Ten Decembers ago I was a bewildered, rigid high school freshman. Football had recently ended right as basketball began. School was fine, from what I remember. I struggled in Biology and didn’t care too much for my English teacher. Lunch might have been the best part of the day, third period lunch to be exact. Seriously, we had to eat lunch before 10 a.m. Spanish class immediately followed lunch, and for people who knew me growing up you know how I stumbled with speaking in general, so Spanish was predictably a nightmare.
I cannot remember the exact days, but it happened in December in the days, or maybe weeks, leading up to Christmas break. Spanish began as it normally did with Mr. Tobin greeting the class with buenos días before roll call. Shortly after roll call, Mr. Tobin explained how’d we spend the next few days watching his favorite movie in Spanish, but with English subtitles. Anytime a teacher played a movie classes reacted in a way that sounded similar to the bar’s reaction to a DJ playing “My Heart Will Go On.”
If you’ve read the title of this post, you know what movie was played. If you didn’t read the title of this post, the movie was It’s A Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra. Watching a movie in Spanish, albeit with English subtitles, felt weird as I remember. Since I hadn’t seen the movie before, I primarily focused on the plot from the subtitle’s perspective, rather than how a young George Bailey sounded in Spanish. Maybe there’s a reason why Spanish wasn’t one of my better subjects.
Despite the Spanish speaking, It’s A Wonderful Life stood out. As the movie progressed over the course of the week, I became enamored with George Bailey, of course. George Bailey always thought big picture. He had these hopes and dreams that threatened to move mountains. He talked of traveling the world and doing things that journalists would write in the papers. But he fell in love and tragedy struck his home. Life became something unexpected.
After the completion of the movie, I declared it as my new favorite, even though I hadn’t watched the English speaking version. Shortly after, I watched that version on NBC Christmas Eve thus beginning some sort of tradition. It’s been rare that I haven’t watched It’s A Wonderful Life around Christmastime. As mentioned before, Spanish and I didn’t get along too well. Aside from the oral elements, I couldn’t tell the difference between masculine and feminine objects. Everything felt confusing, but Mr. Tobin would help me out. Sometimes, before school began, he’d quiz me using flashcards. At that age, I tended to give up on things that seemed challenging, but Mr. Tobin really made a difference. He had an easy-going personality, and he never made you feel stupid. Mostly, he believed you had the ability to do it.
I’d have to dig up an old report card to say exactly how I did in Spanish that year. The grade probably sniffed somewhere in the middle of my freshman year football number (87) and my sophomore year one (71). But I left that class with a better understanding of how to treat people and the ever-important trait of persistence. Mr. Tobin left an impact after one year of Spanish.
Sophomore year meant Spanish II, but Mr. Tobin didn’t teach any sections. He taught English classes, but mostly only the girls next door. I wasn’t sure if I’d have him as a teacher again until an after school club struck a cord. It might have been some time in the fall when I signed up for a poetry club. I couldn’t name you one person in the class, but I remember we only met once or twice a month. One of the instructors was Mr. Tobin.
It’s A Wonderful Life has many layers to it. It’s easy to take different lessons from the movie. Count your blessings, being one of them. Friendship becomes an overriding theme, especially with a line referenced often: remember no man is a failure who has friends. That line appears in a card George receives once Clarence makes him born again. (Clarence also thanks him for his wings). The scene that I remember fondly takes place between George and Mary after the dance, with George saying:
“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary. ”
It’s uncertain how many sessions of poetry club I even attended. There weren’t any rules or regulations, really. Write whatever you’re passionate about, print it out and then read it out loud in a formed circle. You were supposed to critique the poems, and I vaguely remember one girl being particularly harsh to one brave person’s poem. For me, I either wrote something incredibly depressing, but not in a dark and devious way, most likely in a plain, obvious way. Or I wrote something helplessly romantic, which was most likely cheesy. Sometimes, I bet, it was a little bit of both.
Out of every club meeting, I only really remember what took place during one of them. It was during basketball season, and we usually practiced at 5, which gave me time to partake in the monthly or bi-monthly poetry club session. I’m sure if our home computer didn’t crash years ago, I could discover what the poem actually said. I’m not going to bother re-imagining the truly awful poem. But Mr. Tobin liked it, and that’s the only thing I remember about that club this many years later.
It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas movie solely because the money goes missing on Christmas Eve, and on what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, George Bailey feels that pressure weighing down on his shoulders. He misplaced thousands and thousands of dollars. He wish he could just crawl up in a hole, never to be heard from again. Years before George literally saves not one but two lives, but sometimes one moment makes a person forget all the good they’ve done. George was selfless throughout his entire adult life, and even though he grew frustrated at times, he always stepped up to the plate and delivered. Like when he and Mary were supposed to honeymoon, or the fact that he turned down a job from old man Potter because he knew decent people would suffer in the process. The movie celebrates the true beauty of life, which can often be forgotten during the Christmas season.
Shortly after Mr. Tobin told the poetry club he enjoyed the poem, he died unexpectedly at 48. I remember going to the funeral. I remember being upset. It didn’t seem fair. How could a truly remarkable man like Mr. Tobin be gone forever? Around this time of year, I think about a lot of things. About friends. About family. About Mr. Tobin. He introduced me to It’s A Wonderful Life 10 years ago. Even though I’m sure somebody else would’ve told me, I’m sure glad it was him.