Diana Belchase

Forefathers, Mothers, and Tears for Democracy

I started crying today.

No, not a little tear, or a bit of  moisture in my eyes.  I confess, it was out and out sobbing. What calamity in my life could have induced this?

The film 1776. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, it's a musical comedy about the founding of our country.  Although there are a few darker, dramatic bits, most of it involves Ben Franklin and John Adams singing and dancing as they try to influence members of the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain.  Not a great reason to start crying -- especially since the film is one of my favorites.

Flags over Philadelphia

Flags over Philadelphia

I suppose the death of my father also has me acutely thinking about my late mother.  Though, I thought I'd reached the summit of grief, losing him made that other chapter of my life seem infinitely final, and infinitely poignant.

My mother loved being an American more than anything else in her life. She thought this country was the biggest, greatest, and best thing ever invented by mankind. So when the 1776 musical debuted on Broadway, my mother went.  She enjoyed it so much she couldn't stop talking about it -- even years later. Somewhere I still have the playbill she saved from that night.

As soon as the film came out, we kids were dragged to the movie theater and for days afterward, we sang songs and repeated lines from the movie. Later in college I still remember my mother leaving messages on my answering machine, "Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Signed," imitation drumroll "G.  Washington."

The song, Molasses to Rum to Slaves was the first time I'd ever heard of Northern complicity in U.S. slavery. John Cullum's magnificent baritone, portraying Edward Rutledge, is as haunting today as it was in 1972 when the film debuted. The song, Mama Look Sharp, so heart-renderingly delivered by Stephan Nathan, became my first realization of how horrible war can truly be.

(Todd Fenstermaker amazing performance as Rutledge at Edison’s Plays in the Park production of 1776)

A lot has happened in my life since then, but it's amazing how well both the movie and stage version have withstood the test of time. Despite a few inaccuracies, I believe our founding fathers might have applauded the overall themes and messages.  Besides, even Ben Franklin was known to stretch the truth occasionally. 

(Trivia: Did you know Nixon had Jack Warner cut a number from the film?  The film editor kept a secret copy even after being ordered to destroy it.  Now, new DVD versions include the song “Cool, Considerate Men.”  More info: here.)

My husband says that as we grow older, people become more sentimental because our life experiences are more complex.  Memories bubble to the surface, intermingling and interacting with what we are seeing, to simultaneously ping multiple areas of our brain's emotional centers. He's pretty smart, isn't he?

Diana takes a moment to discuss things with her pal Ben Franklin.

Diana takes a moment to discuss things with her pal Ben Franklin.

Whatever the reason for my sob-fest, 1776 reminds me of the great sacrifices our forefathers made for us.  I thank them, along with the men and women, past, present, and future, who continue to sacrifice and lead us.  Our legislators, judges, soldiers, scientists, and teachers -- without all of you, our country would not be as great as it is today. I also thank people who bring us wonderful films and plays, you make wonderful memories that bring families together.

As far as the movie goes, in case you can't tell, I highly recommend it. Besides, some days we all need a good cry.  

6 replies »

  1. Thanks for such a tender and wise piece on memory. I realized just yesterday that I did *not* remember or observe the twentieth anniversary of my mother’s death. Of course, I always remember my parents’ birthdays. That’s the happy time, right?

    And, did you see the NYT article on nostalgia? Great stuff.

    Thank you!

    • Oh Susan, what a joy to see you here today. No, I didn’t see that article. Can you send me a link? Perhaps *not* remembering means you’re getting past the grief and able to remember your mom the way she wants you to.


      • I just wanted to pop in and say that I think you both put that very nicely, remembering those we’ve lost they way they want us to. Thank you for sharing this Diana. I would love to be a fly on the wall, listening to you chat up Ben Franklin. 🙂

        • Well, once you got past the twinkle in his eye — you know he was quite the ladies man — he had much serious wisdom to impart. LOL. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carlene. I really appreciate it.


  2. 1776
    plucks our heartstrings as a pix
    Thomas Jefferson and crew
    Were mere mortals, nothing new
    But Americans so true!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.