Every year on Easter we have a big family reunion at my Great Aunt Marian’s convent. Relatives come from all over, many flying in from out of state to attend the annual gathering and share in a good meal, visit with family and catch up with everyone.
Well one year (circa 1999) I brought my video camera, and my cousin Nick and I thought it would be a fun idea to shoot a murder mystery during the family reunion.
It was kind of carrying on a tradition in a weird sort of way. When Nick and I were little kids we used to have sleepovers at the convent sometimes (that sounds a little strange now that I am typing it here, but trust me, it’s cool), and we would always come up with some kind of play or skit to perform in the courtyard for Aunt Marian and any other nuns that might be lucky enough to be around to attend. This was just an extension of that, only with a video camera this time.
The convent was a place that truly captured our imaginations when we were little. It was so huge to us as kids, with long hallways that seemed to stretch on for miles, dozens of rooms, and a small chapel at the end of one hallway. Spending the night there was like the setting for some kind of Narnia-esque adventure tale.
So that Easter, while most of our relatives were contemplating a second plate of ham and talking about how much the kids had grown over the last year, we were planning out our murder mystery movie. “Murder At The Convent” would feature Nick and myself as two police detectives investigating a homicide at a convent. The victim, one of the nuns, was killed by a young orphan in her care (played by my brother Josh), but we would need to do some detective work to figure that out of course. Here was the fun twist that we came up with – our relatives were going to be in the movie without knowing what it was. We would interview them, in character as police detectives investigating the people who knew the murdered sister, without our loved ones knowing we were throwing them into the middle of a murder scene.
Nick was brilliant. He never broke character. Every question he asked to an aunt or cousin seemed like he was talking about our dear Aunt Marian, but it also worked in the context of a detective investigating a murder. No one seemed to pick up on the fact that he kept talking in the past tense somehow. “So she WAS” this, or “So she DID” that… At one point he had to clarify that “I even find myself referring to her as Aunt Marian” to explain why his detective character would be calling the deceased his aunt.
Through the course of these interviews we ended up getting some pretty heartfelt responses from relatives who thought we were interviewing them about Aunt Marian. Aunt Virginia talked about how Aunt Marian helped Aunt Penny learn to play the piano and inspired her to play at a level far beyond other girls her age. Cousin Martie talked about how Aunt Marian always seemed to be able to find the perfect Christmas present for everyone. Some of the little kid cousins raved about the egg hunt that she organized as part of the Easter gathering every year (they were also apparently under the impression that she hand-made all the candy).
And because of this, the rumor got out that we were making a tribute video to Aunt Marian. And the rumor made its way back to us, because now everyone wanted to know when we were going to show the tribute video.
That was pretty much when we realized how horrible this was going to be, when a room full of our relatives from all over the country gathered together to watch a loving tribute video to our great aunt, a nun, the woman who tirelessly organized and hosted a gigantic family reunion for everyone year after year… only to find that they are watching a movie where we have seemingly killed that dear sweet woman off.
The last few minutes of the video are a hastily recorded apology, where Nick and I sheepishly say that we never meant for it to go this far and that we really love Aunt Marian and meant no disrespect, and then we pull about a dozen of the little kid cousins into the room and everyone says in unison “We love you, Aunt Marian!”
Even so, we could not bring ourselves to show the video. We did debate it for awhile. Could we get away with it, maybe if we issued some type of disclaimer before we started it, explaining all of this? Well, considering the opening scene is my cousin Nick, wearing a sheet like a habit, kneeling in front of the altar in the chapel, when you hear a loud BANG sound effect… no, we could not show this video. We had made a horrible mistake. This video could never be shown to anyone, ever.
We put the camera away. Anyone who asked about the tribute was told that we were not able to finish it and that we would have to show it some other time.
A select few have seen it since then. They know the story and they think it’s hilarious. Some of it actually is quite funny. As I said before, Nick’s ad-libbed, dual-meaning interview questions are truly something to behold. And the unprompted thoughts and feelings of the relatives who really are sharing true stories about Aunt Marian are touching.
(But even now, 15 years later, I wouldn’t show that thing at the Easter reunion if you paid me to!)