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She's So Lovely

a son gives his mother, actress and 'golden girl' gena rowlands, the star treatment

May 14, 2000|Nick Cassavetes

Whenever you're near

I hear a symphony...

I'm lost in a world

Made for you and me...

Baby, baby,

I hear a symphony...

*

Diana Ross is playing on the radio. The year is 1967 and Mom is driving me home from school. The top is down, the sun is shining and she's singing. She's gotten off early from her work on "Peyton Place," and she still has the full, groovy Adrienne Van Leyden makeup on. She looks over at me, the sun behind her golden hair, and she smiles. She loves me.

Growing up with my mother was a time when life seemed open-ended and anything was possible. Back then, Tang, margarine, Space Food Sticks and Carnation Instant Breakfast were modern health foods, and plastic was the new miracle material. You went to C.C. Brown's on Hollywood Boulevard or Will Wright's on Santa Monica Boulevard for ice cream, Benson Fong's restaurant in the Valley for Chinese and Scandia's or even Tail O' the Cock for dinner. CDs were LPs--33s or 45s--cars were big and powerful, and you were either hip or square. Mom was hip. God, she was beautiful. With her skinny little legs and her Ungaro outfits and the big Jackie O sunglasses. And the hair. Dad used to call her "Golden Girl."

It's 1966 and we're in London. Dad's making "The Dirty Dozen" and Mom, my sister and I are living with him, living in a small house in Chelsea. The Beatles are all the rage, and Mom is sitting at the piano singing "Eleanor Rigby." When she gets to the part, "All the lonely people, where do they all come from?" she holds onto the word "do," going higher and higher like an opera singer, going crazy. This she thinks is hysterical. She falls off the piano bench, laughing. My sister and I move to her to see if she's all right. And as she looks up, tears in her eyes, she says, "Let's go on a boat. You ever been on a boat?" I hadn't, I was 7, but half an hour later we were on one, chugging up the Thames.

That's the way it was with Mom. You could do anything. You'd come home from school, she'd have a costume party prepared. Or a treasure hunt. Or she'd read to you from the encyclopedia. (During my childhood, she read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica to me. A to Z. Twice.) Or she'd take you to the Sand and Sea Club, and you'd do your homework in the sand until it got too dark. Or she'd take a book and show you the difference between Dali and Picasso or point out the dark little eyes of Modigliani. Or listen to Chopin with tears streaming down her face. That's the thing I like about Mom. She's interested in absolutely everything.

It's 1975 now, and I'm 16 years old. Hair down to here, teenage tough, teenage cool, I have the whole world figured out. Long gone are the days of costume parties and treasure hunts. They've been replaced by arguments, carelessness and my discoveries of drinking, fighting and crashing cars. All in all, I'm a load, not a person to live with. So on my 16th birthday, Mom got me luggage. I didn't understand. I asked her if we were going on a trip. She told me that I was, and to figure it out. The next day I was gone.

Mom likes the color blue. She loves owls and convertibles. First it was a T-Bird, then a Lincoln, then a Jag, and a LeBaron for a while, but always convertibles. She has purple eyes and reads more than any human I have ever known. She loves movies and intellect and has a great big laugh and can squinch her face up so it looks like a fox's. She is extremely polite and does not like being teased or spoken to rudely. She can scratch a mean back and will pull your hair gently to get rid of a headache. She used to wear Frownies, triangular pieces of glued paper that you stick on your forehead while you sleep, to keep from getting wrinkles. I don't know if she still does. I don't even know if they make them anymore.

It's 1989 now. I'm almost 30 and a man. Mom and I have long since reconciled the differences of our youth and love each other deeply, even though I'm now in the business of living my own life, with its own successes and shortcomings. I get the news by telephone. Dad's dead. I had spent many nights at Cedars, and even though I knew it was coming, I wasn't prepared. Mom had told me to go home and get some rest, that I looked terrible, and to come back in the morning. During the night he passed. I was overcome with guilt for not being with him, and Mom took my face in her hands and told me, "It's good you went home. He would have never died with you here. He was too proud." As she said it, I knew it wasn't 100% true, but it made me feel better in a way I hadn't felt since the days of my youth. At the funeral, when it started to sprinkle, she remarked to me quite plainly, "You see? Even the sky is crying."

Poetry. Not many people have it, but that's the thing about Mom. It's part of her; it oozes from her in everything she does.

More than a decade has gone by since then. I have children; they're grown, going into high school. Mom has a boyfriend, whom I adore. Her life has changed. One of my sisters has her own family, the other lives in New York. And we speak on the phone and laugh and keep up. We see each other on holidays and when we can. And it's lovely. But that's the thing about life. You get busy. And it's not like the time where you spent every moment with your mom. Where you were riding in the convertible with The Supremes on the radio, her golden hair blowing in the wind.

*

Nick Cassavetes is an actor, writer and director whose filmmaker credits include "She's So Lovely" and "Unhook the Stars." His script "Blow" is currently being filmed by director Ted Demme.

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