When you add niobe’s desire for stories of my childhood to the others, this is the category that was most requested. I made the decision to start there last night, but with so many good tales to choose from, I couldn’t figure out where to start. Then this morning my sister Danielle stopped in before going to work, kidnapped my laptop, and blasted the Purple Rain soundtrack from one of her online playlists. Eureka – I have found it.
In 1985, my Aunt Charlotte (my stepfather’s sister) lived with us. Our at-home family at the time consisted of Mom, Charlotte, my sister Chanel (age 3), and myself (age 7). Charlotte is my favorite aunt. She never got married and doesn’t have children (by choice, not circumstance), so she spoiled us as if we were her kids and in many ways, was and still is like a fun-loving kid herself. My stepfather was stationed in Germany and Danielle’s unexpected conception was still one year away. We lived in Fort Lyon, Colorado, which at the time was barely a blip on the map. Stepping out of our front door, the town literally consisted of this: to the back and across a large, grassy park area was a huge VA hospital for mentally disturbed, but non-violent veterans (at which Mom was a police chief – they were also the town police officers), to the right was the rinky-dink fire station, immediately across the street was the community pool, and down the street to the left was community gym/recreation center. Further behind the VA there was a large, military cemetery dating back to 1907. There were about 50 or so houses, and maybe half of those were occupied by families. Period, end of discussion. There wasn’t even a single streetlight. The nearest city was Las Animas, which was another blip on the map about ten minutes away, but at least they had a McDonalds. According to Wiki, the hospital closed in 2001 and it’s now a minimum security prison. Nice.
Given the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere in the buttcrack of Colorado, it might seem like this was a very boring, dull existence. However, this was actually one of the best years of my life and probably my favorite of the many different places that we lived. All we had was each other, so our little town was the embodiment of the concept of community. It was a time and place that in my memory shows like a gallery of Norman Rockwell paintings. The kids were always welcome to hang out with two or three firemen who were on duty at the station. I remember making peanut butter cookies with Mom to take down to the guys, and in exchange we were allowed to play in the two firetrucks. In the summer, the entire town was at the pool. In the fall and winter, we congregated at the gym. The adults developed makeshift volleyball teams and played game after game while the kids ran around screaming like banshees and playing hide and seek. Nothing was ever organized or planned. They simply were. Around 6:30, everyone would begin flocking to the gym and after a couple of hours, we’d flock our ways back home. No need for cars – everything was in easy walking distance.
Fort Lyon holds some of my favorite winter memories. This was as close to a traditional, postcard Christmas as I’ve ever been. It was magical. One night after the volleyball games, we had a community-wide snowball fight. I think Charlotte was actually the one who started it when she whacked Mom with a ball, then turned and whacked someone else. In the week before Christmas, a group of us went door-to-door caroling, and afterwards, everyone congregated at someone’s house for a semi-impromptu Christmas party. Everyone brought food and we laughed the night away. One of our favorite family stories is the Tale of the Travelling Cheeseball. Each night, all of the food was eaten – except for this huge cheeseball, which only had one small slice taken from it.No one ever owned up to who brought the cheeseball on the first night, and by the third night, the mystery bringer of cheese was the butt of many jokes. Through the next week, the Cheeseball became like the patron saint of the Ft. Lyon Christmas parties, as it travelled from house to house and was used as the centerpiece of all the other foods. Now in our inner family jargon, a “cheeseball” is any situation in which no one accepts blame or responsibility. As in, “Who left this tiny drop of Kool-Aid in the pitcher and put it back in the fridge instead of just drinking it? No one? Oh, I guess it’s just a cheeseball, then.”
“So, what’s all that have to do with Purple Rain?,” you might be wondering. Fort Lyon had few external forms of entertainment, so we had to find ways of entertaining ourselves. Somehow, Mom, Charlotte, Chanel, and I developed a Saturday morning routine of having my aunt’s famous apple cider syrup pancakes for breakfast, followed immediately by our pajama’ed renditions of Streets of Fire and Purple Rain. We had these musical movies recorded back-to-back on a VHS cassette. With hairbrushes as microphones and tennis raquets for guitars, we sang and danced our ways through the movies every Saturday.
Everyone knows the Paisley Park, high-heeled, and ruffle-shirted Prince and his early ’80’s blockbuster, but allow me a moment to give a brief synopsis of the lesser-known Streets of Fire: setting – somewhere in the grungy, future where music is everything and laws mean almost nothing. Girl is a big rock star. Badboy ex-boyfriend and his biker gang kidnaps her right off the stage. Badass, but goodboy other ex-boyfriend comes to the rescue with his newly assembled music-based gang. Goodboy ex-boyfriend and rock star rekindle their love. Badboy and goodboy have a big showdown. Goodboy wins, because music and love conquer all! Girl rocks out on stage. The end. To say it like that, it sounds as cheesy as the Cheeseball of great Fort Lyon fame. The trailer:
(I’m only now realizing that Rock Star was played by the talented Diane Lane. I wonder if she looks back and cringes when she watches herself in this movie, in much the same way that you look back at your old high school yearbook photos and wonder why you ever thought those Aquanetted, feathered, six inch high bangs were a good idea.)
And who could ever, EVER forget Purple Rain? I know this movie inside and out. My favorite line is, “God got Wendy’s periods reversed. Every 28 days she starts acting nice. Lasts about a weekend.” No doubt due to copyright, there were no YouTube clips of the musical numbers, but I did find this clip of one of my favorite scenes from the movie:
I still know every line, every lyric, every guitar lick, every piano grace note, every ear-piercing squawk, every step of choreography, every floor hump, and every shuffle-footed crotch rub of the movie. Every once in a while, usually around Christmas, you can still catch us in our pj’s, screeching with Prince and waiting for pancakes.
What are some movies that remind you of your childhood or your favorite musical movies? Or, tell me about where you lived as a child.