W.F. Bellais II
About a year ago a British Broadcasting Corporation television drama about a wealthy English family dealing with a number of problems in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s had me enthralled. As usual in such dramas, there were all sorts of subplots including family loyalty, marital infidelity, politics, class consciousness, and premarital sexual exploration. Who would ask for more in a good British television series?
Further, the performances of the British actors engaged me. I identified with, cared about, or despised the characters in the story. Deeply engaged in the plot and the characters I looked forward to seeing each of them achieve their dreams, be justly rewarded, or their problems resolved.
In what unexpectedly turned out to be the final episode, the very young daughter of the family planned to marry an older man from an aristocratic family. Because of a a familial inferiority complex, the family objected on the ground that the proposed son-in-law of higher class status. However, the wedding went on as planned. In this final episode viewers saw the daughter process the aisle of the country church. Then quite suddenly, the credits began to roll and the story ended.
The lost parent missing while on a mission in German occupied France remained lost, the health of the patriarch, and outcome of a budding romance between the chauffer and the head cook remained unresolved. I wanted to know what happened to those people. At least six “unfinished” stories in this series, maybe even more, hung out there in the ephemera. My commitment to the characters and the plot went unrewarded.
That led me to think that all stories, in a way, are unfinished. Many are left with loose ends; while we may know what happened to the villain, we know that the love interests were resolved; we don’t know what happens next.
I think the classic movie “Casablanca” fits here (by the way, I actually saw that movie in a theater when I was a boy—I had no idea what it really was about). In that film the character Rick gets Ilsa and Victor on an airplane headed for safety in a neutral country, the villainous Nazi has been shot and killed, and the French gendarme is about to arrest Rick. The film ends, what’s next? Fortunately, I found a book about the characters and what happened next; the book, As Time Goes By, by Michael Walsh (Warner Books, Inc., 1998), is both a prequel and sequel. The reader learns how Rick and Sam ended up in North Africa and what happens next in the story after Casablanca, but even this book ends with the question, “What’s next?”
There are few exasperating experiences as an unfinished story.
I didn’t think much about unfinished stories on the day I finally left the Army. I knew my story was continuing, but what about all the people I knew in the Army, or for that matter I knew from high school, the Marine Corps (yes, I was a Marine for three years), and college. I would never learn of their continuing stories.
We all have continuing stories. We make waves as we travel on our individual journeys leaving people in our wakes. We meet people and they have an impact on us as we on them. Most have their families who will live on with their own stories, and we have had an impact on them in some way. Our off-spring may not recognize our influence on them and their children, but there is a line, a mysterious connection, that keeps the story alive.
I think about my parents, my aunts and uncles, now deceased. To think that they just ended and it was all over is to deny the reality that I am a continuation of their stories, just as my cousins and their children are continuations of the stories authored by my aunts and uncles. All of what I am today is the result of being born into their stories, and my children are another result of that continuing saga or epic.
My grade school and high school teachers, and many college professors, most of who are now deceased, have had a long term impact on my life. The way I think, write, and organize my thoughts can be tied directly to their influence. I saw a motto a few years ago that reads, “Teachers touch eternity.” That’s a truth that reminds us that the story never ends.
So, when the BBC series ended with a young woman of the family processing down the church aisle to marry an older aristocrat, the task of imaging how it all ended became mine.