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Archives for 9/11/2001

9/11: The Love


I know you can do it, America. You did it before. You all pulled together and, while you won’t admit it because it sounds sappy and corny and hardly hi-tech, I will never forget that for one brief shining moment your gut reaction to tragedy and insult was . . . yup, I’m going to say it . . . love.

Remember the immediate moments after four planes changed our lives on Sept. 11, 2001?

I don’t mean what was going on at Ground Zero or the Pentagon or a Pennsylvania field. I mean right in your own town.

Remember how for a few days people were nicer to each other? Remember how much time we spent with our families? How polite we were when we did mundane things like driving and checking out at the grocery store? Remember how silly our previous focus seemed on what Madonna was wearing and who was on Oprah?

Remember how every family had so many American flags on their cars we all looked like we had our own private motorcades?

Shortly afterward many yanked those flags as they called for investigations and accountability. Others left the flags on and questioned everyone’s allegiance and faith. It was the beginning of the divide so well exploited by the media. And we began speaking to each other via inflammatory bumper stickers.

I remember thinking, in those brief moments following the disasters, how proud I was that instead of responding with hate and anger, we all chose to open our hearts to each other. While most look at this as a period to be dismissed, to me it was the most critical time of all. With the whole world watching, it boiled down to a choice each individual had to make: to go on the offensive and let our anger seek retribution and our fear seek revenge or to continue down the path our immediate gut reaction was leading us – that of unity, understanding and . . . God, here comes that trite word again . . . love.

There. I said it. That sappy, simplistic, non-political, hippie word: Love.

A lot of people write off that brief period as the manifestation of a nation in shock; that once we came to our senses it was time to get down to business. We’re almost embarrassed at our sappy behavior in those first days. How could all of Congress have possibly stood outside the U.S. Capitol and sang “God Bless America” – without bickering over what they were going to sing, that the song had “God” in it and who should just mouth the lyrics because they can’t carry a tune in a basket?

It’s obvious what we ultimately did choose. And in our fervor to avenge this attack upon our nation, most of us lost the little shreds of meaning from an attack that seemed so overwhelmingly senseless. Luckily we have all those answering machine messages left that morning to the victims’ relatives to remind us. They didn’t call and leave political statements or directives to retaliate against the groups that caused their murder. They left messages of . . . love.

I wish we had stayed with it, but something convinced us that all that kindness and tolerance floating around was just naïve and sentimental. Maybe it was the media at the mercy of political spin; maybe it was our American “don’t just sit there, do something” culture; maybe we forgot that just as individuals with a corporate hate could organize such an attack, individuals with corporate love could diffuse it.

Or maybe it’s that we’re more comfortable discussing what to do about our hate than about how to get to a state of love.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:30 PM | Permalink

True Altruism


Thank you, Kathy Seal.
Having spent a few volunteer gigs with teenagers “helping out” as a way to have a community service to list on a college application, I was beginning to feel like a cranky curmudgeon for wanting them to get their lazy butts out of the way so I could get something done.
I know: Tell us how you really feel, Jeanne.
Now before you click that “send e-mail” button, let me just say that I’m aware there are teenagers who genuinely help out and do it out of a realization that we’re all in this together. And I’m sure that teenager is your teenager.
I’m referring to the college-bound students nudged along by their parents and put under the charge of regular volunteers whose time is already stretched to the breaking point. This volunteer trains the teen, who is usually reluctant since the assumption is that volunteer work is unskilled labor and “I’m, like, doing this for free, ya know, and now I have to, like, learn something too?”
It usually comes as a shock to them that they actually have to work in addition to showing up.
Of course, their parents or guidance counselor has sold them on the idea of volunteering by telling them “it’ll be fun!”
Let me tell you from firsthand experience: When a kid thinks it’s going to be fun and it’s not, one of two things happen. If you’re lucky they’ll just quit and never come back. But every now and then there is the teen that decides that if it isn’t fun, he is going to make it fun. The results can be disastrous and require copious amounts of Clorox. Enough said.
The argument in favor of requiring community service of a student is that it develops the habit of giving, although I was under the impression that such a practice usually doesn’t entail reciprocity like – er, say – a reference.
In addition, if true kindness isn’t at the heart of what you’re doing, your standards tend to slip.
A friend told me of taking a group of teens to help clean up the home of a 90-year-old woman who, while able to care for herself, had been unable to clean or maintain her home for some time. Needless to say, the vermin population was healthy.
The group set immediately to work on the kitchen where the mouse droppings were particularly plentiful. Screaming ensued followed by a lively game of Toss the Dead Rodent, where the outnumbered boys chased giggling girls through the house.
Now all this would have been understandable and tolerated but for one thing. The poor old woman sat in the living room, wringing her hands in embarrassment. My friend pulled the teens and returned the next week with his church’s men’s group.
Happily, Seal points out through the Pomona College Dean of Admissions Bruce Poch, most colleges see through this façade of altruism. But there are still high school guidance counselors, administrators and entire school systems sold on this idea, sometimes making it a requirement of graduation.
I don’t need a study such as the one sited by Seal to tell me mandates do not create giving, aware adults. I merely have to talk to a high school teacher I know who was the school’s facillatator for the junior version of a local civic association. She’d organized three opportunities for the club members, all recruited in the fall, to serve the community. Only one member showed up consistently, no more than two at each event. Yet seven students listed the organization under their yearbook photo.
There are the true givers and “requiring” volunteerism does a disservice to the kids who have been helping out all along, though not necessarily through official channels. These kids didn’t have to enter high school to find out there are things they can do to help their community. They’ve already learned the habit of looking around to see what needs to be done and doing it. It’s a quality more valuable than the jerry-rigged manipulation of college resumes.
These are the kids who shovel their elderly neighbors’ driveways while they’ve got their momentum going of shoveling their own. They don’t know how to not pick their neighbor’s newspaper out of the rain and put it on their porch.
When I had to load groceries into my car with one hand, my other burned and bandaged, two boys I’d never met ran over and loaded them for me, running off before I even had a chance to verbally thank them, let alone offer them a couple of bucks for their trouble. It was as though what they had done was what anyone else would have done though, curmudgeonly me, I know that’s not true.
I would love to talk to the head of their college admissions department.
I would have loved to meet their parents.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:31 AM | Permalink

Missing Mim


We named her Mim and she stalked our hummingbird feeders like a junkyard dog guarding a bone. Though she weighed less than an ounce, compared with her peers she was a hefty girl.
Mim the hummingbird has turned Dirtman and me into Bird Geeks.
It all started innocently enough. One of the roads in our subdivision is called Hummingbird Lane, causing us to wonder whether this meant we had an unusually large hummingbird population. Serendipitously, as these things often are, a friend of Dirtman’s had just opened a bird feeder store.
Did you know that there are 19 different hummingbird species in Texas? That’s the kind of fact Bruce pulls out of his brain during casual conversation. This is the ideal guy to own a bird feeder store.
So Bruce set us up with a hummingbird feeder and deck mounting equipment that even Dirtman and I could manage to put up ourselves.
Within 15 minutes of putting up the feeder, Mim was there. Fifteen minutes later Mim was still there. Cats on the deck, dogs barking at her, Mim was sucking down nectar (i.e., the sugar water I’d prepared) and daring them to take a flying leap off the deck to catch her.
Other hummingbirds would try to partake of our unending supply of nectar, but Mim would have none of it. There were times the battle was more brutal than any World War I dog fight, always ending with Mim perched triumphantly on the hummingbird silhouette filial she fancied herself resembling, coming down from what had to be a monumental sugar jag.
So we got another feeder for the rest of the hummingbirds, especially for the males. Hummingbird males are a wussy bunch, but very pretty with their bright red throats offset by their iridescent green backs. We hadn’t up to this point been able to see any in person because, while other female hummingbirds really ticked off our very territorial Mim, she got positively indignant when a male showed up.
So the alternate feeder idea worked for maybe 10 minutes before Mim laid claim to both, barely having time to protect her turf at one feeder before a security breach had her flapping for the other.
“Maybe a third feeder,” Dirtman suggested.
“She’ll have a nervous breakdown,” I replied. Not that any hummingbird is mellow. But Mim seemed to be a bit more, uh — focused than the others.
Bruce had warned us not to take the feeders down until September was over and then only when we hadn’t seen any hummingbirds for two weeks. During August our local birds spent their time beefing up for the trip. September is migration month.
One morning there were over a dozen hummingbirds at the feeders. The females were crankily dive-bombing each other and the males taking advantage of their hissy-fights to grab a few sips now and then. But there was no mistaking the social dynamics had changed drastically.
Mim had migrated.
“I can’t believe we’re bummed about a bird,” Dirtman said as we gazed sadly over our morning coffee at the empty filial. “What are we going to do when they’ve all migrated?”
“What time do you suppose Bruce opens today?” I asked.
I wonder if it’s possible to suffer empty nest syndrome when your kid is still living with you.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:15 AM | Permalink

Waiting for Sinatra


Labor Day weekend – for my family one of the High Holy Family meeting weekends while I was growing up. Labor Day weekend was mandatory attendance time.
No, not a single relative of mine was ever a member of a union, though we all labored quite intensely, thank you very much. But honestly, the holiday had nothing to do with it.
It was the weekend of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon and that meant that sometime during the night Sinatra would show up to sing.
For Italians in Jersey that’s like church.
And so we’d wait and watch for, not only Frank Sinatra, but sometimes the whole Rat Pack, minus Dean Martin (excluding one memorable year that practically gave The Uncles an aneurysm). Pillows and blankets were strewn on the floor for those who couldn’t “make it” to whenever Sinatra showed up.
In the meantime, the adults felt it was their duty to point out to us kids every “ploy” used to get you to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Lookit that,” Uncle Vinnie would aim his whiskey and soda at the TV screen. “ That kid can probably walk.”
“Look, look,” Aunt Angelina would snarl, “his mother is trying to cry, but she can’t. She’s too busy flirting with Lewis. Puttana.”
And, of course, there was food – several large meals over the course of the weekend. But, most importantly, grazing food brought before the television, so we wouldn’t miss even the minor deities like Julius La Rosa or Pat Cooper.
And, lest you think like an Americana that everyone brought a dish to share – this is not the generation of Italians that would take kindly to anyone thinking they didn’t have enough food on hand to feed everyone. To bring a covered dish would be the ultimate insult.
The only exception was my Aunt Betty who had easy access to the best Italian bakery in Jersey. She was only admitted into the house if she had at least two boxes of cannoli, three boxes of cookies and four or five boxes of breakfast buns. I try to think of her fondly when I try to zip my jeans.
An interesting dynamic developed while we sat around eating and watching the telethon. Little separate conversations would develop.
Over the years I watched major family controversies resolved over the Labor Day weekend simply because all the players in the argument were there to talk at the same time. I’ve seen battles explode, play out and fizzle during the course of a day, the participants all the better for it. This is where my mother taught me to manicure my nails, my Aunt Marie told me I had pretty ears and The Aunts and my mother told me about “the curse” of menstruation while my grandmother wept.
The funny thing is I don’t remember, in all those years, actually seeing Sinatra. I’d hear about it the next morning and, when I was older and the gatherings more sparse, seeing him zip quickly in and out. But what I remember most is waiting, hearing the announcer say his name at the commercial breaks and hearing Uncle Vinnie say, “Eh – he won’t show ‘til he’s done at the Sands.”
I’m embarrassed to say that during these years at no time did anyone think to actually contribute to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a wrong every year I feel is my obligation to right. MDA is the better for my guilt, certainly better off than if Aunt Angelina had made the call forty years ago.
I still love the Labor Day weekend. Most of The Aunts and The Uncles are gone now and we cousins are strewn all over the globe. But my brothers and I still get together with our own kids.
We eat, my generation having absolutely no qualms about anyone bringing covered dishes. The Best Italian Bakery in Jersey has long since closed down, otherwise one of us would be driving the five hours to supply the weekend. We manage, though.
But it’s just not the same without Sinatra.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 8:33 AM | Permalink

And the Emmy Goes To. . .


I ended up watching the Emmys this week, something I’ve not done in a few years because I don’t watch enough television to know or care what’s going on.
However Dirtman had emerged from his office for the event, a practice I encourage when he shows the inclination since, even though I’d be a very wealthy widow should the stress of constant work result in a fatal heart attack, I’d be left with no one to kill the gigantic killer bugs coming out of the woods around here. Oh, and there’s that love thing too.
So I grabbed a book and sat in the living room to watch the Emmys with Dirtman.
No, there were no inspirational moments stemming from the show that I had to rush to my computer to share with everyone – only a few observations of things significant enough to drag my attention from my vastly more interesting book.
1. Isn’t Alfre Woodard above Desperate Housewives? I know, I know – how can I judge a show I’ve never seen?
I’ve seen the rest of the cast. Euripides can rest peacefully in his grave knowing that they won’t be tackling Trojan Women any time soon. Except Alfre could.
Okay so Desperate Housewives pays significantly better than 2500-year-old Greek tragedy but still, Alfre, have some integrity!
2. It is bizarre to think that William Shatner and Ben Kingsley have a reason to be in the same room with each other.
3. Doesn’t Candice Bergen live with anyone? She must live with someone who could have looked her over before she left for the Emmys, noticed her outfit made her look like my Aunt Angelina serving fondue to the Rosary Altar Society and told her, “Candice. Change. For God’s sake!”
4. If reality shows are real people reacting to real situations, why does it take all those people to produce it?
The camera couldn’t pan the audience while the writers and producers of the winning reality show filed onto stage because all you’d see were empty seats. What do they all do while the real people are reacting to reality? Shop for black clothes?
5. While we’re on that segment of the show, I trust Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be firing their agents following this unfortunate gig announcing the winner of the aforementioned reality shows.
6. No one mugs like Bob Newhart.
7. Who are all these people? And what happened to the other people? I know I’ve been out of the TV loop for a few years, but you’d think I’d recognize more a third of the presenters.
There are Emmy winning shows that have only been off the air for one season. Are these people now out of show business?
8. And someone explain to me what Heidi Klum has to do with Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow?
Or television?
9. Yea, Tony Shalhoub!
Afternote: I have just been informed that Heidi Klum is, in fact, on television in a show called Project Runway, apparently a reality show where girls are voted out if they don’t have what it takes to become a model. In my day we called this high school gym class.
Editor’s Note: Not so fast, Jeanne. See today’s HotSpot for another take on Project Runway.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:27 AM | Permalink

Signs of Conscience


There is a disturbing trend among churches in the Shenandoah Valley threatening to chase away the most repentant sinner.
Sign boards in front of the church. You know, the ones that are supposed to tell the time of their service? Now they scold you from the roadside – with horribly bad puns and simplistic philosophy.
“Give God what’s right, not what’s left.” announced one local church. And just when I manage to stop groaning, another pops up stating perkily, “You may not believe in God, but he believes in you!”
Now these are rather harmless and I probably wouldn’t have noticed but for the signs that have a distinctly smug overtone.
“Forbidden fruit creates many jams!” natters one church. “Reason is the greatest enemy of faith,” sneers another.
Am I the only one who hears Dana Carvey’s Church Lady reading each message? And isn’t this the sort of conceited self-righteousness that makes you want to . . . I don’t know . . . see-yun! (True believers know the word “sin” has two syllables.)
But then there are the signs that just make you shake your head.
This Easter the sign outside a church on the highway read, “Prepare your Easter heart, not your Easter hat.” It’s been 20 years since anyone around here has worn a hat to church or anywhere else, other than a greasy bill cap with “John Deere” on it.
The same church recently presented a treatise that required four passes in my car before I got the gist of the entire message: “God don’t make anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.” (Say it with a Southern accent and the grammar almost sounds correct. . .). Hardly inspirational, and almost jovial until I remember their usual message condemns just about everyone to hell who doesn’t worship with them.
I realize signs like this may be old news in a lot of areas of the U.S. But up until recently there were very few churches around here that felt compelled to nag passersby. It seems when people started moving here from other areas of the country – and world – these signs started popping up everywhere.
This is a county that still begins some school functions with prayers ending “. . .In Jesus’ name, Amen.” As of yet, no one has called them on it. But you can’t help but notice the change in the population mix that has taken place over the last year. Hence the battle lines are subtly being drawn.
Apparently there are books offering suggestions for nagging church signs, meaning someone is getting paid to come up with stuff like, “God answers knee-mail.” I’m guessing the Hee Haw writers had to find work somewhere.
But every now and then the self-righteous are put in their place by a God that thinks a sign that says “AIDS cures sodomy” is vicious (at least that’s what I’d like to think). This is only hearsay, but a friend told me of a church near her that for a day and a half had on their sign, “A four-inch tongue can bring down a six-foot man,” before anyone realized the double-entendre.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:19 PM | Permalink

Gidget Gets Osteoporosis


Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Sally Field is doing a pharmaceutical commercial?
It’s a given that as soon as a celebrity is diagnosed with a disease it immediately becomes a “cause” we’re all suposed to care about. Michael J. Fox didn’t start nattering after the government to fund more research to cure Parkinson’s Disease until he stood to benefit from that research. Christopher Reeve lobbied from his wheelchair for funding for research mitigating the effects of spinal injuries. And Bob Dole didn’t start touting Viagra until. . . well, never mind.
All this is rather disconcerting. The government doesn’t care about a disease you or I might contract, but is very concerned if Alex Keaton gets sick?
Okay, what really bothers me about all this is Ms. Field’s timely announcement that she has osteoporosis coupled with her appearance in an ad campaign for Boniva, an osteoporosis medication manufactured and co-marketed by F. Hoffmann-La Roche and GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical companies.
Naturally, Sally says, the important thing is that women stay active and see a doctor about their vulnerability to osteoporosis so that “you and your doctor need to choose what’s right for you,” which, as I recall, is the exact wording used in every drug ad I’ve ever seen, usually jumbled in with “side effects include a sudden releasing of the bowels” or something to that effect.
So when, I wonder, did Sally start being so concerned about the women of the United States being susceptible to weak bones? Evidently it didn’t occur to her when her doctor told her he was watching her for signs of the disease, since that pathology went all the way back to her dear old “Grandma Gin” (all together: Awwwww. . .). So Gidget waited until now to tell us? How many women have blindly entered menopause and become crippled because The Flying Nun waited until this ad campaign to raise their awareness?
The fact is, in order to “Rally with Sally” you have to go to the Boniva website and sign her pledge to get enough calcium and Vitamin D, stay active, not to smoke, not to drink alcohol to excess, see your doctor and take your medication that you and your doctor have chosen as right for you. But really, folks, she’s just concerned for your health.
Okay. Even that is not what really bothers me about this ad. What really bothers me is:
This is Sally Norma Rae Places in the Heart Field. Not Janine “I Haven’t Worked Since Northern Exposure” Turner selling eye drops.
Is she this hard up for the cash? Does she have some sort of gambling addiction that must be funded by hawking drugs on national television? Is Sally Field the M.C. Hammer of the movie industry?
It was bad enough that we had to swallow that she was forced into a “guest star” role on ER (pronounced “errr” in my household) – though this was somewhat mitigated by the fact that she was given an Emmy for the part – but this is Sally Norma Rae Places in the Heart Field! Remember? She was so happy that “right now,” we “really liked” her, even though she thought the industry thought less of her because she. . . she. . . had worked in television.
I worry Meryl Streep is going to turn up in eczema ads* or Jodie Foster will try to sell me birth control. I mourn that June Allison advertised adult diapers. I thank God Katharine Hepburn never caved.
I won’t bore you with a drawn out lament about the lack of roles for middle-aged women in Hollywood. The only ones interested in middle-aged women are other middle-aged women, but we’re not willing to fork out the money to go see them unless its bargain night or we have a coupon. And we don’t respond to the advertising surrounding by every movie release because we’ve pretty much seen through all the spin nonsense (except when it comes to face creams). We don’t respond to the appearing-on-Oprah hype that has been the salvation of many a mediocre book or movie, mostly because we suspect that, like just about everyone else in the media, the all-knowing national conscience that is Ms. Winfrey has her own agenda.
And that is what bothers me about this ad and all the others like it. Ms. Field has her own agenda, Hoffman-Roche and Glaxo have their agenda and both agendas ultimately make them money.
And making money is not a bad thing — unless it is couched in the façade of performing a public service.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 2:25 PM | Permalink

Just in Case


I could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure society as we know it won’t be collapsing within the next few days. But it’s been a little dicey lately, so I’ve been fighting the urge to lapse into survival mode.
Anyone who grew up during the Cold War and through the Cuban Missile Crisis understands this state of mind. And while my parents never resorted to building a bomb shelter, we and most of my friends had a rough kitchen, an old sofa, a snowy television set and musty bedding – in fact, complete living quarters – in our unfinished basements. The reason given to us little ones was that “it’s cooler down there in the summer.”
I don’t recall any adult talking with us about the threat of nuclear annihilation. They simply drilled us on ducking under our desks or lined up the hallways. But the TV featured all those cheesy 1950s low-budget black and white movies about the unstoppable monsters created by nuclear radiation, not to mention most of the Twilight Zone episodes.
My parents had a running argument about who was going to tuck me in and hear my prayers at night. In addition to a good little Catholic child’s minimum prayer requirements, I’d tacked on a good 15 minutes’ worth of “protect me from”s. The list included tornadoes, hurricanes, fire, the Giant Behemoth Monster, giant ants and radiation poisoning.
Most of all, though, I ended my list with the request, “don’t let me be the only one left.” This was inspired by a still-chilling movie, Five, and by the Twilight Zone episode where a far-sighted, bookish and timid Burgess Meredith is the only survivor of a nuclear blast and is given the brief joy of stumbling upon the New York Public Library. (Rod Serling ends this particular story by breaking Burgess’s reading glasses, a plot twist for which I’ve never forgiven him.)
My mother was much more communicative about going into survival mode during the 1970s oil crisis she was convinced was going to cause economic collapse and, therefore, anarchy. So she bought a lot of beans.
That we were not a particularly bean-eating family did not faze her. Come the collapse, we would be fed. Our German Shepherd Dog would also be fed since she stocked up on, inexplicably, Dinty Moore Beef Stew for him, which we all secretly conspired to steal from him as we huddled in our basement waiting for beans to soak. Our theory was that, while our neighbors might try to storm our compound in search of canned goods or powdered milk, no one wanted the beans.
Strangely, though, it wasn’t until almost ten years after my mother’s death and after we’d moved her bean stash twice, that any of us thought to throw them out. They’d become like furniture by this time.
So I’ve unwittingly taken on my mother’s survival mode tendencies, though I try not to act on it unless absolutely justified. Mostly it’s just under the surface. It’s a habit of mine that wherever we are, I look around for hiding places for every member of the family. It’s just a brief flip of a thought and I’ve never refused to stay somewhere if I couldn’t find it.
And I’ve always kept it low-key so as not to frighten the Heirs when they were little. My mother huddling in the hallway during thunderstorms hardly gave me the sense of confidence I needed to face The Amazing Colossal Man and the angry guy in the gas line who realized he was trying to get gas on an even day with an odd license plate.

I will admit to buying into the Y2K hype – apparently I’m the only one who will – but with more of a fed-up attitude than fear. There was so much bickering about it, very little assurance coming from the powers that be (even my bank would not say unequivocally that nothing was going to happen), a lot of people making a lot of money off the hype and a lot of greed manifesting itself, I wanted shed of the whole system. This mildly amused Dirtman at first and he didn’t call a halt to my ideas until I ordered the plans for a windmill.
So I didn’t do much about the recent events in the Middle East and the predictions of Armageddon. But I thought about it. Bought a bag of kidney beans and some Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
Just to be safe, I opened up my hiding place and put a spare pair of glasses in it.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:26 PM | Permalink

The Geritol Generation


Remember laughing at Geritol and Ex-Lax commercials?
No, I don’t mean the Geritol ad from the 1970s where some guy, in awe of his wife’s domestic derring-do, states warmly, “My wife – I think I’ll keep her,” like she was a stray puppy. I’m going back before that, when both products advertised almost exclusively on The Lawrence Welk Show, which my grandmother would watch faithfully while my brothers and I snickered, cracked jokes and got smacked with the wooden spoon a lot.
We laughed because we knew “iron poor tired blood” and “regularity” were old people issues and we laughed because we knew what “regularity” really meant and we laughed because, as baby-boomers, we were never going to get old, tired and constipated.
Growing up, Geritol was used in any catch-phrase indicating an old person. The aforementioned ad that traded age-ism for sexism was the brand’s effort to shed its old-people-only image, but just its name doomed it to forever being the staple in the diet of every elderly sitcom character from Archie Bunker to Fred Sanford.
I thought of all this while engaging in one of my favorite weekend activities, watching The Food Network. Besides the constant commercials for fast food and diet plans (Does this not strike anyone else as ironic?), the most common commercials were for digestive aids. Only these commercials are not so cryptic in describing their function. Surely there is a more delicate way of saying “stool softener.”
At first I was impressed at how the characters depicted in the ads were not the doddering old ladies that danced with Mr. Welk at the end of his show each week that comprised every laxative’s demographics. How positive that the elderly were no longer being presented as fussy, whiney codgers having nothing to talk about during their bridge game than the movement of their bowels.
How nice that old people weren’t shown only with gray hair or wearing matronly dresses. They were shown as active and stylish. If I hadn’t known it was a laxative commercial or an updated version of Geritol, I’d swear that person on the screen was just like. . .
. . .me.
Hmmm. Let’s do the math. When I sat in my living room mocking my ancient grandmother’s musical tastes I was about eight or nine years old. That would have made her about 59. . .ten years – only ten years – older than my current age.
About then I realized that these commercials don’t run during the kicky, fun foodie shows like Ham on the Streets or Iron Chef America. They run during Emeril or Barefoot Contessa. (I will not go down the road equating Ina Garten with Lawrence Welk, don’t worry.)
Fortunately I’m usually alone when I watch The Food Network. But sometimes I swear I hear snickering from the Heirs.
I’ll keep my wooden spoon handy.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:48 AM | Permalink

Walk Like a Man


My oldest son, Heir 1, turned 18 recently, one of those milestone birthdays requiring significant attention. However we have conflicting views about what this particular event means in his – and my – life.
“I can buy porn,” he announces with a sideways glance to gauge my reaction, “and guns.”
“You can be sued,” I remind him, “and drafted.”
“I can vote.” We are both impressed with this.
He is fearless, this new grownup of mine. To him he went to bed a naïve teenager and awoke a worldly adult. He doesn’t need parents anymore, he insists.
And so he’s struck out on his own, eating a diet of Ramen noodles and pizza pockets and using an old mattress as a couch. He comes here to “visit” and refers to that other place as “home.”
It all stings, I must admit. What is the hurry to leave? What horrors had I subjected him to that sent him screaming for the door the moment he achieved majority?
I know intellectually that the call to freedom is irresistible, particularly if your parents were very involved with raising you. I had felt the pull at his age, only my parents had made me fearful and guilt-ridden about attempts to be on my own.
I wonder, with that knee-jerk smothering streak all mothers possess, if Heir 1 knows exactly how precarious is his new-found power? I wonder if he realizes that I could have squelched all that confidence with one withering statement, reminder of vulnerabilities or prediction of doom. With his adulthood still less than a week old, it is open to an attack that could freeze it forever in limbo.
As a mother I know all his weaknesses and it is the ultimate act of love that I never use this information to get what my ego craves the most – his needing me.
So I remind myself that Heir 1’s cocky over-confidence, his know-it-all attitude, and his downright condescending demeanor toward Dirtman and me are all signs of us having done our job correctly.
I know our job is not over and probably never will be. His cheekiness now will be humbled several times over and I’ve no doubt there will be frantic phone calls in times of need. But we can’t deny the relationship is significantly changed and that is not necessarily bad.
So, in spite of my desire to become Mother of the Year, this morning when Heir 1 walked through my door and handed me a garbage bag full of dirty laundry insisting, “I don’t have time to do this, I’m meeting So-n-So for lunch,” I handed it right back to him.
To his credit, he had the decency not to be surprised.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 11:27 AM | Permalink

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