Those who follow my writings on this blog may have picked up on a theme that runs through most of my favorite books, movies and even songs. I am a lover of stories about people who meet, enjoy a brief time together, and then are forced to move on. It’s been described as ships-passing-in-the-night fiction.
A famous example of this is, “Casablanca.” Rick and Ilsa enjoy a short time together in both Paris and Casablanca, but they part at the airport. And as Rick reminds Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris.” And that’s the way I like to refer to these stories. To me they are the, “We’ll-always-have(fill in the blank)” stories.
Over the years there have been many, “We’ll-always-have” stories. One of my favorites is, “Two For The Seesaw,” a 1962 film starring Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum that was made into the musical, “Seesaw” a decade later. Stories like this are naturals for musicalization because the emotional level is so high.
A more recent example of this is, “The Bridges of Madison County.” A few weeks ago I saw a performance of the pre-Broadway run of, “Bridges” up in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Most people known the story from the 1995 Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep movie, but the original Robert James Waller novel is much more heartfelt. Anyway, the musical version of the story comes to Broadway early next year and I heartily recommend it for those who love a good, “We’ll-always-have” story.
For the uninitiated, “The Bridges of Madison County” revolves around Francesca Johnson, an Italian-born war bride who marries an American GI right after World War II, and accompanies him home to his farm in Winterset, Iowa. She raises a family and has a good life there. But then one day a photographer named Robert Kincaid arrives at her farmhouse. He’s lost and looking for directions to a nearby covered bridge. Francesca is home alone because her family is at the Illinois State Fair. What transpires over the next week is one of the great love stories of all time. But just as Rick knew that the right thing to do was to let Ilsa go off with her husband, Robert and Francesca painfully reach the same decision. Francesca must stay with her husband and children. And so, even though they would never see each other again, they’d always have that week in Winterset.
But perhaps you have experienced your own “We’ll-always-have” story in real life. It doesn’t have to have been the love of your life. Maybe you had a dear childhood friend, and the family had to move away. I can imagine a tearful farewell scene where you promised to write, and never forget one another.
I had that kind of tearful farewell 40 years ago at a train station in Baden-Oos, Germany (now known as Baden-Baden). My cousin Bob and I were in college, and backpacking through Europe. We met two sisters in Budapest, and hit it off so well that we couldn’t bear to say goodbye when our planned time there ended. So they invited us to visit them at their home on a Canadian military base in Germany. We had such a tremendous time in those few days that there were tears at the train station when we had to get back to Munich for our flight home. We promised to write, and I did diligently for several years. Eventually life moved on for all of us. But even though Bob and I are not likely to ever meet Rosemary or Linda again, we’ll always have Germany.
While there is something sad about two friends or lovers separated by life, what makes these stories bittersweet rather than tragedies is the fact that they did enjoy a brief time of true happiness. In fact their happiness is so strong that it’s enough to last a lifetime. So whether it’s Robert and Francesca, Rick and Ilsa or even you and that special someone you had to leave behind, there is much truth in the words of Tennyson: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
And we’ll always have our memories.