What I wanted to pray was, “Please, God, let me finish the movie.”
On miraculous occasions a Tarzan, my absolute favorite, played when we had a babysitter. My brother and I were allowed to eat in the den on folding trays. We ripped into aluminum-foiled TV dinners and ate Salisbury steak, Tater Tots, and tired green beans right in front of the television set like savages.
In between commercials for Ipana toothpaste and Alka-Seltzer, long-haired Tarzan would swing from vine to vine on his way home to his tree fort on the escarpment. Jane was waiting for her man in an animal-skin mini dress, ready to serve wildebeest roast with coconut sauce. Tarzan sat down at table in his loin cloth, his long knife hanging from his bare thigh, and together they looked out over the jungle canopy. After a long day of swimming raging rivers, wrestling alligators, fighting off greedy white hunters and drum beating natives, it was good to relax with his mate and Cheetah, their chimpanzee child. It was Father Knows Best primeval.
In reality, Tarzan was Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimmer. Jane was Maureen O’Sullivan, mother of Mia Farrow.
In high school my friend, Amy, and I skipped school one day in June and climbed over a wall into the backyard of a home she’d discovered on the edge of the Mohawk Golf Club. It had a built- in pool, a luxury reserved only for the rich and famous! We dove into the deep end and tanned on lounge chairs until a woman in a maid’s uniform came through the hedge and said, “Mr. Cushing would like to know if you are friends of his son?”
Amy lied, “Yes.”
Fortunately his son was away, so we were offered poolside chicken salad sandwiches, no more questions asked.
Years later, after the death of her first husband, Maureen O’Sullivan married James Cushing, the gracious homeowner who’d provided us trespassing liars with a free lunch. Hard to believe I swam in Tarzan’s wife’s pool! Yet, what a let- down to find Jane living in the suburbs of Schenectady, New York. No alligators. No animal hide bathing suits. No shield-carrying, spear- throwing cannibals in the bushes. Not even bad ju-ju to keep us out.
Both Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan have passed away, but for me, Tarzan and Jane live on. Tarzan, the noble savage, both innocent and wild at heart. Jane, the long lost socialite, freed from the trappings of civilization. Adam before the fall. Eve without the attitude. Keepers of a pristine paradise where God was great and God was good!
As a child how I longed to live in a tree fort, to be able to talk to the animals, to know them by name, to let out a thrilling yodel at the top of my lungs, and have elephants stampede my enemies. Do any of us ever outgrow our early dreams?
Ann Averill married her Tarzan and lives on an escarpment in the foothills of the Berkshires.