Before I knew how to read, I could pick out the pair of VHS tapes by the rainbow gradient pattern on their cases. Later, I memorized the shape of the words Sharpied down their spines. "The Sound of Music."
I didn't care that the 1965, 174-minute movie was recorded from a television broadcast -- commercials and all. Plotlines blurred back and forth between von Trapps and Teddy Ruxpins, Nazis and Noxzema. In my 4-year-old mind, it all made perfect sense. I hit rewind.
I watched obsessively through a long, hot Texas summer, dreaming of Austrian mountaintops and pink parasols. I aspired to sing like Maria, to twirl like Liesl, to talk to God like the Reverend Mother. I never stopped watching.
The tapes survived multiple moves, crossed state lines and outlived more than a few VCRs. I brought them with me to college. Twenty years after my first viewing, I stepped off a shiny Deutsche Bahn train into a hazy Salzburg morning. I'd landed on hallowed ground. The Alpine peaks and clanging church bells from the movie's opening montage unfurled before me in real time.
The pilgrimage lasted less than 48 hours. I happened to be in the middle of my honeymoon, but I drank that city in like a stein of cold Hefeweizen. We splashed the stone horses of the fountain in Residence Square, hummed "Do-Re-Mi" on the steps of the Mirabell Palace, tiptoed into vespers at Nonnberg Abbey, kissed at the famous gazebo, rode bikes across footbridges and ate crisp -- OK, soggy -- apple strudel. My favorite scenes from the movie trumped any guide book recommendations.
On the Official Sound of Music Tour, I learned that most Salzburg natives either despised the film or were ambivalent about its existence. Something about Rodgers and Hammerstein's kitschy take on their history didn't really do it for them. Our tour guide gleefully ran through a long list of the film's inaccuracies.
My appreciation of the cinematic masterpiece didn't waver. It wasn't just about history for me anyway, or the guilty-pleasure harmonies or kids in lederhosen. Perhaps Julie Andrews, who played Maria, summed up its magnetism best in a 1973 issue of Photoplay: "There's a kind of naive loveliness about it, and love goes by so fast ... love and music and happiness and family, that's what it's all about. I believe in these things. It would be awful not to, wouldn't it?"
The movie also provided a treasure trove of life lessons for me, including:
* Sometimes you have to fake confidence until you find your voice, even if it means singing loudly in the middle of a crowded street.
* Don't let men boss you around, especially if they are 17-going-on-18.
* Running away from your problems never solves anything; you eventually have to face them.
* When you're feeling unhappy about something out of your control, don't freak out -- just close your eyes and remember your favorite things.
Which is why instead of fuming tonight while NBC airs its experimental "one-time-only" "The Sound of Music Live!" (8 p.m., WPXI), I'm going to take a deep breath and watch my 40th anniversary edition DVD of Ms. Andrews in the lead role. No offense to Carrie Underwood. There just really isn't a performer I know besides Ms. Andrews who could possibly live up to my expectations for Maria. Well, maybe Beyonce.