The other day my daughter posted a goofy meme on Facebook that referenced “Silence of the Lambs” and she tagged me on it.
The image was a fake dating profile for Buffalo Bill and it was pretty funny but I got to wondering why it resonated with her enough to post it and what it had to do with me. I didn’t even know if she had seen the movie. After all, she was only 2 or 3 when it came out.
And then it came to me. As a child, whenever she didn’t want to do something she was told to do, a not infrequent occurrence, I would say to her, “It puts the lotion in the basket.” And kept saying it, over and over, until she did as she was told.
In retrospect, that was some exceptionally bad parenting, but what can I say? I was young. (I wasn’t that young.) It’s probably still buried in my parental repertoire. I haven’t yet said it to my grandchildren but unlike their mother, they are perfect angels and always do exactly as they are told. Partly because Papa doesn’t make demands on them that are particularly taxing, but mainly because they are perfect angels.
It turns out that she has seen all of the Hannibal movies as an adult, and was somewhat taken aback when she first heard Buffalo Bill say “It puts the lotion in the basket” because up until then it was just something her dad said. She didn’t know where it came from. She said she replayed that part of the movie a couple of times to make sure she was hearing it right. Apparently I have been misquoting him slightly all these years.
Then she reminded me of the time I called her Mommy a Blanche and I realized how very particular our personal histories are and how much they depend on the personal histories of our parents. A little girl born in 1989 got weirded out in the mid ’90s because her parents were obsessive fans of a bad movie from their childhoods in the early ’60s.
In 1962, when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were both far enough past their sell-by dates to be reduced to taking any movie role that was offered them, they both ended up in a horrid little opus called “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?” arguably the best bad movie ever made.
Davis plays an aged former child star who has lost her looks and most of her mind. Crawford plays her paralyzed sister who is in a wheelchair and in a case of art (if you can call it art) imitating life, the two sisters loathe and despise each other. Hijinks and scenery chewing ensue as two of the greatest legends of the silver screen deploy every weapon in their considerable acting arsenals to steal scenes from each other.
Davis uses Crawford’s confinement to a wheelchair to torment her, which finally results in Crawford emoting soulfully to the heavens, “You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.”
To which Davis replies in that particularly pithy Bette Davis way, “But you are, Blanche. But you are,” with “are” pronounced more like “ahh.” It is a delicious moment. By the way, that line is a delightful addition to any verbal repertoire and can instantly stop an oncoming pity party in its tracks when delivered in even the most perfunctory of Bette Davis impersonations.
My wife and I had used it in just that way for decades until one day when our daughter was 7 or 8 and I responded to some lame ‘woe is me’ tirade with a hearty, “But ya ahh, Blanche. But ya ahh.”
At which point, Daughter Dearest broke into sobs and screeched at me with tears rolling down her cheeks, “Don’t call my Mommy a Blanche!”
So I never did it again.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.