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Friday, May 22, 2015

I've got a foot...or an ear...in both worlds.

Good afternoon!

First of all, this is Memorial Day Weekend here in the US.  Yes, the official kick off to the Summer, but also a weekend to take a moment to remember and honor those who gave their lives in defense of the idea that is our freedom.  God bless our men and women uniform and God bless those who gave all so we can have a long weekend to kick off a season of grilling, sitting outside, and festivals.

Now then. When I was growing up my mother watched soap operas. She had two she especially loved and she watched them religiously:  As the World Turns and Guiding Light.  Her soap viewing started the way many did back then:  She got pregnant and the doctor told her to rest in the afternoons.  That turned into folding laundry in the afternoons.  And then, when she moved a TV into the kitchen, making dinner in the afternoon.  And taking a break from a day full of piano lessons in the afternoon.  For as long as I can remember, my mother watched these two soaps.  And, when I was old enough...like nine or ten, she stopped yelling at me to get out of the room when they were on.  If I was very, very quiet and asked no questions, I could sit for two solid hours, escaping the summer heat of a Central Wisconsin July, and watched the antics of the Bauers in Springfield or the Hughes family in Oakdale.

I loved soap operas.  I watched Guiding Light and As the World Turns until they were cancelled a few years ago.  I wept when As the World Turns ended because I'd watched that one longest, and most faithfully.  I miss those shows.  Now, in these days of reality TV and game shows and talent shows and 24 hour news channels, it would be nice to slip away into someone else's world:  a world where everyone dresses up and looks good all the time, a world where everyone has a job that's flexible enough to long lunches, trips to Europe, and a perfect manicure.  

My mother, I think, viewed soaps differently.  While I loved the romance of women in high heels and dashing men in suits I think my mother watched and tried to make herself feel better about her life by watching the scripted misery of others.  Her life as a parochial teacher's wife lacked drama and intrigue.  But on the soaps, no one found dead mice behind the couch, no one burned dinner, and if anyone was sick, they didn't throw up, no, they were in a very clean, tidy coma.

I bring all this up because today I did something I never thought I'd do because it's ridiculous.  I'm wearing a pearl necklace and earrings with a hooded sweatshirt.  I've reached a weird age, at 47.  I know I have to dress it up a bit now that I'm not young, but I'm not ready to part with comfortable clothes. So my jeans have no holes in them, and my sweatshirts are tidy and feminine.  And I have jewelry on.  As I was putting the pearl necklace on today I could hear my mother, in one of her weird dinner conversations with my father that made no sense to me at the time, but now makes complete sense.  She said, "And there was Nancy Hughes, baking cookies wearing earrings."

She said that when I was a kid and I thought it was the weirdest thing ever.  First of all, I never heard my mother talk about a TV character like a real person before.  I did it all the time.  Johnny

Gage and Roy DeSoto from my favorite TV show "Emergency" were my very real friends. I talked about them...and yes, I talked to them...all the time.  But I was a dumb kid with a big imagination.  (I often liked to believe I was a dog.  If you went to grade school with me, chances are you remember me as the kid who would crawl around the playground barking. I also pretended to be a horse, but that was a shorter lived phase.  Dogs were more fun to be I guess.)

Anyway, so I'm sitting at the dinner listening to my mother gripe about a woman on a soap opera making cookies and wearing earrings at the same time.  I didn't get it.

I get it now.  My mother was a woman who was always, always overwhelmed and overworked.  I remember her best as always being frazzled by this or that.  Moms can relate.  There's always work to be done, and if you're a working mom (outside the home) then there's that. And this was before the over scheduling of the children, so she didn't have to drive us anyplace, but it was also before microwaves, food delivery to your door, and being able to record TV shows.  Oh, and she used a wringer washing machine until about 2001.  Granted, that's her issue, automatic washing machines have been around for a long time.

Anyway, I get it. There are days, even now that I'm working at home and my life is moving much more slowly, that I put a ton of time into my look because I don't have that kind of time or energy Even working in an office, there were days where I was running so fast I had to just look in the mirror and say, "good enough."  

For my mother's generation, it was even more so like that. The idea of doing something so basic, so homey, like baking cookies, but first taking time to put in earrings was silly in our part of the world. Taking that sort of time for that sort of primping was looked upon as wasteful.  Baking, cooking, cleaning all took time, and wearing earrings took time away from that.  Only women who really, really, REALLY had it together would have the kind of time and togetherness it would take to put on earrings and bake cookies. and Nancy Hughes, in all her soapy glory, was put together. 

Nancy Hughes (helen Wagner)
Still Rocking great earrings!
In that one comment, one I remember all these decades later, I heard my mother's frustration with her life.  There was no glamour in my childhood.  We had no money, my dad worked ridiculous hours, and my mom filled in the gaps teaching piano lessons.  Yet, we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table.  It wasn't always great food, we ate a lot of casseroles, but I was never hungry.

I always wear earrings now.  Simple hoops usually, nothing like Nancy Hughes' glorious clip-ons. (Who didn't envy those wardrobes?)  But looking in the mirror, wearing a sweatshirt and pearls, I had to laugh.  In a weird way I've become that ideal woman my mother envied.  I mean, I have a job that has flexibility for long lunches and drama in the middle of the day. I'm sure. I can bake while wearing earrings. In fact, last week I baked a pie while wearing earrings. 

At the same time, I'm wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. I'll NEVER have a perfect manicure. I'm ready for some sort of work. I'm ready to do what I have to without worrying about getting dirty or puked on or whatever. 

My mother and my mother's soaps. I've got a foot, or an ear, in both worlds.

Now, if I could just get it together enough to go to Europe!






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