When I was growing up The Wizard of Oz was a much anticipated once-a-year delight. We would mark the date, look forward to it, make sure we didn’t have plans that night if possible, and be certain to have completed all homework. The day would arrive and since we lived in a small town without pizza delivery or such a convenience as frozen pizza at our grocery store, we would open a Chef Boyardee pizza kit box for dinner. This entailed mixing, kneading, rising, and knuckling out our own pizza dough, dribbling a small can of pizza sauce on our fresh-made crust, and topping that with an even smaller can of dehydrated grated parmesan cheese. Yum. Quite a change from the pizza we devoured when we lived in Chicago. Once the process of making and baking the homemade pizza was over, we would open two bottles of Pepsi, fill five glasses with ice and portion out the soda equally. We were normally allowed to share one bottle of soda a week usually on Sunday during Wonderful World of Disney, but on special occasions such as this we could also pop a top if the showing wasn’t on a Sunday. It was now time for the movie. We grabbed our plates of pizza and lined up our soda glasses on the coffee table, then pick our spot on the floor. It was the 60’s, and by now we had the luxury of having a console color television, but there were many years prior when we watched this motion picture jewel on black and white TV. When Dorothy fell to Oz it was still black and white. A color TV to us was a miracle because Kansas was still monochromatic as always, but now Oz came into full color spectrum. Awesome. Did I know just about every word of dialogue and song lyrics? Absolutely. Once I was older and became a mother, my children were introduced to this dark but fun piece of film as they were growing up as well. While they were young the Wizard made appearances at various times on different channels leaving the one evening a year event in the past. I can’t say the kids were thrilled with the idea of a frequent viewing of this movie, but who doesn’t like this movie whether they’ve seen it one or one hundred times. Then came the advent of the VHS tape for the older grandkids and the DVD for the younger ones. By then we had all the Disney and children’s movies on DVD, Disney channels on TV, cartoon channels, Nickelodeon, et al, so there was an abundance of entertainment choices for the newer generation.
Then along came Madison. I never could really explain the pull of this movie for me, but I got to see the mesmerizing enchantment it presented for some young children through her even though the movie was nearly 70 years old at that time and there were many many other avenues for entertainment. This precious young lady was drawn into the world of the Munchkins, Good Witch, Wicked Witch, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Flying Monkeys, Emerald City, and the Wizard. She was in Dorothy-mode for well over a year. Her first Dorothy dress was well worn and had a hot chocolate stain that wouldn’t wash all the way out. We eventually went up a size when she outgrew her first dress and pair of ruby patent leather slippers. Her Mom and Dad even had her portrait professionally taken for Halloween as Dorothy. She won a Halloween costume contest as Dorothy for her 2 to 3-year old age group. At home when we were fortunate to have her staying with us, walking down the hall we could peek into her room as she stood in front of the television watching the ‘film of all films’ singing along with Judy Garland. “Play it again, please, Papa,” she’d plead after the movie ended, and the disc went back into the player. Calling to her would result in the response, “I not Madison, I Dorothy.” So for a time we’d call her Dorothy, but the agreement was only at home. Somewhere Over the Rainbow was etched into our brains as was Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
The best Wizard of Oz memory was when there was a showing of the film at the classic town-run Normal Theater. She was dressed in her blue checkered dress with her hair in pigtails just like Dorothy, had a basket with a stuffed Toto, and was going to see her favorite movie on the big screen. After patiently standing in line, purchasing our tickets and entering the lobby, we were excited to find out one of the original Munchkins was there making an appearance. Wow, how great is that? After paying a visit to the vintage popcorn machine with $1 bags of the fluffy delight, we took our seats – Papa, Gama, and mini-Dorothy beside me on the aisle. She was so precious. Other movie-goers would come up and speak to her as they filed into the theater claiming their own place to view this much revered show, and tell her how pretty she was. One concerned woman asked if I thought she would be able to handle the scary parts especially the Flying Monkeys. “Yes, she’s seen the movie before, and so far she loves all of it.” So cute. The room darkened and the cartoon before the film started to roll. “Gama, this isn’t the Wizard of Oz,” our aficionado whispers. With a little chuckle Iresponded, “The movie will be on after the cartoon.” This seemed to make perfect sense. Then it came to pass, the movie started to roll. Excitement wells up in the little person next to me as she scooted to the edge of her theater seat; and with a little lurch in my stomach and my eyes filling up with tears, the thought that came to mind was even if she doesn’t remember this moment, we certainly will. It’s a warm moment we experienced together that will always connect us. The opening effortlessly melted into the first scene where Auntie Em and Uncle Henry were running around tending to the farm and its problems. Then it happened. In the blackened silence provided by the attentive theater goers, we all heard the gleeful shout-out, “There’s Dorothy!!” Snickers and chuckles could be heard around the room. I leaned over and whispered, “Yes, that’s Dorothy. Please whisper if you want to say something though.” She softly whispered back in a precious little voice, “Okay.” Settling deep into our seats we’re totally enjoying this wonderful old-time adventure flick. All of a sudden just as Dorothy begins to sing her signature song, we hear loud and proud in perfect little person pitch, “Somewhere over the rainbow.” She then turns to me and says rather boisterously, “Sing, Gama, Sing!” Well, in her defense I didn’t say there were any rules about singing. More controlled merriment could be heard around the room. I smiled and did my ssshhhh with my finger to my lips to the sweet but definitive directive. “I don’t wanna be quiet.” More snickers. Rather embarrassingly we turned around in our seats to apologize to those around us, and surprisingly were met with smiles from our newly acquired neighbors. This was a relief for sure. It was the realization that this little person is someone who has watched this same movie time and time again, singing and dancing, gleefully enjoying it at home on the small screen. No one ever thought to explain theater etiquette to her. Actually she thought I was acting rather weirdly. After the Somewhere Over the Rainbow sing-along, she was doing so great. She was enjoying the movie the way you were supposed to enjoy the movie – gleefully immersed and engaged in the story. We were so immensely proud of her. At a certain point; however, she had a thought leap into her little head. There was no sound or warning only an abrupt departure from her seat and a full-on sprint up the aisle toward the back of the theater. As I hurriedly pushed my popcorn, drink, and purse to Papa, I too dashed up the aisle trying to catch up with her. It appears she wanted to visit with the Munchkin in the lobby. After a please don’t ever do that again dialogue, we did meet the Munchkin, took a trip to the bathroom, then back to our seats where she was a perfect little movie-goer the whole rest of the movie. A treasured memory for all time for Gama and Papa. Years later, we made a shadow box for her for Christmas with her original Dorothy dress (hot chocolate stain and all), ruby slippers, blue lace socks, ticket to the movie, playbill, small stuffed character dolls given her by our friend Joan, and a Wizard of Oz collectible given me by my mother, Madison’s great-grandmother. As you see, Oz is a real place in our hearts… Sandy