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Why I owe it to my late mother to watch the Oscars all the way through to Best Picture

For her, the awards show was about something deeply personal. Now it’s up to me to carry on her tradition.

The writer’s mother dressed up to watch the Oscars at home in Florida. She’s holding her grandchild, the writer’s daughter.Diane Bair

For some people, it’s Mother’s Day or a birthday that makes them think about their mother. For me, it’s Oscar Sunday, her favorite occasion. Like Mom always did, I’ll bring out batches of popcorn popped on the stove in oil (none of that “horrid microwave stuff,” as she called it) and plain and peanut M&Ms, served in candy dishes that come out once a year just for this event. I’ll put on red lipstick and wear something chic, as though I’m an actual guest at the Hollywood event.

Mom was the Queen of the Oscars, even though she never swanned along a red carpet. Confiding to her daughters that she looked like “a young Lee Remick” (we had no idea who that was), she grew up without much. No vacations, no fancy clothes. As girls, my sisters and I marveled at her modest playthings she’d carefully kept for us: a metal dollhouse, a box of paper dolls cut from a women’s magazine. But our mother had a super-power: She could create fun and excitement out of almost anything. When she pulled out a boxed cake mix and some powdered sugar, it was “Baking Day! Put on your aprons!” and her three girls went along for the ride.


Maybe it was because she was a kid herself when we were little — she had three babies by the time she was 26. But, as time went on, that’s just who she was, a woman who adored and

appreciated the small joys of life, always ready to celebrate them. A snow day called for a party, a tornado warning meant we huddled in the basement eating treats and playing board games. Mom could turn even scary weather events into good times.

On Oscar Sundays, we were allowed to stay up late to see who won Best Picture, no matter that Monday was a school day. Years later, after she moved to Florida, I’d time a visit to watch the show with her, along with my own kids. “What movies have you seen?” she’d ask, as soon as we came through the door. “Almost none!” I’d reply, and she’d quickly plan for us to see every nominated film. Even though it was bright and sunny outside, and a beautiful Gulf beach was just down the street, we’d spend the week sitting in the dark at the dollar theater or at matinees, watching everything I’d missed as the kids played happily at the beach with Grandpa.


On Oscar night, though, my kids were right there with us, gorging on popcorn and candy as long as they could stay awake. We’d start with the red-carpet interviews and keep watching until the last award was announced, followed by a recap by Mom — she had strong opinions about who had been snubbed, whose speech was the best, and “who really should sue her stylist over that ridiculous gown.” That was Mom in all her glory, creating a fun family event out of a TV awards show.

How painful, then, that someone whose favorite phrase was, “The envelope, please!” was later tripped up by an envelope. Or so it seemed. At a birthday party for my son, Mom was handed a birthday card in an envelope...and didn’t know what to do with it. She looked at it like it was something she’d never seen before. It was the first sign we’d seen of her Alzheimer’s. She was only 65, and still the liveliest person in the room, still looking like Lee Remick. Until she wasn’t, and didn’t. The disease robbed her of her eyesight. No more watching the Oscars, no more judging the pretty gowns.


It’s my job to watch the show now, and all the preshows. I’ll make sure I see every movie. I’ll make the popcorn, the proper way, and get both kinds of M&Ms. And I hope somewhere Mom is watching too, because this really is the best night of the year.

Diane Bair is a writer in Marstons Mills. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Tell your story: Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.