The movie “The Great Santini” bestowed many acute gifts upon the Conroy family. The film itself did much to restore the hazardous equilibrium of a family badly shattered by our parents’ divorce. Though the movie held up a mirror for the world to glimpse a family in extreme breakdown, by God, it was a family where great love and loyalty could grow even in such a disastrous garden of souls.
But there is a gift the Hollywood people gave us that seemed happenstance at the time. When I finally got a tape of the movie many years after its release, I went straight to a scene where Ben Meecham is hurt during a basketball game, with his parents watching from the stands. Directly behind Blythe Danner, [director] Lewis John Carlino has generously seated my real mother, who looks as happy as I’ve ever seen her, and as pretty as a boy could ever want his mother to be.
She follows the game as it races up and down the court; my brother Tom, the boy wearing black horn-rimmed glasses, is playing on the same team with Michael O’Keefe. The camera goes from court to Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner, back to action on the court, where Tom is running a play with Michael O’Keefe, back to Mom, back to Tom, back to the court, then my mother again. Then my brother once more. Then I turned the movie off because I couldn’t bear to watch another frame.