, and afterwards, got him to make the significant effort to come downstairs so he could watch True Grit, and enjoy an ice cream sundae with his granddaughters in attendance.  Just thinking about the joy on his face from those simple pleasures is enough to bring tears to my eyes, knowing it can't be revisited.  True Grit remains Poppy's movie to the girls though, for which I am grateful.

My father was a long ways from perfect (but was probably closer than I will ever be!), and the same can be said about my relationship with him, but the movies and stories we enjoyed gave us a means of exploring the commonalities between us, and the values we shared.

When I watch films with Fenya and Glory, I think a lot about those late night movies with Dad.  Watching Aliens with Glory two nights ago, as she curled up under my arm, a Nerf gun in her hands ready to fend off the scary monsters (and treacherous human), I though about seeing Jaws with my father in the Gaiety theatre in Leduc, ready to pull the popcorn bucket over my head if things got too intense.

But they never did, probably because he was always there, to make me feel safe, and explain things in way I could understand, and to make me feel better.

He's gone now, and I miss him a frightful amount, especially on St. Paddy's Day, when he most enjoyed playing the part of a patriarch of the Auld Sod, but at least I can tend his memory, and bear him in mind as I interact with the friends and family I love.  With a little luck, and a lot of help, maybe I can grow into a peace-loving and Quiet Man me own self.

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