Our two older children spent their childhood building forts on our wooded New Hampshire property, riding ponies, and reading stories like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel." By the time they entered their teens, they could have counted on one strong hand the number of movies they had watched.
Enter our California-raised eight-year-old, Bronwyn. "Can I watch a movie?" is one of her most-frequently asked questions, even though the answer is usually "No."
"All right," I thought one day last fall, "What movie can I bring home that would be harmless and instructive as well as entertaining?" I chose "My Fair Lady," wholly ignorant of the possible consequences.
Bronwyn was taken with it. The transformation of Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn) from a flower-selling "guttersnipe" to a gracious ballroom beauty swept the little girl's imagination off its feet. I watched the musical with her the second time, not-so-patiently enduring her constant interruptions. "Oh, I love this part! ... He's so mean!" (Higgins, played by Rex Harrison) ... "At least Hickory [Colonel Pickering] is nice to her!"
Enjoying the songs I had learned as a girl, I decided to buy Bronwyn the soundtrack for her birthday - a decision my husband would soon regret. It was Eliza Doolittle for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The tape player accompanied our daughter while she brushed her teeth, rode to school, and rode home from school.
Miss Doolittle even figured in her spelling sentences, and when it was Bronwyn's turn to bring something to school to share, the tape player was hauled into the classroom.
"I can't believe I am the only one in my class who has ever seen 'My Fair Lady'!" Bronwyn exclaimed. Thereafter, every friend who came over to play was first closeted in Bronwyn's room and exposed to the enchantment of this music and the story behind it. None seemed very impressed, but Bronwyn was unfazed.
She learned all the lyrics by heart, complete with English accents. "Jest you white, 'enry 'iggins, jest you white!" she'd sing bitterly one minute, then "Wouldn't it be loverly?" liltingly the next.
Her favorite song was "Show Me." Maybe it was because of her second-grade flame, Matthew, that she sang with delicate passion, "Don't talk of stahz burning above/ Don't talk of love, show me...." She even had the choreography down.
One night when I told her it was time for bed, she launched into "Bed, bed, I couldn't go to bed/ My head's too light to try to set it down...."
And the only way I could persuade her was to play the part of Higgins's servants, who leave Eliza with her head on the pillow singing, "I could have danced and danced all night" with a dreamy look in her eyes.
Another time I came into the living room to the tune of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and found Bronwyn dancing across the living room in a skirt, her wavy auburn tresses flowing.
She was carrying a basket full of small bunches of flowers "borrowed" from my birthday bouquet. I was too charmed by my fair little lady to reprimand her.
Just when the family was feeling we could tolerate the music no more, we left home on a week-long ski trip. The tape player accompanied us to the airport, but fortunately it rested there.
I thought Bronwyn was beginning to forget about the movie until one afternoon when we were skiing down a steep trail together, whooping it up. Suddenly, I noticed a change in her laughter. "Ha, ha ... ah, ha, ha...." her little voice rang out, perfectly imitating Eliza Doolittle's triumphant shouts in the "Rain in Spain" scene.
THIS infatuation might have gone on indefinitely, but circumstances intervened. Bronwyn was having trouble memorizing a song her violin teacher had given her - "Edelweiss."
Finally, last week I told her that as soon as she had succeeded in memorizing it, I would rent "The Sound of Music" for her. Within a half-hour she had mastered it.
She watched the film twice in four days and began learning the songs. Soon I overheard her ask a friend, "What's your favorite movie? Mine's 'The Sound of Music.' "
Fine, I thought. But this time I think I'll skip buying the soundtrack.
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