A Distant Mountain


I’ve come to face the startling idea that my entire life may have been outlined by a movie back in 1963, and I’m not kidding.

My Old Man didn’t go to the movies very often when we were kids, because he usually didn’t like the subject or actors, but he was a fan of drive-ins on occasion. That was especially true when one of his “players” appeared in the film.

While Mom was away with Little Brother, visiting my maternal grandparents in Lamar County that summer, he put down the paper and announced that he and I were going to see the new Henry Fonda movie.

I was nine years old, but I recall sitting in the front seat of our 1956 Ford pickup and watching something beautiful unfold as Spencer’s Mountain presented an idyllic life I’d never imagined.

When Mom came home a few days later, we went a second time so she could see it. She was taken aback that he’d already seen the movie and was willing to watch it again, because he never did that before, or after. This time he backed our pickup between the speaker posts and they watched from lawn chairs in the truck bed while Little Brother sat on the tailgate at first, and finished the evening lying on pallets at their feet.

I didn’t think much about the movie until this week, when I bought the DVD and the Bride and I settled in to watch. We talked about a the Spencer’s Mountain movie poster we’d seen in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, many years ago. It was filmed in the Grand Teton National Park, a place I’ve been drawn to again and again since I first went there in 1977.

The first credits rolled and the back of my neck tingled. Here was a movie I hadn’t seen in nearly 55 years, and it was already as familiar as my own living room.

“Good lord.”


“Just wait until the end.”

Synapses fired and loose ends connected as scene after scene lit sparks in my head. I recognized streams I fished and overlooks I hiked to over and over again. I’ve stood beside a barn they used in the movie, and I knew there were photographs in our closet featuring that same structure I placed in the foreground as I shot the mountains.

But there’s more.

Spencer’s Mountain continued to unfold and I felt a peace fall over me when I saw the little town they lived in. It was almost as much home as my grandparents little farm.

The plot continued to trace my roots, and subsequently, my life.

The sense of family coming to help in a dramatic scene was something I’ve always felt and whenever someone needed me, I did my best to be there.

Henry Fonda’s character wasn’t much for churchgoing, but he was still extremely spiritual, as I am. I pointed out to the War Department that the tiny church in the movie still exists and we’d discussed getting married there eighteen years ago, but were unable to schedule it.

He loved to fly fish, and that’s been something I’ve enjoyed since my Uncle Bill first took me to the small pond behind his house and showed me how to handle a fly rod.

Henry Fonda was building their dream house in the movie, perched on a hill overlooking those jagged blue mountains and featuring a wrap-around porch. It is my dream home as well and the tingle continued because I think that movie inspired me to learn carpentry and cabinetry.

I’ve loved to build structures since I was a kid. I began with tree houses, constructed club houses and built a 10×10 house on stilts when I was seventeen. Then I almost earned an architectural degree in college (and college was always important to me and my parents, and was an integral plot line in the movie). I designed houses that are still standing today.

I changed majors after deciding I’d rather have a career that would let me spend summers in the mountains…

…the Tetons…

…and so I became a teacher, with summers and holidays off.

Teachers figure predominately in the film.

Fonda’s character was a handyman, and I’ve been good with repairing and maintaining houses all my life.

His young college-bound son helped set up a library in an abandoned building and was surrounded by books. I set up a library in our garage when I was young, and eventually took a job as s “page” in a library, shelving books. My own house is a library, and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bookshelf or stack of books.

Fonda’s son loved to read. I absorb books.

Fonda had the perfect spiritual, and beautiful wife, and so do I.

There are more, minor events and characteristics in the movie that defines me with almost frightening accuracy. I need to watch it yet again to see if the list grows any longer. Truthfully, I’m kind of afraid I’ll find more similarities that simply cannot be a coincidence. It looks like my Old Man’s favorite movie impacted my entire life in unimaginable ways. I found myself in every single scene.

Could the simple act of seeing a movie twice in one week impact a nine-year-old so strongly that his life reflects Spencer’s Mountain?

I don’t know.

The subconscious is a mysterious thing, so it looks like it did.