Column, Movie Diary

Loud and clear

By Dom Cioffi

In the city where I grew up, Sears, Montgomery Wards, Grant’s, and Ames department stores dominated the playing field in terms of retail options. These four “everything stores” covered most household needs, from clothing to lawn mowers to sporting equipment. But as the years passed, they all slowly disappeared. Some of this was due to the changing retail environment, but the predatory success of Walmart also played a role.

I loved accompanying my mother when she visited these businesses. The sheer size and breadth of the buildings made them intoxicating to a curious child. They were also one of the few environments where I was allowed to wander freely, as long as I abided by one rule: I was to never leave the store premises without my mom.

When we arrived, I would dutifully promise to stay inside the building and then run full speed to the kids’ section. Once there, I would marvel at the abundance of toys, taking mental notes of which items I planned to own later. Occasionally, there would be a sample scooter or Big Wheel that I could ride in the aisle. Or there might be a miniature pool table to test out. And If I got really lucky, another kid might be present who could play along.

I would normally keep myself entertained until my mother was ready to leave, at which point she would show up in the kids’ section to escort me out. However, there were times when I would bore of the current selection of toys and decide to wander off to explore other departments.

I would meander through the aisles in search of nothing in particular, eventually finding my way to my mother. If I spotted her and she was preoccupied, I would usually plan to ambush her either by hiding in a clothes rack that she was walking towards or by climbing inside a piece of furniture that I could spring out from.

On some occasions, if my travels took me somewhere in the store where my mother couldn’t find me, she would have to resort to visiting the service counter to have the clerk page me over the intercom system. I was never a fan of this and told her so on multiple occasions.

Flash-forward 45 years and there I am shopping at TJ Maxx with my mom this past Saturday. It was Mother’s Day weekend, so I decided to fly home to surprise her. I told her we could do whatever she wanted, and shopping was at the top of her list.

I’m a fan of the TJ Maxx business model so visiting one of their stores is not something I’m opposed to. I wandered through the men’s’ section where I eventually located a couple of shirts and shorts that appealed to me due to their style and the fact that they were marked at one-third of the original price.

Later, I sauntered over to the houseware section where I started eyeing the candles, thinking that might be a nice gift for my mom’s townhome. But just as I was zeroing in on the perfect scent, I heard the loudspeaker announcing, “Attention, shoppers. Could Dom please come to the front of the store. Dom, please come to the front of the store, your mother is waiting.”

I immediately froze.

Suddenly, I felt like everyone in the store was staring at me. I put the candle down and started to walk up the aisle, but then changed my direction so I wasn’t headed directly toward the cashiers. I casually zig-zagged my way to the checkout lines where I finally caught sight of my mother.

When I came up behind her, she turned and started laughing. And along with her laughter came the laughter of the three attending checkout girls who were obviously privy to the joke.

“Thanks, Mom,” I stated sheepishly while rolling my eyes upwards. “Some things will never change.”

For the rest of the day, my mother giggled incessantly at her humorous prank. Eventually, I had to agree that it was a pretty nostalgic moment, and in an interesting and loving way it made me realize how long we’ve been on this mother/son journey together.

This week’s feature, “Belfast,” also highlights a young boy on a journey, but in this case, the child is trying to navigate the burgeoning political violence that erupted in Ireland in the late 1960s.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Kenneth Branagh), “Belfast” is a beautifully constructed film that resonates on multiple levels. But the unsung hero of this movie is undoubtedly Jude Hill, the 10-year-old child actor who captures every scene with immense poise and emotion.

If you’re looking for a truly mesmerizing period picture that offers both pain and passion, give this wonderful little film a try. In my mind, it should have been the Best Picture of 2021.

A piercing “A-” for “Belfast,” available for rental on multiple streaming services.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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