THIS AND THAT: She made it a wonderful life for George
I had it wrong.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite Christmas movies is the 1946 Frank Capra classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is the story of George Bailey, a Bedford Falls resident who dreams of worldwide adventure but finds himself stuck in his hometown through a variety of circumstances.
Each year in December, I put into the DVD player a plastic disk and watch James Stewart in black and white as the lead character, George. I’ve always liked Stewart, partly because my grandmother taught him in first grade in Indiana, Pennsylvania, way back when. Audiences can usually identify with the amiable characters he plays.
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I had always thought of George as the hero of the story. After all, he was ready to throw his life away to benefit his family and avoid a public scandal. But then I realized that it’s hard to imagine committing suicide is seen as heroic.
Because of his guardian angel, George was given a gift – seeing how the world would be without him. Seeing the lives changed because George passed their way gave him a new view of life and the insignificance of the financial situation in which he found himself.
With George’s help, Clarence, an angel second class, earned his wings. With Clarence’s help, George got a new lease on life.
But I was wrong in thinking of George as the hero of the story. The real hero is George’s wife Mary. She is the one who had it right all along and who didn’t need an angel, second or first class, to keep her on track.
Mary knew all along that she and George were meant for each other. In one of the opening scenes, a young Mary Hatch whispers into the bad ear of 12-year-old George, “George Bailey I’ll love you till the day I die.” She keeps that promise throughout the film.
It was Mary who knew that being with her true love was all the world she needed to see. Should any of us really want more?
She saw the possibilities of a life with George even as he had bold dreams to venture forth into the world beyond the town limits of Bedford Falls. Mary never forgot the night at the high school graduation party with George dancing the Charleston, falling into the swimming pool, singing “Buffalo Gals” on the walk home and George’s promise to lasso the moon.
It was Mary to the rescue with their honeymoon cash to keep Bailey Building and Loan solvent during a bank run. She is the one who saw the potential of the Old Granville house at 320 Sycamore St. and made it into a home for herself, George and later their four children.
George’s wife stood beside him in business, blessing the new home for the Martini family with “Bread, that this house may never know hunger; salt, that life may always have flavor.” George added, “And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”
Throughout ups and downs, Mary was quietly at the helm guiding the Bailey ship through the waters of life while George wondered about the what ifs of his existence.
Even in the critical moment with George displaying his fury and frustration over the lost $8,000 from his company, Mary is the one who did something about it and the one who had faith in their friends and neighbors. She spread the word that her husband was in trouble and needed immediate help in the form of prayers and cash. His friends – their friends – came to the rescue on both counts without batting an eye.
As much as I still like George, it is now evident after watching the movie dozens of times, that it is Mary who is the rock, the foundation upon which George relies.
George’s brother Harry says it well at the movie’s end, “A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.” Rich because he had Mary by his side.
Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.