Dennis Perkins’ parents, Bill and Kathy Perkins, in Ireland, a place that Kathy, who died this year, cherished – though she didn’t appreciate how it was depicted in “Belfast.” Photo courtesy of the Perkins family

It might surprise people who read this column to know that I didn’t grow up in a movie household. My parents just weren’t invested in movies at all, and certainly not to the extent that their bookish, odd little son became. That’s the way with kids, isn’t it? Parents imagine their offspring will imprint on the same things they love, only for the ungrateful little jerks to run in the opposite direction. In my case, that meant a lifelong, early-planted, inexplicable love of movies that my loving but confused parents couldn’t care less about.

There were a few exceptions, though.

My mom, Kathy Perkins, died just about a month ago. And while she was never a movie person, some of my fondest memories of her are forever intertwined with films that she either got roped into taking us to see, that became inexplicable family traditions or, in the rarest of cases, she genuinely loved. So with this horrible, no-good, very bad year coming to a merciful close, here’s what I remember about my mom, and the movies.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Sit back, children, and let old man Perkins tell of a time before home video, where movies left the theater and then essentially disappeared, at least until you’d get lucky enough to catch a rare TV rebroadcast. For much of my early childhood, it was a staple for one network to hold an annual screening of the beloved family classic – and the tingly combination of anticipation and abject terror the news kindled in me informs pretty much everything about my relationship to the movies to this day. It was that Wicked Witch. She scared the ever-loving crap out of me. So my mom would bundle however many of her four young kids were interested under sleeping bags in our living room and, when we all knew Margaret Hamilton was coming up in all her sickly green glory, she’d tell us, “Everybody, under!,” and we’d all hide our heads until she gave us the all-clear. That even though, as it turned out, my mom was the biggest movie scaredy-cat of all of us.

“Cinderella.” Mom had a lousy childhood. Foster homes, neglect and lots more stuff that the impossibly blonde heroine of this Disney classic couldn’t have dreamed of. Still, my mother loved this tale of an abused and unwanted orphan finding true happiness in the form of a handsome prince, some magic wishes and a couple of helpful mice. (She was all about the stuttering mouse, Gus, who she loved till the day she died.) And maybe a mortgage, four kids and a husband in the Massachusetts suburbs wasn’t a fairy castle (certainly, we kids were never as loyal and helpful as those mice), but her love of this tale of love as rescue stuck with her in ways I only later came to understand.

“The In-Laws.” One of the few times I can remember my movie-indifferent parents raving about a film they’d seen on one of their rare nights out, I was gratified (and not a little surprised) when I eventually watched this peerlessly funny knockabout 1979 comedy (much later, on cable) and loved it as much as they had. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are the finest comic doubles act ever, and it felt nice to actually have some cinematic common ground, for a change.


“Ghostbusters.” My mom always hated “Ghostbusters” after she was dragooned into taking several of us to see it. (I, being a little jerk, insisted on sitting on my own on the opposite side of the theater.) For one thing, mom hated scary things – that opening library jump scare must have tested her parental resolve to stay in her seat. For another, she didn’t get the whole Bill Murray, “Saturday Night Live” school of comedy. Even as I was consumed with passion for the alt-comedy of Murray and people like Steve Martin and Richard Pryor, she just was on another wavelength, no doubt concerned and confused that her son insisted that these cocky, profane smart-alecks were comedy. Still, she took us, bless her heart, and stayed in that seat.

“Black Mass.” Jumping ahead here. Mom, once that former science-fiction invention called streaming became commonplace as the toaster, would occasionally zero in on a current film with which she had some real-life connection. Upon visiting one day at the house in Phippsburg she and my dad retired to, I was frankly gobsmacked when my mother launched into an enthusiastic – yet disapproving – description of this violent 2015 crime drama about infamous Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Living through the heyday of Mob shenanigans in 1970s Massachusetts, and working as an emergency room nurse where the bloody remnants of Bulger’s organization would occasionally wash up, I suppose the long-ago spectacle of Boston crime and corruption called to her, or something. Still, my mom’s main complaint was that Johnny Depp and his goons all swore too much. I tried to counter that, well, they’re mobsters, but mom just shook her head that they had to be so crude about it.

“Belfast.” Just this past year, I was once more greeted by a movie review from Mom upon setting foot in her house, when Mom expressed her almost morose disappointment in Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical take on his rough-and-tumble childhood in violence-beset Northern Ireland. I should have known Mom would check out the film, even going out to the Brunswick Regal movie theater to see it. Ultimately adopted by my grandparents, an older Irish immigrant couple, Mom was obsessed with everything Ireland. I think it represented the idealized childhood she never had, her frequent visits to distant relatives there packed with all the cheer, escape and childlike wonder she should have had as a child, but didn’t. I also should have anticipated how much she’d dislike Branagh’s dour, black-and-white depiction of abuse, poverty and sectarian unrest. That wasn’t her Ireland. That wasn’t anything like the place she wanted to escape to.

“Scream.” Mom could keep you guessing, that’s for sure. During her last of far too many stays in Midcoast Hospital, I drove up to visit, only for Mom, head fuzzy with meds, to tell me, proudly, that she’d watched Wes Craven’s 1996 neo-slasher on her hospital room TV the night before. Considering what you now know of her, this was akin to walking in to hear Mom explain how she’d gone hang-gliding during the night, or that she’d decided that her kids and grandkids weren’t actually anything special, come to think of it. In my bafflement, I deduced that, yep, Mom had “just gotten caught up in it,” as she explained, with my horror-hating mother going on to ask for a few points of plot clarification from her now-grown horror hound, movie geek son (the two killers thing does get a bit confusing). We both agreed that it was a shame that Rose McGowan’s character met such a grisly end via that doggie door, and I listened with affectionate bemusement to my mom rattling off not-insignificant analysis of a movie she’d normally run from, screaming.

I don’t know if that’s a suitable way to close the loop. Mom died a few weeks later, after being readmitted once more, this time the last, her husband and her kids all around her, the silent TV flickering with unattended random movies. There’s plenty more to remember about my mom and me, and no doubt my siblings have different movies, different memories. Or maybe it’s just me, the bookish, movie-obsessed boy who’s chosen to process her loss this way. I always was her strange little kid. She didn’t seem to mind.

Dennis Perkins lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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