The Power of Story


My husband and I were searching through Netflix and Hulu a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across the 1990’s film, “HouseSitter,” with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin.  Beyond the wonderful early decade hair and clothes, I loved the film both for its humor and romance.

But something much more important goes on in “HouseSitter” than the surface action.  The movie asks a bigger question: What’s more important, “reality” or “story?”

Newspaper clipping that started it all.

Reality and fiction mix to become story.

My life has been a struggle between the two seemingly opposing forces.   I lived with a dad who was an engineer and focused on everything real (except when “reality” came in the form of messy, noisy, and abundant amounts of kids who constantly asked why and had no notion of what the numerous scripts and rules he imposed actually meant.)  Dad could deconstruct the most complex mechanical objects, play music with precision if not feeling, and burnt the steaks on the grill with relish.  He couldn’t really handle the emotional stew brewing at home, so he hid away at the office, doing “important stuff.” Dad was very “real.”

And then there was my mom.  She did the 1950’s homemaker role perfectly.  She cooked enough to feed an army (with nine children, the army of “Braun Brats” was significant), sewed, wallpapered, and —

–And Told Stories . . .

Mom made the retelling of the day’s events into adventures of enthusiasm.  People didn’t complement, they raved.  Everywhere we went, a family of so many children was an oddity  of note, even though “good Catholics” all around us were producing their own litters of kids at the time.  Mom was, in short, a compulsive liar.  But she was a whole lot more fun to listen to than Dad.  She talked about being the leader of an all-boy gang growing up in Detroit, of running faster than all of her friends, and of being so tough she’d be happy to knock you around the block if you didn’t straighten up and fly right.  Mom, all of five-foot two inches and willowy slim was this tough person to be feared. Hmm…

But the wonderful thing about both my parents was their love of story.  They read to each other and to us kids.  Even when television started to produce its programs in color, we’d have the occasional “family read” of stories like “A Secret Garden” and “The Little Princess.” As we grew older and sisters moved away to start their own lives and families, the reading stopped, replaced by things less fun to think about. Real things like the loss of a brother, the drinking and fighting that followed, the reality of discovering we lived in a “broken home.”

As a teen, I bought into the concept of “being real” and tried my best to avoid the drama that was mom. Teen and real?  Teen and no drama?  Teen in the late 1960’s, we-do-drugs-and-we’re-proud-of-it-Beatles era? Hmm, hmm and double hmm.

Back to HouseSitter.  In the story, Goldie plays a con artist who makes up whatever story suits her needs at the moment.  She invents a marriage in her “husband’s” home town, decorates an abandoned house with her “mother-in-law’s” help, develops marriage problems, charms her “father-in-law” and all the neighbors and on and on.  We are treated to these lies over and over and things become more and more complicated (and funnier and funnier too).

At the same time, Goldie’s fictional husband, played by Steve Martin, finds himself first supporting, then embellishing her lies for his own convenience, as he’s trying to get the girl he lost, and built the abandoned house for.

But it is the ending I treasure most.  Spoiler alert here…

Goldie is getting on a bus to leave town, to step away from the place of so much great make-believe, and Steve comes to stop her.  He cajoles and pleads to no avail. But then he tells her one whopper of a totally false memory that involves him wrapping up and sending himself to her in a special delivery package.  He even goes so far as to tell her what her reaction was to this event.

Goldie jumps off the bus and into Steve’s arms, and we the viewers know that their lives going forward will be a new kind of rich and wonderful reality.  It is the story of our lives, after all, and the way we choose to note and remember it, that’s important.  As the song from “Gigi” goes, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”

Wishing you a life well lived and a story of your own realities.

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7 thoughts on “The Power of Story

  1. Liesa,
    Thanks you for sharing the story of your mom, the storyteller! I always enjoy your work, and this was especially delightful! I miss you! Brenda Rouse

  2. Liesa, I’d forgotten this movie–and I remember loving it! Goldie Hawn movies are all treasures, I guess. I love that your mother told “stories.” Nurturing your imagination!

    • Thanks, Luanne! I agree on Goldie movies. For a “dumb blonde” she has a very sharp mind and a great sense of fun. I never thought of my mom as nurturing my imagination, but I think you’re right. She told me once she thought I’d become an actress. Writing is close enough. Happy 4th of July!

      • Close enough is right. As a kid, I wanted to be one of the “3 As”: actress, author, or archeologist. You’re always imagining you’re somebody else in each one of these.

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