Thanksgiving 2011 in the Spanos household was fairly normal. After watching The Godfather with my aunt and uncle, as most families do, we ate dinner, planned out my mom’s Black Friday shopping extravaganza, and watched Working Girl. To say my grandma was excited to see one of her favorite films on Comcast OnDemand was an understatement. From the time I pointed it out to her on Sunday until Thursday evening, I had to dodge her incessant interrogation of when we were going to watch it. Most grandchildren would find this to be an adorable request from the grandparent to spend more time together, but my mom and I both knew that this is the same grandma who called me just a month ago to say “You know how you love someone but don’t really give a shit if they’re with you? That’s how I feel about you!” We knew she had an ulterior motive.
That ulterior motive goes by the name of Harrison Ford.
My Polish-American grandma is a strange and elusive woman. With her consistently dyed auburn hair and olive skin tone, she appears much younger than other women at the age of 64. The cynical, snarky, and slightly misanthropic tendencies my grandma is known for are mismatched with her career of thirty-some years as a pharmacy technician, which happens to be a job that requires a decent amount of human interaction. My grandma and late grandpa raised me alongside my mother, so my stories with grandma are numerous. Memories from my childhood are peppered with recollections of her cussing like a sailor while baking cookies and spending hours watching crime shows like Law & Order, 48 Hours Mystery, and Murder, She Wrote. Even when I was as young as five-years-old, grandma would let me watch her “adult” shows as she made commentary. My mom, grandma, and I have always been a trio; we would do outings together to go shopping and to see movies. I still remember seeing The Diving Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with them when I was nine; my mom left the theatre crying and comparing the family to us as my grandma and I complained about how stupid the entire film was and made fun of my mom. Grandma has always understood me.
This is why spending the holiday feast making fun of my mother and watching a Harrison Ford classic at 11 p.m. just makes sense to the way we have always been.
It is important to note that I have seen Working Girl at least 10 times in my life. Unfortunately for my childhood, this particular late ‘80s cinematic gem used to be a regular on the network formerly known as WGN’s Saturday and Sunday night movie specials. Grandma refuses to admit it, but she thinks Harrison Ford is hot. Her obsession has subconsciously led to me being an expert on the aging actor’s extensive filmography without actually knowing the names or plots of most of his work. The briefest encounter with scenes are attached to a night spent fighting off sleep while my grandma yells at me to listen to her commentary. Of course, her obsession has also led me to being a teenage college student spending her Thanksgiving break watching Melanie Griffith juggle two facial expressions for 113 minutes: boringly sad and sadly bored.
As soon as the terrible tribal-techno-pop soundtrack began playing, my usually sarcastic and innuendo-spouting grandma started giggling like a schoolgirl. She tried to play it off; jokes about the heavily teased hair, terrible outfits, and Griffith’s weird-looking butt were instantly made. When Harrison Ford’s lovely face appeared on our screen, grandma’s eyes lit up and she made sure to note how young he looks. Any type of laughter or recognition of her secret love for Ford came with the angry response of “I just appreciate his work!” During the scene where Ford changes in his office, my grandma had a huge smile spread across her face. I looked over at her just to have her glare at me for noticing.
The holiday night sparks up memories of my summer vacation in 2007. I was 14 going on 15 in August, and the most significant accomplishments I had from those three long months included attending Lollapalooza and watching the first three Indiana Jones films and both Star Wars trilogies. I distinctly remember my grandma being appalled that we had never watched them and that my friends were unfamiliar with both of the franchises.
I never said my family members were normal.
Naturally, we rented all of the movies and spent most of the first morning of our movie marathon debating over which Star Wars trilogy to watch first. We began with the prequels because grandma wanted to go chronologically in terms of the Star Wars galaxy. Yes, my grandmother is secretly a nerd. She was noticeably bored during The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith; we had designated nap breaks about halfway through each one. Once we arrived at the original trilogy, however, it was all or nothing.
At this point, I am going to pretend like I know something about sports because witnessing my grandma watching the Star Wars series is similar to how I imagine football enthusiasts view preseason. The prequels are just a few practice games that are not going on the record, but when the original trilogy is on, you better be ready to keep up and keep score.
A New Hope came with its own share of commentary, including a spoiler about the revelation that Luke and Leia are actually siblings. She felt it was important because “they flirt so damn much.” The real reason for the film viewing, though, was realized as soon as Han Solo made his dashing entrance. Yet again I had to watch my grandma swoon over Harrison Ford and then immediately hide her wide smile as soon as I noticed. When it comes to Harrison, there is essentially no difference between her and my elementary school self on the playground refusing to admit to my best guy friend that I had a crush on him. Every flex of his lean muscles alongside that familiar smoldering smirk he shines as he prepares to show the bad guys who is boss throws her into a haze that is as strange to me as it is adorable.
After we finished the original trilogy, I felt like grandma would be hard-pressed to find another set of films that would keep my interest as much as Star Wars did. Yes, I am as nerdy as my grandma. We started watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I embarked on a new infatuation with archaeologists and adventure. After three films and a brief love of Short Round, the best character in the series, I was hooked.
Within a year or two, I would begin to reap the benefits of Harrison Ford-apalooza when the rest of my high school chums began to nerd out on Star Wars and Indiana Jones. For some reason, 16-year-old boys react fairly well to a chick who can tell the difference between R2-D2 and C-3PO. I reached cool kid status with my knowledge of Indy’s sidekicks and Yoda quotes.
The movie marathon also came in handy when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in 2008. After suffering through Don’t Mess with the Zohan on a triple generation outing with my mom and grandma, the eldest of our trio insisted that we get our money’s worth and sneak into the new Indy film next door. I distinctly remember her squealing as soon as we found out that Marion Ravenwood, Indiana’s former flame from Raiders of the Lost Ark, was back in the series as the mother of the hero’s son, Mutt, played by my own reason for seeing the film — Shia LaBeouf. I also recall my grandma loudly requesting in a packed theater to go home as soon as the aliens appeared on screen. There is one thing my grandma cannot stand for: when her favorite movies or television shows mix genres. She may love the strange creatures of Star Wars, but once you add extra-terrestrials to Indiana Jones, she wants no part of it. Being perpetually similar in tastes, my mom and I had no objection to her request to head home.
Harrison Ford has always had a bit of competition in my grandma’s heart. One does not get to the point of having The Pelican Brief almost memorized without having a fairly intense love for Denzel Washington. Another fixture in the WGN weekend movie line-up, The Pelican Brief became the bane of my existence at a very early age. There has yet to be a time where I have not loudly groaned at the title being brought up in conversation. When I saw American Gangster without her, I remember my grandma trying to hide her jealousy. She had her co-workers hook her up with some “connections” to obtain bootleg copies of The Manchurian Candidate, Man on Fire, and Inside Man in previous years. She hates movies about sports yet she watches Remember the Titans whenever it is on television. My grandma is nothing if devoted.
Maybe these obsessions are familial. My mom will stop everything she is doing to watch Purple Rain. My grandpa would spend hours convincing us that he sounds exactly like Joe Cocker by playing the singer’s songs and singing along to every word from morning until night. My dad loves the Batman comics and films so much that he has the Joker’s face tattooed on his right arm while my face is emblazoned on the left. I find both tattoos to be equally disturbing. Of course, I am prone to the obsession bug. When I like a director, actor, or writer I set out to become an expert no matter how much time it takes. You can see my summer of ’09 journey into the filmography of Woody Allen as a reference.
My grandma has never admitted to loving Harrison and Denzel. She quietly asserts her appreciation through almost religiously viewing their work whenever a random television channel provides her with the option. Not even my grandpa noticed how often she watched Ford’s films; he enjoyed Star Wars as much as she does and would always recall the time they went to the drive-in to see A New Hope together. Grandma’s appreciation helped fill my childhood with a collection of random, strange, and abnormal memories with her. If it weren’t for her deceptive ways of getting me to watch Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it may have been years before I got the chance to watch such culturally important and massive series. In the end, I guess I feel that my hours of watching Working Girl have added up to be something special in spite of how weird Melanie Griffith’s butt looks.