When I was growing up I wasn’t allowed to watch the Oscars all the way to the end. The show was too long and ended too late for a school night. (They were on Monday night back then, but Sunday’s a school night too, so it wouldn’t have made much of a difference I don’t think.) So I used to race out of bed the next morning to get the paper on the front stairs to see who had won the big prizes — I always saw Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, but never the main event. I remember nodding my head in sage recognition that Holly Hunter won for The Piano. I hadn’t seen that movie, but my sister and our babysitter had. (I’d decided to go to The Pelican Brief instead, by myself, a first.) I knew there was something in that movie about fingers, and a beach, and the little girl with the weird hat who had won, I’d seen that. I remember the photo that ran in the Globe, of Holly Hunter walking up to the stage in a dark dress. It seemed exotic and faraway, that all this had happened after I’d gone to sleep.
My mom let me stay up and watch the whole show for the first time when I was 14, because that was the year of the mighty Titanic, a movie my sister and I had seen an unprecedented three times in the movie theater. (Prior to that the only movies I’d seen more than once in the theater were Hocus Pocus and, as it turned out, The Pelican Brief — I really liked The Pelican Brief.) I know that sounds kinda babyish, that I was fourteen the first time my mom let me stay up late to watch something on a weeknight, but TV rules were strict in my house (hence the opposite case now) and it took something as massive as Titanic to finally break them.
I had a piano lesson that evening and was anxious the whole time to get home. I had, also for the first time ever, seen all five Best Picture nominees that year. As Good As It Gets and L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting and even The Full Monty, all with my parents on Saturday nights throughout that fall and winter. (Pretty popular, social kid in those days.) It was all a very big deal. It was an even bigger deal when I got home and there on the dining room table was a whole spread of little finger foods that my mom had made while my sister and I were at piano. All of them themed for the nominated movies. She even brought the old Playmobil fishing boat up from the basement to be Titanic, fashioning some blue and black construction paper around it to make it look more like the real thing. I can’t remember what exact puns she made, but I know they were great. She was really proud. What a fun night.
I remember Helen Hunt’s ice-blue dress, and of course James Cameron whoo-hoo-ing. Robin Williams finally getting his prize, Kim Basinger all shaky and flushed. It was all very exciting and I got to watch it live and then was hurried off to bed the minute Billy Crystal said goodnight.
The next morning the annual newspaper ritual was, of course, a little less urgent. I already knew everything it would say. Maybe there would be a party photo or two, I don’t remember, but for the most part it had all suddenly become old news. I continued to eagerly await reading about the nominations in the paper — I guess those would run the day *after* they were announced — but the post-Oscar morning was never the same.
I’m thinking about that all tonight, here in this most recent post-Oscar world, one filled with endless blog posts and Twitter and many mean jokes, my own included. About the dining room table all done up, my mom proudly explaining each of her plays on words. About the promise of the big show. About the sudden wonder of realizing how exciting a Monday night could be.