The following is an excerpt from "Exodus from Zion".

It rained nearly every day that summer, one brief storm over lunch and then over within an hour. Rain would beat against the thin trailer windows of my grandmother's home as my sister and I picked a black-and-white movie to watch while we ate. Giggy would eat one giant bowl of Santa Fe rice and beans or else half a sleeve of saltine crackers dipped in the egg salad that was a staple of that refrigerator for the fourteen years she lived there. My grandmother would finish with a large bowl of Breyer's French Vanilla ice cream. I'd have a Lenders egg bagel topped with strawberry cream cheese or a strawberry jelly and cream cheese filled toaster strudel, with strawberry Juicy Juice to drink.

We'd sit together in her small pink living room. My sister and I would share the blue love seat set in the corner with a triangular shelf behind it covered in potted plants, picture frames, and knickknacks, or else we'd sit in the matching slate blue rocking chairs set in front of the windows peppered by summer raindrops. Gig would sit in a wooden rocking chair with gold painted fruit at its head. We'd eat with a TV dinner trays in front of us, and watch our feature film for the day.

Every week or so we'd pick a different actor or actress and watch all of his or her movies in a row. We laughed uproariously at Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis in "Some Like It Hot", imagined ourselves away with Shirley Temple in "The Little Princess", and swooned over Rock Hudson with Doris Day in "Pillow Talk" (and feared for her life in "Dial M for Murder"). Frank Sinatra sang to us and Fred Astaire danced for us. I thought Katherine Hepburn was one of the coolest women ever to live, and I still think so, although I thought Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen" was a much sexier, more dangerous love interest than Spencer Tracy in "Desk Set" or Cary Grant in "Bringing Up Baby". I thought Jimmy Stewart was a dear, misunderstood soul in "Harvey" and I detested Bing Crosby in "White Christmas". I wanted to be Natale Wood, who was charming in "Miracle on 34th Street" and beautiful in "West Side Story".

I had a peek into the Hollywood of the greatest generation that few of my agemates have taken. My sister and I watched black-and-whites, with low production quality by modern standards, yet we were thoroughly entertained by the dialogue, songs, and dances. I wanted to perform like them; to sing, to dance, to travel and wear exotic costumes or beautiful dresses. I wanted to have my legs insured for a million dollars by Lloyds of London like Betty Grable, or have a tragic kind of beauty and vulnerability like Marilyn Monroe. My lifelong love of theater and musical theater, of good writing, strong female leads, and a certain degree of cheesiness, started in that pink Florida living room, over one hot, humid summer.

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Tags: book, dancing, movies, theater

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