All posts tagged #memories

Why I Like Mad Men

Sally wearing go-go boots

Sally wearing go-go boots

Mad Men begins it’s final episodes this Sunday and I thought I would share a piece originally written in 2012 and published in More.com about Why I Like Mad Men. I’ll give you a hint. She’s a little girl.

“WHY I LIKE MAD MEN”

It’s all about Sally. Really.

It’s not because I spent the majority of my career in advertising. It’s not because I love the show’s fashions. It’s not because I think Don Draper and Roger Sterling are handsome. All the above is true, but it’s not why I really like Mad Men.

I like “Mad Men” because I relate to Sally. Sally Draper who has grown up from a little 6-year old to a prepubescent 12-year old. Sally who is one year older than I was in 1966, the year of Season 5. I like “Mad Men” so much because I’m reliving my coming of age in the mid-60s from the introduction of mid-century modern design to the picket lines and protests.

Of course I came of age in Dayton, Ohio not New York City. My parents were married, not divorced. My dad was a second-generation engineer/construction man and my mom, while pretty, was never a model. However she did wear gloves and smart looking shifts like Betty Draper.

Television characters have often spoken to me. They provided insight into how to role with the punches while trying to figure out this thing called life. In 1966 I started watching “That Girl.” The show’s protagonist, Ann Marie, was the first single workingwoman on television. She lived in New York City and pursued an acting career at the same time I studied acting and dreamt of an Oscar.

In 1970, the “Mary Tyler Moore” show’s character Mary Richards, a 30-year-old progressive workingwoman came into my television room around the same time as women’s consciousness raising groups gathered in living rooms. Not that I was fully aware of the latter. However I was aware of the statement Mary made and challenges she encountered as a never married single career woman, not necessarily looking for a man to support her.

During my 30s I watched two programs with special resonance. The first was “thirtysomething;” a program attuned to my life experiences. I identified most with Ellyn who worked at City Hall and dealt with the challenges of being a singleton in the midst of coupledom. The second was “Murphy Brown.” I recognized her glass ceiling struggles and admired her chutzpah for living life on her own terms.

It’s been a long time since I’ve identified with a television character. So it struck me when I realized that Sally Draper and I are in the same cohort. I’m interested in how Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, will portray the generation gap and the rise of the baby boomer generation’s influence on society and culture. I’m interested in how Sally will react to the changing landscape. And because I stand today watching a new generation shape the world in different ways I’m interested in how Don, Roger and the rest of the middle age crowd will adapt and thrive, or not.

I will stay tuned.
originally posted April 2, 2012
More.com

Smile and Say Thank You

ESD-New-Orleans copy

Mom didn’t teach me to cook. I wasn’t much interested and I don’t think she was either. She tried to teach me to sew but when she insisted that to be a good seamstress one had to learn how to rip out and redo the seam I decided I didn’t have the patience. She did teach me penmanship with limited success. I may have looked just like her but I scribbled like Dad.

She did tell me that the best thing to say when someone offers a complement is a sincere and simple “thank you.” I had/have a tendency to defer the compliment, deny the reason why it was given, or deliver a full history of how whatever is being complimented came about.

Most of the lessons I learned from my mother were delivered silently as I watched her go about her day, which included saying the rosary at 4:30 every afternoon. The lessons I learned from my mother were delivered when I watched her laugh until she snorted when her sister visited and coo endlessly at my baby brother after his bath. The lessons I learned from my mother were about living with caution because you might get hurt and how unexpressed grief manifests itself.

My mother’s first husband died in the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. One night when I was 9-years old, my father took me into the living room after dinner to have a talk. I knew I hadn’t done anything particularly bad that day and was excited to see what Dad wanted to share with only me. He sat on an ottoman across from me in the big armchair in the corner of the room. My saddle-shoed feet stuck straight out.

There he told me that my mother had been married once before. That her first husband had died in the war. That my oldest brother was from that marriage. That my Dad had adopted my oldest brother. That we did not consider my oldest brother to be a half brother. He was a full brother.

Years later it struck me that Mom didn’t tell me this news. Or that Mom and Dad didn’t tell me. It was her news, her life. Mom wouldn’t talk about the man she married at 24, who died less than two years after their marriage. She once said that her parents told her she was lucky. She might have lost a husband but she had a good job, a wonderful son, and family to help her. She learned to keep her grief to herself and adjust to her situation.

The main lesson I learned from my Mom wasn’t directly imparted to me. The lesson I learned was to be in control of the narrative of my life. If I hurt, hurt. If I love, love. And if I have to laugh, laugh until I snort.

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Rites of Passage: Mid-Life Marriage

Bride & Groom _NEW

It was a normal blind date at a nice restaurant, when the banker asked me some getting-to-know-you questions.
“Are you originally from Chicago?”
“Where do you work?” And,
“Why aren’t you married?”

Why aren’t you married? That’s the number one question on a single woman’s hit list. Running close, in second place is: “Why isn’t a woman like you married?” The latter moves to first place if any of the following adjectives modify woman: smart, pretty, wonderful. Why isn’t a wonderful woman like you married? Those positive adjectives only underscore the absurdity of the situation. You’re such a catch but still at sea.

Over the course of my extensive singlehood, I collected an arsenal of retorts to questions about my single status:
“Because you haven’t introduced me to him yet.”
“I haven’t found a man that makes me want to share my closets.”
“My husband is still married to his first wife.” And,
“I haven’t met the right person.”

Past dates have also identified reasons for my long-tenured singledom. I’ve been told:
“You’re too independent.”
“You’re not vulnerable enough.” And,
“You’re ovaries are too old.”

Okay, the guy didn’t actually say that to me. But he implied it. He asked, on the first date in a nice restaurant after finding out where I was from and where I worked, “Do you want to have children?”
“Sure, but I want to be married first. Anyway, I have plenty of time.”
“You’re over 30, I wouldn’t be too sure,” he said, and then told the manicurist who had fixed us up his real assessment. He felt I was too old to have babies. Had filed me under reproductively undesirable. He wanted a younger, more sure thing mother for his children.

I married when I was 48 years old for the first time, to someone I had known, on and off, for 12 years. Being so used to the “why aren’t you married” question I was caught off guard when, post-wedding a twice-divorced college friend of mine asked: “Why did you get married at this point in your life?”

I didn’t have a quick answer to this two-part question. Why get married, period? Why get married when you’re past child bearing and rearing age and all the benefits of a relationship can be had without marriage? Why? Why not?
“I married for love and adventure,” I answered.

Marriage was one of life’s great adventures that I had never experienced. Not even pretend experienced. I had never lived with a man before I married. I’m not even sure a man ever stored a toothbrush or razor at my apartment before I married. Not that I’m against co-habitation before marriage, but merging without a contractual commitment never made sense to me, especially as I got older and bought and decorated and redecorated my space in my way. I liked my space. I liked the way I cluttered my space. Control is my friend. Why would I give it up without a license?

Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, and I met on a blind date in June, when I was 36 and he was a 48-year-old, divorced, father of a college-age daughter. I wanted children and wondered if he wanted more. I broached the subject while kissing on my couch one night.
“Do you like children?”
“Of course, I have a daughter.”
“I mean would you have any more?”
“I could but…”
“You could, good.”
“Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about babies?”

Yes, it was. We dated maybe six times over the course of that summer, and the relationship faded as summer did. His impression lingered though. In a journal entry on the following New Year’s Eve I summed up each date of the last twelve months with three words. Except for Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, he rated four: “handsome, intelligent, good cook.”

Fast-forward eight years to a charity art auction. A small event, maybe 75 people. Hoping to meet new people – men – a girlfriend and I dressed up in leather skirts and boots and headed off to an up-and-coming but not-quite-there-yet Chicago neighborhood.
“Oh no,” I said as we walked in the room.
“What?”
“See that man over there.” I threw my head to the left and described Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband. “Tall, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, blonde woman on his arm.”
“Yes…”
“I went out with him years ago and just never called him back.” I told my friend that he was the only man I had dated – if five dates constitutes dating, and in your 30s it just might –to whom I wished I had given more of a chance.
“But he was such a man,” I said, “and I was used to boys.” He told me jokes in German and knew about art past the Impressionists. We danced in Greek restaurants, on his deck, and in my den. But I let him go.

That night I bought a piece of art that I didn’t even like just to spend time talking to him at the auction table. I made sure he had my telephone number and the following week we went to dinner where he did not ask, “Why aren’t you married?” I learned that he had just started seeing someone in London and I told him about a budding relationship of mine in Wales.

For the next two years we casually went out to dinner when we were both in town. His cross-Atlantic relationship ended before mine. For a year, he patiently listened to me agonize over whether or not I should marry the man from Wales. Then one night on our way home from dinner, as he placed me in a cab, he said:
“I’ll dance at your wedding if you marry this guy, but if you don’t, I think we could have something here.”

The walk down the aisle didn’t come right away. My need for control and doing things my way tested and retested our relationship. I insisted we stop at the edge of the crosswalk; he insisted on standing a foot back from the curb. I needed to know the exact directions to a location, and follow them. He expressed a boyish delight in the serendipity of getting lost and then found.

But nothing was more irritating to him than my popcorn rule. I insisted on my own small, no butter popcorn on movie dates. He was perplexed and mildly put off. It was as if I had committed Dating Crime #1. If I couldn’t share something as inconsequential as popcorn could I share the New York Times Magazine? The last squeeze of toothpaste? The final drop of milk?

In my defense, I was used to buying my own movie ticket, my own diet soda and especially my own popcorn. I’m not selfish. I just like to ration my popcorn so it lasts through the first half hour of the movie. Most people I know finish their popcorn before the seventh preview. If I share I can’t control the pace and therefore, my satisfaction.
On one typical movie date night, after we found seats in the front row behind the break in seats, he went to the refreshment stand.
“A small, no butter popcorn and medium Diet Coke for me, please,” I ordered.

He returned with two popcorns, as I had hoped. One child’s size, no butter for him and the jumbo tub of popcorn, no butter for me. Jumbo, as in big-enough-to-feed-the-rest-of-the-audience-please-take-some-as-you-walk-by-popcorn. Jumbo, as in see-how-ridiculous-it-is-to-insist-on-your-own-popcorn-when-you’re-in-an-intimate-relationship-with-someone-popcorn. I got the message as well as everyone else in the movie theater.

So on the next movie outing, in a spirit of compromise and in an effort to see if I could live outside my control zone, I agreed to share a medium, no butter popcorn. Sharing that first bag of popcorn was as stressful as I had imagined. His big hand, which never seemed big before, opened and closed like one of those claws in the arcade game that tries to grab a stuffed animal or plastic encased prize but never does. He grabbed a gross of kernels and started eating. His fist moved from bag to mouth, bag to mouth. I watched him eat and slowly put one, two, maybe three kernels in my mouth hoping that he would see this as behavior he should adopt.

Bits of popcorn decorated his sweater. Staring at me. Daring me to leave them alone. Popcorn shrapnel trailed from the bag to my jeans, to his jeans, and beyond. I cleaned up after him, off of him and off of me. If we were going to make it as a couple I needed to take control in a non-controlling way. I spread a napkin over my lap and created a little bowl-like shape. I poured a large amount of popcorn out of the bag into my makeshift receptacle and handed it back to him.

“It’s all yours,” I said and proceeded to eat by the 1s, 2s and 3s. He didn’t drop as much popcorn on our laps. I got my fair share and munched happily 30 minutes into the movie. I turned to him and said,
“You know, this could work.”

A couple more years and a few more adjustments to coupledom passed before we married. Bit by bit my singledom behavior and habitat have changed: I surrendered half my closet space. I eat real meals for dinner instead of just grazing on pretzels, yogurt, and Diet Coke. I’ve relinquished control over the remote control and sometimes watch the Military Channel, car auctions, and the German news. Some things will never change…my night owl will never understand his morning lark (and vice versa), driving directionless still frustrates me, and I get antsy standing behind a gaggle of pedestrians at a crosswalk.

There is one change that I didn’t make from my single days. My name. This doesn’t bother Husband. “It’s a sign of the times,” he says. “My first wife won’t give up my name, and my second wife won’t take it.” As I see it, there are only so many changes that could be accommodated in my middle age marriage.

Reunions are Just a Memory Event

College Pals With Diplomas

So far 2012 has been a year full of school activities. It started with graduations attended (graduate school, college, high school and elementary), moved to being a specatator at extracurricular activities (college soccer game,  high school cheer leading), and continued this past weekend with a college reunion.

I can sum up the weekend in a word: memories.

Memories were stirred: My room mate reminded me of how nice I was for taking care of another friend who was sick from a night of partying. Apparently I was quite the Florence Nightingale. I don’t remember and am sure I blocked the memory because it might make me sick. Anyway, good to know that I pulled through when needed.

Memories were unexpected: At an alumni-student career networking luncheon I met a young woman who said she was in a sorority. This was the last piece of information she offered after stating her major (Learning and Organizational Change and Political Science), hometown (somewhere in New Jersey), and hope for the future (human relations in a corporation and then executive recruiting.) When I learned that she and I were members of the same sorority I offered my hand and we exchanged the secret handshake.

“I haven’t done that in years, ” I said.

“I never expected to do that here,” she said.

“What just happened? Did I miss something?” the boy sitting next to her said.

Memories were confirmed: For years I have tried to confirm the occurrence and particulars of a summer party that had something to do with the university. I lived in Dayton, Oh and have no memory of traveling to a suburb of Cleveland for a summer get-together of either prospective students or accepted, soon-to-be freshmen students, but I do remember being in a classmate’s back yard. I think I remember another friend being there, she had traveled from Columbus, but this friend draws a blank whenever I try to force the memory into and out of her synapses.

The most salient part of the memory is the  backyard soda fountain and ice cream parlor. At the edge of the brick patio, near the grassy expanse of the lawn was a stainless steel home version of Baskin-Robbins. The father of the house treated all guests to a soda or sundae of their choice. I hung out near the chocolate. I remember nothing else of that event.

At the Saturday night party I beeline to the classmate from Cleveland.  She can make or break my memory.

“Did you live outside of Cleveland,” I asked her.

‘Yes,” she said.

“Did you have a summer party one year and served ice cream out of a backyard ice cream parlor?”

“Yes, oh you remember that too?”

“Remember it, I’ve told stories of that party and the ice-cream for years, not quite sure it was true but hoping it was. Thanks for confirming my memory. Now, why were we there in the first place?”

“I don’t remember.”
Memories were awkward: So you haven’t seen someone in a gazillion years and she sees you at the reunion talking to your college boyfriend. Seems just like yesterday. You and he hanging out. In fact, you and he do hang out with a group of friends and have a great relationship.

“Julie, hi,  it’s Susie. How are you?”

“Susie. Hi, it’s great to see you here. Do you remember…”, and I start to introduce said college boyfriend.

“Yes.  Did you two get married?”

This mistaken coupling is not the awkward part of the story. The awkward part happens when my close friend, Abby,  standing with us says: “Oh, almost.” And then laughs. A lot. But my college boyfriend and I didn’t almost get married and we both don’t really know what to say so I just point out my husband, one of the non-alumni spouses watching the Notre Dame football game in the lobby.

Memories were made: I’m sure they were made but I won’t know for sure until I see my friends and classmates again. Will we remember that one of us announced his engagement? Probably. Will we remember that Northwestern beat Iowa for a record of 7-2? Probably not, but we will remember that the football team played better than they ever did when we were there. Will I remember Susie asking me if my college boyfriend and I were married? Not sure. Depends upon how much short-term memory loss I experience between now and the next reunion. And if Susie is there.

Some people are reunion people, others are not. I like them for the memories that are stirred, confirmed and made. I especially like being with people who help me retrieve forgotten memories that when remembered help make my past whole.

Go U Northwestern! Just feeling a little purple pride today.

 

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