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Movie Star Grandmom

My grandmother’s brush with fame brought me joy one more time.

What do Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh and my Grandmom have in common? No, Grandmom wasn’t a big movie star in the 1970s like the others, but she did appear in one film with them, Semi-Tough. I always told people with pride: How many other grandmothers are in the movies? But when she passed away, I missed her for the role she had played most: grandmother and great-grandmother.

It was many years ago, but I remember it like yesterday: that day she came home from a vacation in Florida, bursting with stories about her time on a movie set and meeting the stars—we couldn’t believe it. She had the proof, though, autographs from Burt and Jill. Grandmom and a few friends had been standing in a crowd watching the filming when the director pulled them aside. “How would you two like to be a part of the last scene?” he said. “We need two people to walk this way down the beach while we film Burt and Jill walking toward us.” Grandmom and her friend eagerly agreed.

My older sister and her husband joined me and my husband at the local theater to catch Grandmom’s movie debut. We sat in anticipation the whole time, and couldn’t keep our cheers quiet at the end. The movie wasn’t a classic, but over the years our family still talked about Grandmom’s “starring” role, even if the littlest ones of our clan didn’t know who Burt Reynolds was. 

Now that woman who’d given our family so much joy was gone. My heart ached, my tears couldn’t stop. I’d never be able to see her again. After the funeral, our family met back at her beautiful big stone home. Gathered in the living room, we tried to quiet the little ones, who were getting restless. “Turn on the TV,” my mom suggested. “Maybe there’s a cartoon to keep them busy.” My older sister turned the knob on the old console television. It slowly flickered on.

There on the screen were Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh, walking down a beach. All the eyes in our living room turned to watch. And the memories, so many happy, comforting, undying memories of the woman we’d lost came flooding back to me. Breezing past the two stars in a cream-colored top, with her handbag slung over her arm, was Grandmom, smiling, having the time of her life.

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