Emotion clamped me to my seat. I’d turned on the television to look at the news. Before I could change the channel, I noticed that the movie on the channel was an animated film my daughter used to watch. It transported me to a time of life when things weren’t so rosy, when everything was a struggle.
The Land Before Time IV: Journey through the Mists is not as simple as it looks or sounds. The cartoony images and faux voices (of some very famous actors) disguise the movie as a children’s escapade. But the themes of loyalty, family, struggle, death, and heartache could provide the material for an R-rated movie. The movie also explored personal risk, danger, and friendship. The first Land Before Time movie struck me as an adult’s movie posing as a kid’s show. Over time, the quality of animation deteriorated, but the movies—until at least the sixth of fourteen—hung on the story sophistication established by that first film.
As I sat there this morning, I could not turn away from the film. The notion of watching Trump-fueled news media didn’t appeal to me after a few minutes. I began to think of my daughter Sydney between the ages of three and nine watching the movies hundreds of time. (She’s 27 now and will be 28 soon enough.) For some reason, the fourth movie—which came out when she was five—gripped her and was the one she watched the most.
Life was less than kind to us those days. From the beginning, it was just me and her. Her and I mom shared the raising-a-child responsibilities. I was frighteningly insecure. I was uncertain about my own future and perplexed as to where this little girl fit into the scheme of things. The lack of money and the vagaries of fatherhood haunted me. I was so afraid that I was going to screw this kid’s life up.
When she stayed at my house, we had to do all sorts of things to keep ourselves busy. My job was precarious. I was broke or nearly so all the time, no matter how hard I worked and how sharply I managed money. After child support, rent, and utilities there was little left over for things like amusement parks, movies, or kid-oriented live shows—puppets, plays, and so on.
So, we did what my imagination could to keep us busy. We took long walks, used public playgrounds, went to the museums. We made puppets from socks and acted out various scenarios. For part of the time, I lived across the street from Gillham Park, that gem that spreads from 39th to 46th streets. I pushed her on swings, went to the wading pool, and let her run as much as she wanted. In winter, I bought a thrift-store sledding disk. I took her to the hill on the Kenwood side of the park near 40th street and sent her whirling down the steep hill.
If we stayed at home, we used bits of the table centers I brought home from the hotel, where I worked I the banquet department—plastic baubles, marbles, glass beads—to make up games. We made a checker board out of the bottom of a cardboard box. One Christmas, we clad my roommate’s antique surveyor’s tripod in aluminum foil and draped cheap lights around it. We taped ornaments we made from construction paper, crayons and pens, and tape to the tree.
When we moved to 2604 Madison, my finances had become easier, but now with a house to pay for, I was still mostly strapped. We kept at our walks and used Penn Valley Park for her recreation. We often packed a lunch and walked over toward the center of the park on the east side of Broadway to use the playground there. I took her fishing at Fisherman’s Pond, where she caught her first bluegill.
The new neighborhood had kids Syd’s age. We did play dates and let the kids play on the porch and in the front yard. Sometimes, the other children’s parents would have Syd over for the day. She sometimes went with them to the park and, once in a while, went out to eat with them—something we could not afford on our own.
Fortunately, I had a VCR I bought from a pawn shop several years before when I was living in Laramie. She received gifts of movies and I remember most the Robin Williams, Kathy Najimy, Matt Frewer film, In Search of Doctor Seuss. We also had several of the Land Before Time movies I picked up from the thrift store. The movies wore on my after about the third time I saw them with her. But with Syd ensconced in front of them with a bowl of popcorn and Kool-Aid, they gave me the opportunity for time to myself. Whenever it came to naptime on a Saturday afternoon, I was able to put on one of the movies and go in to close my eyes.
Thank goodness. On weekends, I was usually beat up from a week of working overtime at the hotel. Those moments when the movies entertained Syd gave me precious time to recover some before an afternoon of play or long walks through the park and the neighborhoods and on to the Plaza. Or, when we moved to Madison Street, the walk to Union Station, which had not been renovated yet, and into downtown.
As I sat there this morning watching Land Before Time IV, I tried to envision what was going through my kid’s mind. Was it the animation and color, the dangerous situations Little Foot found himself in, or was it the story overall? I imagine that when she was very little, it was the animation. As she grew older, she began to grasp the story and character development.
Whatever it was, I found myself crying, thinking of how much time has escaped me. The movie made me think of her at the age of five. It wasn’t a nice time for her. She lived between two houses. She endured day care, entrance into kindergarten, and then the first grade. I remembered how uncertain I was and how much I stumbled at the work of being a father, worker among workers, and upstanding and legitimate person after years of dissolution and alcohol addiction.
This morning, my emotions were not born of nostalgia. I don’t want to go back to that time again. But the movie produced a king old old-man melancholy over the diabolical dirty trick biology has played on us—time moving so slowly when we are young and so quickly when we’re actually able to deal with the world with a little hard-fought wisdom. I resent it. I hate that every time I seem to wake up, it’s Sunday again, a week having moved by in a blip.
The second thing the movie bought up was that I wish I could remember more. This is perhaps selfish thinking but I often ponder the loss of memory to time as the loss of pieces of my daughter in the process. This goes as well for my wife of 20 years and son Nick, who has been with us now for 12 years and is sixteen now.
The movie made me feel my age and think of a time when Virginia and I will be left in the house alone after son Nick goes off to school. I do not fear the future. I like getting old, though I do suffer some of the indignities of aging. If anything, I want the time back. I feel it’s been stolen from me or that I wasn’t paying enough attention.
The way time has escaped me in the past is a useful lesson as I go forward. I want to remember more. In order to do that, I have to solidify in my mind the passing of days. There is only a certain amount of time in a human being’s life, and who knows when it will come to a close. I have to live this minute jealously and like a miser, as if this moment, the time you read these words, was the last.