Reflecting on Anniversaries, Love and ‘Jaws’

By Ed Wendell

It was June 22, 1975, my parent’s 12th wedding anniversary. I was 10 years old and very excited because we were going to see the movie Jaws, which had just opened in theaters a few days earlier.

It was already a huge sensation and all the kids at school were talking about it, though no one had seen it yet. I knew it was going to be a real scary movie and that was something to consider, you see, because my mom was a screamer.

She would get very excited when watching television shows, especially thrillers, shouting out warnings to the characters and yelling at them when they did something stupid, like going into a dark basement to investigate a creepy noise.

If she yelled at the television during programs as tame as Barnaby Jones or Cannon, how was she going to fare against a 25 foot shark, three tons of him?

So we drove out to a theater in Valley Stream and I was so excited the whole way there. All I knew about the story were a few little snippets I had read from my dad’s paperback copy of Peter Benchley’s novel. The opening of the book is pretty scary and goes into some real gory detail about what a shark’s teeth do to a young lady swimming alone at night.

I couldn’t wait to see it, but what about mom?

So the movie opens and the now iconic theme by John Williams starts and the audience breaks out in some nervous laughter. Pretty soon, a young woman ventures into the water where, alone in the dark, she is swimming peacefully.

“Oh, no,” Mom burst out loud. “Get out of the water!” The people around us laughed for a second – and then the shark struck. The poor girl was attacked from below and in the middle of all this my mom screamed again, even louder, and everyone around us jumped!

Ed Wendell with his mother.

The next 2 hours were a rollercoaster ride, switching between regular scenes of the town and the Sherriff and his family and scenes of bloody mayhem involving the shark.

There’s a scene where two guys are trying to catch the shark by throwing a roast into the water, attached to a pier by a chain and a hook. Well, when the shark took the bait and half the pier with him, my mom was screaming and pleading with the man to swim faster before the shark got him.

And when one character dives into the ocean to see what happened to the owner of a small boat drifting alone at night, my mom was shouting at him to stay in the bigger boat. And when the boat owner’s head floated out of a hole in the hull, she screamed so loud the whole theater jumped.

Me and my dad were used to this. But I wonder how the people around us felt. Not only did they have to worry about when the shark was going to jump up and scare them, they had to worry about this Scottish lunatic screaming.

Finally, at the end, when one of the characters climbs into a cage, and the cage is lowered into the water where our shark is swimming, she’d had enough. She got up and ran up the aisle, grabbing my shirt (and a handful of my chest), dragging me with her. The audience around us was cheering as we ran!

And so, the very first time I saw Jaws, I missed the ending. I sat in the lobby with my mom while the drama played out inside. She said she was sorry and told me to go back but I couldn’t leave her. I sat with her and pretty soon we were laughing about it.

When my dad came out he was all excited and told me about the (SPOILER ALERT) shark blowing up and I died a little inside. But at least the next day at school, when the kids talked about how cool the ending was, I enthusiastically agreed as if I had seen every second of it.

My parents had many happy anniversaries together, but I can’t ever get through the month of June without thinking of that one particular anniversary outing spent with my Dad, My Mom, and a giant man-eating shark.

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