It happened one evening in the dead of winter several years ago. Winter is when our Bailey Building & Loan is bustling with orders, bringing in the lion’s share of the income.
It happened after Mr. Bailey had called me earlier in the day to say the computer crash on the businesses’ main hard drive had not been a minor event. The tech geeks he had shipped the hard drive to in Minnesota had called him back.
“They told me the loss was,” a pause, a breath, “catastrophic,” Mr. Bailey whispered tearfully.
Exhausted by this major setback and without a solution in sight, run down from working the many jobs of a mom and dad of two kids and done-in by the Christmas triathlon of baking, shopping and wrapping, Mr. Bailey and I decided to stick our heads in the sand for an evening and headed for our couch. We settled in to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
It had been years since either one of us had done so.
Gradually, we were drawn in anew by the plot points. A young George Bailey endures a slap from a distraught Mr. Gower, even as he keeps the chemist from poisoning a customer. It brings us both to tears. We exchange smiles.
George sits at the kitchen table before his brother’s graduation party. George is raring to go to college after working four years at the Bailey Building & Loan to save the money. But his father subtly sends the longing message he would approve if George would choose to stay in Bedford Falls in his current position.
My Mr. Bailey and I grin as George resists, bound for multiple adventures in the great wide world.
We are enchanted during the party scene when Mary and George reunite, among friends. This is not so different than the first time my Mr. Bailey asked me on a date. We’re warmed with our own memories.
We well up with tears when George leaves Mary naked in the prickly bush because his father has had a stroke. My Mr. Bailey has lost his 59-year-old father just months before.
Then the wedding day drive that only gets as far as Bailey Building & Loan, which is overrun by Bedford Falls town folk demanding their money.
As much as George wants to escape the BB&L, Mary doesn’t hesitate to hand over the honeymoon cash and he hastily uses it to save his family business. Tears stream down. My Mr. Bailey and I stepped in to run our BB&L after his father died.
That night, Mary Bailey jumps off the screen at me, making a worldly hotel and honeymoon suite out of a broken down house George hates. Mr. Bailey and I honeymooned in a friend’s condo in the mountains for a few days; it was an exotic three-hour drive from our first home together, a sweet townhouse in what we lovingly referred to as “the ghetto.”
Then there’s Mary, telling Sam Wainwright and his girl to go on to New York without them after presenting the Martini family with gifts for their new home, tucked into a dusty, optimistic patch of land George has dubbed Bailey Park.
Mary is all parts devotion and acceptance, longing and uncertainty. And all of it so — true.
Keeping calm and carrying on while her children are sick, bickering and playing that song on the piano — over and over and over again – all the while working behind the scenes to fix what is broken for George.
I just fall in love with Mary, right then. I understand Mary Bailey. And I know her, I am her.
Suddenly, the love that binds George and Mary and the challenges they face are not just creations invented to facilitate a quaint Christmas flick. Instead they become touchstones for us as we trod a similar path filled with forks we never thought we’d navigate as a couple.
We’re the modern George and Mary, I think.
Then the last thing happens, which is, of course, the best thing of all.
I remember, as a girl, I had an imaginary friend. The friend wasn’t a traditional imaginary play-mate, rather more of a supportive-devoted-successful-handsome-accommodating-enlightened-husband type of pal.
Really, I did.
This was probably from age 9 to 13. He was perfect in every way. He supported my career as an actress/singer/fashion designer, knew just what to tell me when I chickened out of the talent show or only got picked as an alternate cheerleader in middle school. When I envisioned our future, he attended every black tie gala, raised our kids and was, of course, fabulously rich and kind.
His name, for some inexplicable reason, was George.