The Role of the Secretary Will Be Played By . . .

I was having a Facebookonversation with a fellow Hubbardite and we were talking about a family we both know well. He suggested that if a movie were made of this family, Bea Arthur could play the mom. That was spot on, as the Brits say. I immediately cast the rest of the movie: The Dad - Scott Glenn of Backdraft fame, slightly craggy with expressive eyebrows and a voice like the guy on the beef commercials. The Son - John Schneider with wire-frames. The Daughters - Sandra Bullock, the blond funny girl from Scrubs, and Drew Barrymore. The Dog - played by herself, or, if she’s not still alive, any small black dog from the pound.

Have you ever cast yourself in a movie? I have, many times. The fact that I’ve gone from Connie Frances to Sharon Tate to Twiggy to Ann-Margret to Estelle Getty tells you how long I’ve been planning the movie version of my life.

I get this from my family. When I told my sister Kathy I was thinking about writing a book, the first words out of her mouth were, “Oooh! If they make a movie out of it, can I be played by Gwyneth Paltrow? . . . [Short pause.] . . . Oh, okay, fine. I’ll be Kathy Bates.”

My sisters and I have cast other great movies, too. Some stories just need to be on the big screen, even if that screen is only inside a couple of Laney heads. Here’s one we cast a couple of years ago:

My mother-in-law’s friend’s aunt who lives in Seattle was about 100-years-old when she told her niece the story of how she met her husband, a doctor. She was the doctor’s secretary and got to be friends with him and his wife. They often did things together on weekends, including taking boat rides on a huge lake. I don’t know if there even is a big lake in Washington State. I think it was a rowboat. At least that’s how it’s going to be in my movie. A rowboat; a young doctor played by Aiden Quinn, with a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, suspenders; the wife, a little bit frumpy without makeup, played by Frances McDormand; and a pretty secretary, played by Charlize Theron, wearing a hat and a flapper-like, chiffon dress. The wife is wearing a hat, too, but on her it just looks dowdy. The doctor is rowing, of course.

According to the aunt/Charlize/pretty secretary, one Sunday they rowed out to an island on the lake and when they rowed back, the wife wasn’t with them. Like many 100-year-old people who were around in the ‘20s and ‘30s, she was very matter-of-fact, unapologetic and not very forthcoming about the reason. The wife didn’t come back from the rowboat trip, so the doctor and I got married. End of story, who wants another cup of tea?

“They killed her!” my oldest son blurted out, when he heard this story.

“Well, maybe they didn’t kill her,” I said. “Maybe she accidentally drowned or just got lost, or didn’t make it back to the boat by the time the doctor said everyone had to be back or he’d leave.”

I could just hear him: “You go off and look for rocks on the other side of the island, and Charlize Theron and I will be behind these trees in this secluded wooded area with a great view. But be back by 4 o’clock or I swear we’re leaving without you. This boat is pulling out at 4 - ass in seat - and I’m not kidding.”

If that’s true, that’s almost more cruel than if they had knocked her silly with an oar and drowned her. Who knows what would happen if she was abandoned on an island for any length of time? How many people got rowboats and went out there? How could she get help? She’d be like Tom Hanks in Castaway, pulling her own teeth and chatting up a volleyball.

OK, I just looked at a map of Seattle and there is water everywhere! And islands out of wazoo. There are lakes and bays and sounds and inland waterways in every direction. Most of the islands are pretty big, though. Maybe Frances McDormand found civilization and started a new life there, working with lepers or retarded children or Canadian immigrants. (In this part of the movie, Billy Bob Thornton and John Lithgow play somebody.)

I’m not really sure any of this actually happened. For all I know, Aiden Quinn just divorced Frances McDormand in a regular 1930s divorce proceeding, which, while rare, did happen. You didn’t have to croak your wife just to marry your secretary, even in those more dramatic times.

But something about it rings true. Maybe because old people have a tendency to look at their sordid pasts with cloudy, glaucoma-gunky eyes and they start admitting to having done things and they just don’t care what you think about it. Babies born out of wedlock . . . murders . . . missing spouses . . . My aunt told us that she and my mom used to go to the train station in Pittsburgh and kiss guys who were leaving for the war. Just like a thing to do on a Friday night. That doesn’t compare to holding your wife’s head under water in Puget Sound, but if we make a movie of my mom’s life, it’s going to have to be augmented with quite a bit more drama. And I get to be played by Diane Lane.

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