If you have ever watched a dog eating ice cream you've probably witnessed that final "bridge to human", as if his human master is offering something of his own essence...some measure of ultimate sacrifice. So they value the offering very highly. My dogs probably get a bite or two of ice cream once a month. Yet, each time they react as if you have offered them some manna from heaven. They have their ice cream in two ways; in a bowl, or the remains of a cone proffered by hand by me. When they eat from the bowl their eyes dance and their hearts seemed to be doing some magic little dance as they lick at that small icy orb of pleasure. When I offer the remains of a cone I hand it out and my two chi's gather around the cone, their eyes cross as they focus on the ice cream treat.
And each of the two dogs eat it differently, just as we humans do. My older Chi, Ginger, is a "biter"; she want s plow right into the ice cream, taking a big bite, unafraid of brain freeze or sensitive tooth. The younger, smaller Chi, Rosie, wants to lick the ice cream lightly, savoring each small taste. And because she hesitates she most often gets less than her share of the cone.
Yesterday was Sunday. One of those Sundays where the golf was uninteresting, the baseball games were blowouts, or so boring I couldn't bear to watch. So the day was a hazy, lazy day, the sun flitting in and out of the clouds as we awaited a rain storm due in the evening. So there were naps and trips to the fridge for snacks, and wandering around the house seeking something to attract my attention.
It came in the form of a documentary aired on PBS in the afternoon. The film is called "51 Birch Street", filmed some eight years ago by a fella who normally makes a living doing wedding shoots but decided to honor his recently deceased mother by making a film about her and the family. As in all things in life, the "son, filmmaker" would learn some valuable life lessons, have some preconceptions corrected, learn far more about his mother than he perhaps wanted to know, and was ultimately rewarded by establishing a closer, and more loving relationship with his father.
The "son, filmmaker" becomes almost immediately estranged from his father following his mother's death. His parents had been married for 50 years and he had always assumed that his parents were relatively happy. Yet, only weeks after his mother passed his father flew down to Florida and began co-habitating with a work secretary whom he had not seen in 22 years!
The almost immediate assumption is that the father had once had an affair with his long departed secretary and prompted the family to think about how many more affairs he had during the long marriage. What we learn over the course of the film is that the father was long suffering, loyal, had not had an affair, but had existed in a loveless and thankless marriage for half a century...and it was the mother who had the extra-marital affair and spent fifty years telling her spouse how little he pleased her.
Throughout the film we are blessed with many home movies which give us some insight into the truths of the story, the nature of the mother, and quiet and patient and sad acceptance of a marriage that never should have been. Finally, toward the end, the children discover thousands of pages of diary that documents her own affair, her fifty year angst in a marriage unsuitable to her and an aching for "grandness" and fulfillment that is rarely possible in anyone's world.
This personal tale is told so gently, with the ironies offered so subtly that they come flooding back to you long after the film is over. And, as we learn of the depth of desperation that might drive a man to another woman whom he is long estranged from, rushing to re-join her only weeks after the death of his 50 year spouse, we learn that a moment of platonic, yet tender friendship was his only "port in the storm"...the only life citation that might have indicated to him that happiness, and love, are entirely possible.
A few interesting notes about the film. "51 Birch Street" is available for viewing on the Internet. It won several documentary awards when it was released several years ago. And, in a follow up interview, "son, filmmaker" cites the fruits of making the film was his re-newed admiration and intimate love for a father whom he had sought to make "villain", only to learn that life is not black and white, and things are not always as they seemed to be. And he achieved that reality without thinking less of his mother. "Son, filmmaker" commented that his father and new found love often accompanied him to film showings. In nearly every instance the audience would pursue the father through the lobbies and out into the streets, so enamored were they over a man who had learned to accept so much and receive so little for such a tragically long time. And perhaps they reveled in the idea that fairy tale endings are possible even after a drought of 50 years.
If you're the type that forgoes cinema car crashes and robots and flatulence humor, and are patient enough to allow a story to unfold at it's own pace, you would be greatly enriched by seeing "51 Birch Street".