Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Ruth’s Remembrances-With Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” In Mind

Ruth’s Remembrances-With Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” In Mind

By Guest Film Critic Lance Lawrence   

[Regular readers of this blog (and of the on-line American Film Gazette) can be excused if they are a little perplexed about this posting or at least the title of this posting since it appeared her in its original form a month or so ago. The reason that the piece is getting what I would call an encore performance is that the writer, Lance Lawrence, who has placed occasional pieces here in the past, felt that he had short-changed Ruth Snyder by writing her off as just another frustrated middle-aged dame going through an inevitable mid-life crisis down in nowhere Texas and had latched onto the first male than gives her a passing glance.  Here the glance was by a younger guy, hell, she was robbing the cradle since he was still in high school, still wet behind the ears. Wrote her off too as just another backwoods Texas gal doing what generations of Texas women have done before her and instead let the youngster, Sonny, the inevitable Sonny or Bubba or Mac of the Texas panhandle, steal her thunder. Lance hopes that this revised edition reflects better on the virtues of this hardy Texas woman who might have come up the hard-scrabble way in the West Texas night but who has some virtues in the clutch maybe formed out of that hard-scrabble existence. Peter Markin]      

Ruth Snyder had all the prejudices of any West Texas girl growing up in the hard-scrabble Great Depression of the 1930s when money had been scarcer, maybe more so, than hen’s teeth. Had all the so-called secrets of such girls as well. She had been Anchor City born and raised out in the places where the oilfields out-numbered the number of residents. As part of that Anchor City (silly nautical name for a town out in the middle of Blue Norther country but there you have it. Legend had it that some restless Yankee sea captain who had had enough of the sea had founded the place and in a fit of nostalgia named the town that rather than after himself like half the foolish towns like Houston, Austin, Johnson City, and Galveston in the state).

Prejudice number one, aside from not allowing the “colored” to get a toehold in the town but that was usual all over the South and not Anchor City-bound, was drilled into her by her hard-shell Pentecostal parents who had gotten religion when West Texas was “burned over” in the Third Awakening, third Texas Awakening and that was marriage was forever. Forever meaning until one or the other of the two contracted parties kick-off. Not before. (As to that “colored” prejudice Ruth had played with Ella Speed the daughter of a black woman who took in washing in the small Negro-town section which her mother resorted to when she was too sick to do it herself but that ended well before puberty when such race-mixing was frowned upon. She never in public or private expressed hostility to the black race although she stuck to the “code” like everybody else in town. There had in any case been few Negros in town since the days in the late 1920s when the KKK strung up a couple of Negro men allegedly for touching white women.)          

So Ruth Snyder, not the prettiest girl in town, not by a long shot, in fact rather plain like some Grant Wood painting of some woe begotten up against it farmer and his drag on the household unmarried daughter with no prospects, pure prairie plain which was in man-short West Texas (marrying man-short West Texas the other kind, the women of easy virtue, the whorehouse kind in oil fields male Texas as everywhere were plentiful enough) good enough with proper household training to get a man. (She was a good-housekeeper and cook little good it did her in the end.) But get this Ruth Snyder, Plain Jane Ruth Snyder snagged herself a football player, Tom Snyder, who starred for the Anchor City Hawks before heading to Texas A&M and a short career made shorter by a crippling knee injury. Who would have figured that Tom in those brave football days would court Ruth Snyder. Ruth would soon after their marriage come to try to figure that one out herself. Tried to figure out that all Tom wanted from a woman, no, a wife, was to just keep his house clean, his socks darned and his rifles well-oiled. While Tom in very West Texas good old boys fashion would head out with his fellow good old boys and proceed to get well-oiled in another way or two.     

Married at just short of twenty years of age Ruth was now reaching that funny quirky time, forty. Things had only gotten worse between Tom and her as time went by and especially after several serious campaigns by alumni Tom had cornered himself into being both the football and basketball coach at old Anchor City High. Thus not only did Ruth suffer the pangs of loneliness during his weekly hunting and fishing trips but for well over half the year he would be too busy with his coaching to pay even minimal attention to Ruth. Not a good thing, not a good thing at all for somebody who was entering funny quirky time.  (Although she did not lack for female friends around the neighborhood something inside her made her keep her distance, keep things to herself which she committed only to her diary or expressed in her finely wrought poetry which kept her afloat on those lonely long weeks alone.)  

One of the things that was required of a coach’s wife in those days, those early 1950s days when all the way from kid sandlot football to University of Texas University all Texas was aflutter in football was to attend the Friday night games. Ruth unlike other mothers and wives rather enjoyed watching the game which had been part of the reason that she had grabbed onto Tom with both hands when he first asked her out those many years before. Of late, this season, this season of her reaching forty she found herself looking rather longingly at the young men on the field and thinking of those days when her own heart had been all aflutter when she spied Tom Snyder doing his pre-game warm-ups. In particular this year, this 1951 year when the team was pretty poor even by Anchor City standards she was drawn to two players, Duane, Duane Wilson, and Sonny, Sonny Burgess. Not because they were any great shakes as football players, they seemed to be in way over their heads when matched up against any decent teams but because they had similar physiques to her Tom’s when he was a star (the years of good old boy-dom had not been kind to Tom and he was now a certified member of the pot-bellied, sloughing forty something guys who could not have gotten out of their own ways if something had come up to startle them). Here’ the point though our Ruth started to have certain “improper” fantasies about those two young men. Yeah, that funny quirky forty thing.     

Ruth also knew that Duane had this thing, this crush on Jackie, Jackie Germaine, the head cheer leader who in that day, in her day when she was younger, and her now was nothing but a cock-teaser, a femme or whatever they called such “come hither” to be sliced and diced girls. She would lead him a merry chase, make him cry “Uncle,” literally since in the end he volunteered like a good West Texas young man back then to join the Army to get the taste of Jackie out of his system. Got his ass hauled to frozen Korea when hot war was afoot there to freeze his brain over to forget her. (As Duane told Sonny in one of his few, very few, candid and reflective moments before he shipped out for the unknown future he would never totally short of the grave get Jackie out of his system and years later would say the same thing even when by that time she had been married three times, had a parcel of kids and even at the high side of forty was making guys make sophomoric fools out of themselves). As he told Sonny he would rather just then face the red hordes in Korea than to see her with another man. That “another man” in the space of a few short months between the end of high school and going off to college entail screwing Duane, screwing rich boy Randy, his friend Tom, who wanted to marry her, Adonis one of her father’s wild-cat oil riggers, hell, even Sonny which is where Duane and Sonny’s friendship since elementary school was sorely tested. Yeah thought Ruth who would get her information about the younger set, older set, every set from Jennie who ran the Last Chance Café one of the few reasons to stop in the pass through town who had the dope on everything happening in town. 
So Ruth almost by default kept her eye on Sonny Burgess, looking for a way to get to him in a proper manner, at least for public consumption. As it turned out Tom, her no bullshit husband who was the vehicle for bringing Ruth and Sonny together. Out of pure laziness or cussedness, take your pick. One day Tom asked Sonny to take Ruth to the nearest hospital in Waverly some fifty miles away in order for her to check up on some “female” problem she was having. Tom’s reason for not taking her himself was that he was too busy with basketball practice to do so. The lure for Sonny was that Coach would get him out of classes for the remainder of the day. The trip started out uneventfully enough with Sonny doing chauffer duty-and acting strictly in that manner. After getting Ruth home safe and sound though she asked him if he would like something to eat. Sure, like any growing kid, any teenage kid. Nothing happened that day but between whatever mother hunger mother-less Sonny had and whatever real man hunger Ruth had a few weeks later they would met at the annual town Christmas Party (the same party where the perfidious Jackie blew Duane off for some party with Randy and reportedly “played the flute” with him the universal high expression for giving a blow job) and gave each other such looks that when Ruth asked Sonny if he would take her to her doctor’s appointment the next he answered with yes without hesitation. And so Ruth and Sonny would start an affair, an affair of the heart which would last on and off again for several years. Tom either never found out about it or didn’t care if he did know which hurt Ruth at first blush when she had been half doing that affair to make him jealous. That open secret though would keep the customers at the Last Chance Café going for many months once Jennie retailed the story. Funny nobody took umbrage that Ruth was bedding a young man half her age. But here is where we get into Ruth’s knowledge of the West Texas girl-woman prejudices. The reason that the Ruth-Sonny affair, was the hot topic for only a few months was that Ellie, Jackie’s mother had started an affair with a young oil well driller, Rufus Wright, employed by her husband. So Ruth was just following West Texas girl prejudice. What do think about that.        

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