Growing up, I remember that my mother loved the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Any chance she had to watch it, she would. If it came on late-night television, if it was on Saturday afternoon, if it was the Monday night movie– she would rearrange her schedule so as not to miss it. I remember, around eleven or twelve, after she had purchased her first VCR, I finally watched it with her.
At that age, it seemed a quaint, little movie. I remember thinking the heroine seemed ditzy and out-of-place. I remember thinking the thievery and the passion for Tiffany’s seemed obtuse. I remember thinking that the way she treated “Fred,” who was obviously in love with her, was utterly deplorable. Fred truly cared for Holly, and she seemed lost in her own skin.
Every so often, I would look over at my mother, and I could tell she was really into the movie. Her countenance rose and fell with Holly Golightly’s every move, and I secretly thought that she wanted to be her. Besides for the great clothes and the beauty that is Audrey Hepburn, it didn’t make sense. This girl was selfish and she didn’t have a job and she really didn’t know how to treat people. I was furious that she abandoned Fred at the end and moved to Brazil. The character seemed flippant, and I could not imagine wanting to emulate a woman of this nature.
I hadn’t thought about this movie or my mother’s love for it in some thirty years. However, this year, I am teaching Honors American Literature, and my students do a year-long project called the JELA: The Junior English Literature Analysis project. Each student picks a great American author, reads three books independently by said author, and then writes what amounts to a twenty-thirty page analysis of the author and the way he/she writes. The students are asked to look at the author’s life, to examine themes present in all of the novels, and to address similarities in plots, characterizations, etc.
Three of my students chose Truman Capote, and each of the girls read Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I myself have never read it (although it is the first book on my summer reading list), and so I was intrigued by what each girl took away from the novella. Each of my students brought the character of Holly Golightly to life for me, and I understood her character in a way I never had before. Holly was a troubled, lost soul, looking for a place to belong. Holly needed not only the acceptance of others but the acceptance of herself. She was searching for a place where she felt like she fit in. Tiffany’s represented hope and passion for life. To Holly, Tiffany’s was like the Holy Grail– always searching but forever allusive.
After reading the third JELA project, it hit me. My mother loved Holly Golightly because she herself was a lost soul. She endured years of physical abuse by her own father, and I believe she was on guard her whole life, worried that the people she trusted would somehow turn on her or hurt her. My mother was always trying to accept herself and make amends with her past, and like Holly, she wanted to feel safe and secure and whole. My mother lived her life walking on egg shells , constantly on guard, fearing that someone would come in and spoil her dreams.
My father wanted for my mother to always feel safe and not feel sad. My father loved my mother unconditionally, and a gesture of his love, for the first time, made sense to me today. In 1982, my father had a piece of stain glass made for our kitchen. It said “Tiffany’s.” He hung it by a chain across the kitchen window. When my mother came down for breakfast and saw it, her mouth dropped open. My father said to her, “Barbie, I may never be able to take you to New York. I am not George Peppard. But I want you to know, as far as I’m concerned, every morning, we can have breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
My mother began to cry, and I remember that she hugged my father for a very long time. I thought it was pretty corny; I’m sure I rolled my eyes and walked out of the room.
Today, though, some thirty years later, I got it. I understand the metaphor; I understand what my father was actually saying to my mother. I’m sad to say I do not know what happened to that piece of stained glass. Maybe it was broken. Maybe it was sold in their estate sale when they passed away some seven years ago. I wish I had it. I can honestly say I wish I had it in my own kitchen. It would be an honor to wake up and have breakfast at Tiffany’s each day.