Mom said she was diagnosed with Saint Vitus Dance (or Sydenham’s Chorea) as a child. Saint Vitus Dance comes from a childhood infection often brought on by rheumatic fever.
Although Saint Vitus Dance most often resolves by the time people reach adulthood, Mom continued to have latent effects of the condition. The result was that Mom would without warning, twitch her head, grimace, clack her teeth together, or cluck her tongue. She also fidgeted continuously. She was in a constant state of motion. She only stopped when she was sound asleep.
Watching movies or television shows was a particularly active experience for Elma.
As long as there was no swearing, she always loved watching crime drama. A family favourite was the Streets of San Francisco a 1970s crime drama starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. We all loved it.
The show revolved around two police officers that investigated homicides in San Francisco. The centre of the series was a veteran cop and widower, Lt Michael Stone, played by Karl Malden. He was the veteran police officer. He was partnered with a young and plainclothes detective played by Michael Douglas. It seemed that in every episode there was a foot chase. I distinctly recall the sound of the noisy shoes worn by the characters on the streets of San Francisco themselves. I spent more time wondering why private detectives were so loud than what the actual plot lines of the show were.
If we sat down to watch television as a family, and Mom was in the room, there was not only the twitching, grimacing, clucking, and clacking, that she did, but all of these movements were interspersed with many “eep” sounds. Elma became so intricately involved with any show she watched; it was as if she became part of the stress of any given scene itself.
Later, when I was in university, I was dating someone named Charlie. Elma was visiting me in Victoria. Having had dinner (called supper to the Hemmingers), we picked out a video from the video store to watch that evening.
I explained to Charlie that Mom did not mind a bit of violence in a show and that she loved crime drama, but that sex and swearing were totally out. We spent a long time choosing a movie, finally settling on a suggestion of a movie Charlie had already seen. Unfortunately, he suggested that we watch Wild at Heart starring Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern.
As each scene in the movie unfolded, Charlie’s memory ignited as to what the movie was about. Clearly, he had forgotten most of it. I should have realized there was a problem when Charlie started saying, “Oh no” in various intervals and with more force as the minutes ticked by.
The height of the action was when Laura Dern’s character had drawn lipstick all over her face, clearly having a breakdown of sorts. She was moving backwards up the stairs all sexualized in a short skirt with her hand provocatively pulling against the hem of her skirt, shouting at Nicholas Cage to “Fuck me, Fuck me, Fuck me.”
It was my turn to say, “Oh no.”
Elma “eeped” and gasped throughout the entire movie that we did not have the good sense to turn off. To this day it is one of the raunchiest movies I have ever seen.
When the movie was over, Mom said to Charlie and I “I have seen these porno things before you know.”
Although Charlie and I remain very good friends, this was the last time I relied on his opinion for any entertainment options.
By Val Hemminger