It’s fair to say that most people don’t see Sex and the City as being a particularly spiritual show. When I think back on the show all these years later, though, one episode comes to mind and still has the power to move me. It’s an episode that touches on themes that often find their way into my thoughts and my writing: memory, the past, and parents and children.
If you saw the episode, you probably remember it, too: Carrie Bradshaw and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Mr. Big are standing in his empty apartment. He’s about to move from NYC to Napa, California, and one of the only things left unpacked is an old record player and stack of albums. He puts a record on the turntable — the music of Henry Mancini — and “Moon River,” sung by Andy Williams, fills the apartment.
Carrie dismisses the song as corny, but Big insists otherwise. He tells her that he remembers his parents listening to that very album, getting dressed up to go out dancing for the evening. “It was the sixties,” he says with nostalgic admiration, “and my parents had the moves.” He and Carrie start dancing together, and — corny as the saying is — it’s a pretty magical moment.
When Andy Williams died last year, I found myself remembering this episode. I thought of my own parents, too. They were (and are) fans of his, which was evident from the record albums in their collection. Every Christmas, we brought out his holiday album, and his mellow voice singing “Some Children See Him” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s” was as much a part of the season for me as Santa and the Grinch.
The green album had been bought long before my birth; I used to marvel at the price sticker still on the record cover, so much less than I spent on my own albums. Sometimes in the eighties, my parents went to a concert of his at the long-gone Circle Star Theatre (remember that, Bay Area natives?). I remember them coming back afterwards, raving about it.
My mom, in her twenties, had even seen Andy Williams in person, at a golf tournament in Pebble Beach. “He was much shorter than I expected him to be,” said my tall mother. I didn’t hear that story until recently, and it got my mind spinning: imagining my mom, with a sixties bouffant hairdo and a sheath dress, seeing this famous man in a crowd and savoring the experience so she could share it with friends and family — and, many years later, with her thirty-something daughter.
It’s fair to say that for me, Andy Williams is the past personified. It’s not just the past of those childhood Christmases, but something bigger. It’s the past I never knew, a time when my parents were single and newly-married, a time I know only from photographs and bits of stories.
This must be one of the defining moments of adulthood: that dawning realization that your parents were not always your parents. Your parents were not always the middle-aged, stable, prosaic people who pay the bills and ask if you’ve done your physics homework yet. They had lives before you came along, lives that involved hopes and interests and goals and yes, romances, and all the things that you, as a teen or twenty-something, think are unique to you.
They were interesting people, people you might have liked to know. You would be surprised by them, perhaps.
Recently, my mom and I got to talking about the Kennedy assassination and about the sixties in general. My mom graduated from high school in 1960, but she talked about feeling as though she had graduated from high school in the fifties and from college in the sixties. The changes in society in those four years were so, so great, she said, including the dawning women’s rights movement, which was just starting to make itself felt on her college campus. It was fascinating, that conversation. It was like taking a time period I’d studied in school and situating my own family in it, realizing anew that my mom was once a young woman who was navigating her own way through these disorienting social changes.
What will my own boys think about me, someday? When will they shift from seeing me as Mom and only Mom into realizing that I’m also Ginny, that I once lived abroad, traveled by myself, had exciting adventures and went through all the usual phases of discovery and heartbreak and just plain living, all of which somehow turned me into the woman who drives them to school and helps them with their homework?
I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe they’ll be like me, and it’ll happen for the first time somewhere in their twenties. Maybe it’ll just keep happening more and more, as time passes and the awareness of that fact makes adult kids ask more direct questions, wanting to have a fuller picture of who their parents were before they were their parents.
There are some things we’ll never learn, of course. There are probably some things about our parents’ past that we don’t particularly need to know, or want to know. But I know enough to imagine my twenty-something parents, way back when, long before my sister and I came along. I picture my dad in a dark suit and slim tie and my mom with her bouffant hairdo and sheath dress, there in a sixties-era apartment with a record player. I like to picture them singing along to Andy Williams and dancing toward the threshold of the future, as we all do.