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Chevy Holiday Ad Prompts Memories of Those Who Lost Theirs

Chevy Holiday Ad Prompts Memories of Those Who Lost Theirs
Courtesy John Casey

Sudie Jones and Nell Montgomery

John Casey writes about the memories that Christmas and Chevy stur up.

This time of year conjures up memories of Christmases past, when for some of us, our grandparents were still alive, vibrant and filled with holiday spirit. At one point in my life, I had five grandmothers -- a great-great-grandmother, two great-grandmothers, and my grandmother on my mom's side, and my father's mother. They all absolutely loved Christmas and they knew how to make it special.

I was lucky to have two of my great-grandmothers around till I was in my mid-20s. Sudie Jones, my grandfather Jimmy’s mom, was a ball of energy at five feet nothing. She moved at a clip, with a gait that was more akin to a swift walk than a stroll. She laughed at everything. Seriously, everything. It was like someone recorded her laugh and played it on a continuous loop.

This completely contradicted her difficult life. Her husband, my great-grandfather Wade, died early in their marriage. She married again, to a roaring alcoholic who beat her constantly. Afraid for her life, her brother, my great-great uncle, confronted the man, and killed him. My uncle said it was an accident, and he was eventually acquitted of murder.

Nell Montgomery was my grandmother Louise’s mom. She was unaware of her extraordinary sense of humor, which again contradicted all the pictures of her that showed a dour look, except the one above where she was caught smiling sitting next to Sudie.

Nell was by far the best cook ever. Her meals and pies were legendary. She was hopelessly in love with her husband, my great-grandfather Lawson. They lived in the smallest house in Greene County Pennsylvania. When Lawson, nicknamed “Monty” died, Nell tried to crawl into the casket with him, which was at once comical and sad, and testament to her unusual sense of humor and devotion to her husband.

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After I started working in the Washington County district office of my congressman out of college, I would often have to travel to neighboring Greene County for meetings. Every time I crossed the county line, I always made it a point to visit Sudie and Nell who were both in different elder care homes.

Sudie lived in a nursing home that smelled…like a nursing home. As she aged, Sudie mind began to fade. When I would visit, I would stare into her blank eyes at an abyss of emptiness. She could only manage to mumble and shake her hands. It was gut-wrenching to sit with her. How I longed for the buzzing Sudie.

Nell lived in a rest home with the only redeeming quality being a front porch that looked at the mountains of Greene County. At first, Nell was just forgetful. She always asked me the same question, “When are you getting married, darling?” And I always had the same answer, “When I find the right girl.” I don’t know how she’d feel about me being gay.

I knew that dementia had seeped into Nell’s mind when I visited her once, and she thought I was her boyfriend. And I really knew that her memory had gone when she stopped asking me if I had a girlfriend and when I was getting married. I used to cry when I said goodbye to her.

Anyone who has had a mother, grandmother or a close loved one slip into dementia knows what I’m talking about. It’s dehumanizing, and the anguish of watching them deteriorate cannot be described. But, it was in an unlikely place Nell and Sudie came rushing back to me. I found their memories in a Chevy ad.

Every year at this time, every major brand has already released their holiday ad or ads. It’s the precursor to Super Bowl ads. After having spent so many years in retail with Sears, Kmart, Macy’s and Toys “R” Us, I was subjected to watching and reviewing an infinite number of holiday ads as part of the retailers’ marketing teams. I used to – and still do – say I’ve seen it all.

They’ve changed over the years, from the traditional families opening gifts to putting big red bows on cars. Now, most attempt to pull at your heart strings with snippets of short stories that are less ads and more super-short films. They, too, have become almost cookie-cutter. You know from the outset that the goal of the brand is to make you feel warm all over, make you cry, or more discreetly, make you run out and buy something from that brand during your holiday shopping excursions.

Then, the new ad by Chevrolet popped up in my Facebook feed. I half-heartedly clicked on the link, saw that the video was nearly seven-minutes long, and rolled my eyes.

A Holiday to Remember |

After watching it, I was wiping tears from my eyes.

In short, it’s watching a grandmother go from staring blankly out of a living room window to looking sprightly out of the window of an old 1972 Chevy Suburban. Her granddaughter takes her on a journey, passing places and scenes from her grandmother's past as she’s being driven around. The video has as it’s theme song John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which includes these lyrics:

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while

When I heard this stanza, that’s when I realized why this ad was so special.

When I would visit Sudie and Nell, my secret wish was to take them out of their homes and put them in environments that might make them happy or make them recall something special from their lives. The bland walls of their homes, and the smells and sounds where they were living were so unfamiliar, so cold, so impersonal. It was as if those walls were sponges sucking the memories of their lives from their minds, and leaving them despondent. In other words, their surroundings seemed to fuel their dementia.

I would leave them, full of frustration, wanting so bad to have moments with them where Sudie laughed and sprinted, and Nell cooked and was comical. But they died, and I never had the chance to see their faces light-up again.

When you watch the new Chevy ad, you might feel the same way – that you never got a chance to give them one last beautiful memory. Chevy’s ad allowed me to live vicariously through that grandmother, imagining me driving Sudie and Nell around the bucolic wonderment of their treasured Greene County, with their faces lighting up.

John Casey is a senior editor at The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.