Our Mother, the Human VCR's,
and the "Dark Shadows" Storytelling Academy
I am writing this on Mother's Day, remembering how our mother, Hazel Reynolds enrolled my brother, Paul and me into an unusual storytelling "academy." That daily dose of intensive, group-storytelling help set the foundation of what became a lifetime of story-crafting and story-sharing. Mum helped plant the seed 40+ years ago that lead to the creation of our trans-media company, FableVision and my career as a children's book author and filmmaker.
In 1966, a new soap opera, Dark Shadows, debuted on US television. Looking back at what television was offering back in those days, it is hard to believe that Dan Curtis pitched this Gothic series packed with vampires, witches, and werewolves - all set in a New England town - and got funding and made it a hit show for five years.
Our mother was one of those "bitten" by the addictive charms of this spooky, smart, and elegant show. Paul and I were five years old when the show began, and I imagine my mother thought she could watch the show without us paying much attention to her "soap." However, we did watch Dark Shadows -- daily. The Collins family became part of our extended family. Barnabas was like an uncle- a quirky uncle who happened to be a 175 year old vampire.
Our family of seven lived, at the time in Chelmsford, MA on Samuel Road. We were the ranch house with the elaborate TV antenna on the roof, often being adjusted by our father, Keith, in his suit and tie and a pipe tucked in corner of his mouth. Both Dad and Mum were accountants and being a big family, Mum would work part-time for various companies, sometimes in the mornings, but some jobs had her working as late as 4 in the afternoon.
This caused a dilemma.
By the time she would get home, "her show" was over. Remember, this was pre-VCR days with no way to record the show. (By the way, the first home VCR was introduced in 1965, but it wasn't until 1975 began its way into most American homes, four years after Dark Shadows went off the air.)
So, if you weren't in front of the telly - you missed it.
Mum, being a problem-solver and motivated by her crush on a vampire, employed her twin sons to "record" the daily episodes by watching the shows and "replaying" them when she came home from work. We became her human VCR's and watched the show with mission-driven intensity.
We had a job to do.
We had to get the latest happenings of Collinswood to Mum. When we saw her car roll up the driveway, we would quickly put the tea kettle on and prepare for her to sit down at the kitchen table which transformed into the "story roundtable." These storytelling sessions lasted at least as long as the episodes, and usually longer as Mum and her story crew began "connecting the dots" in the show, pondering motivations of characters, and making predictions about what tomorrow's episode might bring.
It was not until very recently that it occurred to be how powerful our "Dark Shadows Storytelling Academy" had been in our lives. Not only did we learn a lot about how to tell a story, but we shared incredible bonding time with our mother. These tales became a "campfire" to gather around and share the most important gift: Time together.
Note: We are blessed that Hazel is still with us, and at 87, lives on the Cape - is still an amazing storyteller and still is smitten by a vampire named Barnabas. Our father, Keith seemed not to mind her infatuation. After all, Barnabas was 130 years older, very pale, and with an odd set of teeth.