Fauntlee Hills Was My Roseburg: An Essay in Episodes.
Director's Note: Sometimes it is not enough to watch Mary Richards's life unfold on television. I read the world she gave me like a map--a merry atlas, if you will--looking for points of intersection in our experiences and plotting coordinates where they do not at first appear.
When I say I come from a snow globe, this is no exaggeration. Fauntlee Hills was built on a bluff overlooking the sea during the early 1950s. Before then, those hills were wooded, unsettled. To the east, Seattle loomed, like a great silver star of culture and commerce. It beckoned to some; others, it drove away.
Of the families seeking a quieter life--call it solace if you like, call it isolation--the Wade family moved among them. My grandparents belonged to the first wave of new inhabitants. Grandma June still lived in her original house from 1953 four decades later. My father came of age in that house; his sister Linda, too. Then, he married my mother and moved into another house just like it, just around the corner. And when my parents spoke to me of the future at all, it looked so much like the present, which looked so much like the past, they fused together into a single mural of red brick, mid-century floor plans, clean-swept carports, flower boxes effervescing with petunias and begonias and geraniums, picture windows with heavy curtains to modulate the light, and peepholes, naturally, on every sturdy door. My parents promised that I would marry one day and move into a house like theirs, a house just around the corner.
I began to wonder how the neighborhood of Fauntlee Hills, small and pretty and hermetically sealed, compared in size and style and homogeneity to the place that gave rise to Mary Richards: Roseburg, a fictional town in the real state of Minnesota. More than one person has told me that I seem like I come from a fictional town. Sometimes I believe them.
In my early world, we were not used to people moving in, people from the outside, people who had lived somewhere else before. Everyone stayed. Everyone was old. Most of the neighbors were retired by then, so they made a life out of watching, keeping tabs. Remember those peepholes and picture windows. It was a hard place to trespass without getting caught, which is probably why I longed for the thrill of sleuthing. But I was "June Wade's granddaughter" after all, so some people made exceptions for me. They, quite literally, looked the other way as I traipsed through their gardens, crouched inside their toolsheds, hunkered down inside their window wells and rhododendron bushes.
Then, Edna Kaufman died. Then, Jim Kaufman couldn't take care of himself anymore. Then, their children came, who were also old. They cleaned the house, drained the wishing well, took the wind chimes out of the trees. Cleary, they didn't understand whimsy. When they left for good, a FOR SALE sign stood in the yard on two white pickets. I had never seen pickets that weren't part of a fence before, and I had never seen a FOR SALE sign either--not in real life, only on television.
I was playing jacks on my grandmother's drive or picking weeds for pay from her parking strip. I might even have been dangling from one of her flowering trees. But I remember most vividly the day a young blond woman in a dark blazer and paisley skirt parked her Toyota by the curb, wheels turned in just so. The FOR SALE sign wore a sash that read SOLD. This woman took it down. She tried to pull the whole structure out of the ground, but it stuck like a stubborn tooth, and I took her efforts as my entrance cue.
"Hi!" I said, "I'm Julie," in my sitcom-friendly way. "Do you live here now?"
She smiled, and her glasses slipped down on her nose. "Yes. I'm Linda, and as a matter of fact, I do."
"That's my mom's name, and my aunt's name, too," I said, but I could tell this Linda was going to be different. "Do you have a family moving here with you?"
"Nope. It's just me." We tugged together on the stakes, but nothing budged. I saw the sweat beading up on her golden brows, little specks of humanness. I loved her already.
"I don't want to alarm you, but most of the people in Fauntlee Hills are pretty elderly. My grandma June lives next door, and she's eighty. She's also about as private as she can be, given that she's an original resident, but most of these folks are epic busybodies."
At this, Linda laughed out loud. "So, are you a busybody, too?"
"Me? Oh, most definitely. But I'm also a kid, one of the only ones around. I'm happy to offer my weeding services for a negotiable rate. All local gossip is free of charge."
Linda pushed her glasses back toward her eyes and studied me a moment longer. "I'll keep that in mind."
She was eager to go inside, so we left the pickets with their swinging hooks until Linda could unpack her tools. When I looked back and saw her carrying a fine brown briefcase--not unlike the one my father took to work--I shouted, "Hey, Linda! Are you a career woman?"
She laughed again. "Well, I'm twenty-nine years old, I have a full-time job, and I pay all the bills. So I guess that makes me a career woman."
After that, I waved to her from the lush green lawn, turned a couple cartwheels, tried to play it cool. In my journal, I wrote in my giddiest script: I guess that makes her Mary Richards!
"Even a Shadow Knows the Pleasure of Being Cast"
Though I spent much of my youth staring at the television and willing myself inside, I also wanted to act, to feel myself fleet and in motion. So when Linda Breuer came to live in our neighborhood, I pondered how I might write myself into her story using the only template I had.
In the inaugural episode of Mary Tyler Moore, thirty-year-old Mary Richards arrives in Minneapolis and moves into a new apartment. She is the outsider in this script, the woman who comes from elsewhere--single, and for the moment, unemployed. She meets Rhoda, the window dresser who lives upstairs, and despite a bad first impression, their friendship is foreshadowed from the start.
Phyllis, who lives downstairs, and who we later learn actually owns this building with her husband, Lars, signs a lease for Mary before she has even seen the place. Talk about names and their appropriation! Maybe this is why Mary carries her golden letter M to every place she lives, hangs it on the wall right at eye level. I suspect she is trying not to forget who she is and trying equally hard not to be overwritten by others. Maybe, in time, she will collect the rest of her letters.
We learn right away that Phyllis is a difficult person: calculating and headstrong, obsessed with appearances, not to mention unfailingly blind to nuance. She appears in this script as the natural analog to my mother. And Phyllis, like my mother, has a daughter--just one--Bess, who teeters always on the brink of disappointing her. I know this brink too well.
So it dawns on me that I will be Bess to Linda Breuer, understudy to her version of adult womanhood. Remember the episode early on when Mary takes Bess on an outing downtown? They get ice cream and play hide-and-seek around the fountain in the square. They laugh and talk and seem to really hear each other. This montage is eventually embedded in the show's second set of opening credits, commemorating the way Mary becomes the Not-a-Mother Bess must have been dreaming of. And Linda, though she bears my mother's name, is adoptable as a Not-a-Mother for me, that crucial foil.
"What is it you do exactly at Linda Breuer's house?" my father asks one night. We are eating dinner, and the brown Magnavox in the corner is watching us for a change.
"I don't know. We talk, and sometimes I help her in the garden."
"You never help me in the garden," my mother says without looking up.
"Well, she pays me," I recover quickly, "which is good for my college fund. And besides, she hasn't lived here that long. I'm kind of like her local guide or her--informant. " This is the kind of sleuthy word I like to use.
"I hope that doesn't mean you're telling her anything you shouldn't." Now my mother trains her eyes on mine and won't release them until I nod my compliance. "What I'd like to know," she continues, "is whose truck I see parked in her driveway till all hours. Sometimes that truck is there for the whole weekend."
The truck in question belongs to Patrick, who has been Linda's boyfriend before and who will be Linda's boyfriend again. Their relationship has an on-off switch. She loves him but still has doubts about their future as a couple. I suspect he is a Dan Whitfield sort and that, in the end, Linda, like Mary before her, will have to break his heart.
"Do you know anything about that truck?" my father asks.
"Um, I think it belongs to a friend of hers. He has to travel sometimes, so he leaves his truck there."
'Well, what woman her age has friends who are men?" This my mother says as she spears a stubborn green bean. "Isn't she at all concerned about her image?"
Now my palms turn slick and words stick to the trapdoor inside my throat. Clearly, my parents haven't watched Mary Tyler Moore as closely as they've been watching Linda Breuer. The fact was, Mary stayed over at men's houses. Once, she came back to her apartment in the morning still wearing her evening gown from the night before. The show was saying plenty about sexual freedom without saying anything directly at all.
It seemed obvious to me, though a bit jarring at first, that I needed to be catapulted out of the 1950s of my daily life and into a future era. Mary wasn't married, but Mary had sex. Mary was a Modern Woman. And if Mary was having sex and being modern in the '70s, then Linda Breuer could certainly have a boyfriend who slept over in the '90s. She even had an adjustable showerhead to accommodate the men, past and future, who had stood or might someday stand naked in her tub.
Of course I knew better than to say such things to my parents.
"That truck might actually belong to her cleaning lady, now that I think about it." This was half true. Linda did have a cleaning lady, but Laurie actually drove a sedan.
"A cleaning lady!" Now my mother drops her fork and makes a grand gesture. "Well, la-ti-dah!"
"No, no, Linda isn't like that--not a snob or anything. She just works a lot, you know--sometimes 60 or 70 hours a week. So it helps to have another pair of hands."
"Well, your mother worked that many hours a week before you were born, and she still kept a lovely home for both of us. No outside help required," my father declares.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother is feeding him his lines, a little crib sheet passed beneath the table.
For a few moments, nobody takes a bite. Chewing in such tense silence is inadvisable. Finally, my mother sighs and resumes eating, granting permission for us to do the same. "All I know is that if Linda Breuer thinks she has it tough now, just imagine the rude awakening coming her way after she has a husband and child of her own."
Did Linda Breuer even want a husband and child? This was a good question. She had stayed friends with her ex-boyfriend, Bruce, and sometimes she cooked dinner for him and the woman he married--Nan. This struck me as the height of classy and enlightened, the way Linda didn't begrudge them their happiness. Maybe she was understudying them, rehearsing for her own life as a future wife and mother? And hadn't she mentioned being godmother to a different ex's kids?
There was clearly a lot of investigating to be done, but I kept coming back to the question, What about Mary? She talked in the show's first seasons about marriage and motherhood as though they were ultimate destinies. Then, those statements gradually tapered off. The reason could have been changing times or different writers, but I wanted to believe the reason was Mary herself--Mary, growing further up; Mary, still evolving.
By the time Dan Whitfield asked her to marry him, she diagnosed his proposal this way: "You're in a mood to get married, Dan, and I'm not." Just the fact that marriage could be part of a mood, which everyone knew was only a shade away from a whim, delighted me--an implicit refutation of my mother's mantra that her life didn't begin until the day she met my father. The corollary was worse: "And I didn't become a woman until I became a mother." I gagged and wrote Gross!!!! on the nearest notebook page.
"The Mary/Rhoda Reversible Raincoat"
Before long, I brought my friend April to spend time with Linda, too. April was willowy, with a pert nose and a credible fashion sense, which made her Mary-esque. When we were together, I always played Rhoda, a part I took to well. I liked Rhodas wisecracks and self-deprecation, not to mention her deep thoughts--like the time she said she wanted to learn how to sit alone in a room and truly enjoy the company. I wanted to learn that, too. Plus, Rhoda knew how it was to have a challenging mother. Linda Wade was about 40 percent Phyllis Lindstrom and about 60 percent Ida Morgenstern, Rhoda's mother. And finally, on a more frivolous note, I was crazy about Rhoda's many colorful scarves.
I asked my mother if I could borrow some of her things from the 70s-for a school project, I may have said, or maybe for Halloween. She had a tie-dyed shirt with a beaded peacock on the front and a denim purse that had once been the top of a pair of pants (just imagine!). In her vanity she directed me to a drawer dedicated exclusively to kerchiefs. Opening it was like tugging on a magician's sleeve. Or, as Rhoda once said of a messy room: "It looks like the inside of a goat's stomach in here!" Strong simile, I noted, and the audience roared. When I played Rhoda, I could also practice my humor, learn what to do with a laugh.
In February 1993, April and I prepared a special cake for Linda's thirtieth birthday. The body of the cake was chocolate, and with wobbly pink icing, we wrote, Welcome to your Mary Richards years!
Of course we baked this cake in Linda's kitchen, using all of Linda's ingredients, and then we toasted her with our first taste of real champagne. It came from a bottle called Brut that Linda opened when we asked if she had any Martinelli's sparkling cider.
"Thank you," she smiled, blowing out all thirty candles with a single, self-assured puff. Then, as she cut her own cake into admirably sized pieces, Linda pronounced the words that sent April and me tailspinning: "I hear you say it all the time, but you're going to have to fill me in on who this Mary Richards is."
"Who she is?" April sputtered.
"But you were even alive for first-run viewing!" I gaped, rising out of my chair.
Linda sat calmly, poured herself some additional champagne, and continued licking the frosting off the candles. "Can you be more specific? I've been alive for a lot of things."
"Mary Richards--from The Mary Tyler Moore Show." April spoke slowly as she began to braid her hair. "Julie got me into it, and now I'm way in. Like, way. Have you really never seen it before?"
"Oh, sure. I saw it a few times. I just forgot that Mary's name was Richards on the show."
"What did you think of it?" I asked, placing my hand over my heart as if preparing for a flag salute. "Are you a fan?"
Linda shrugged. "Fine, I guess. I mean, it was the '70s, and I was busy being a kid and then a teenager. I wasn't thinking too much about who I wanted to be when I grew up."
Incredulous, April and I exclaimed in unison: "Mary Richards!"
"I get it. That's her name."
"No--Linda, you grew up to be Mary Richards! You are Mary Richards to us!"
At this, Linda laughed and stood to rinse her hands. "But isn't Mary kind of a goody-goody? Couldn't I be Elaine from Seinfeld instead?"
I wasn't allowed to watch that show because my mother said it promoted loose morals and birth control for unmarried women. Though when you thought about it, if you did: Mary must have been using birth control, too. Otherwise, how did she date so often and never find herself "in a motherly way"?
"She's not a goody-goody really," April replied. "And as the show goes on, she gains a lot of confidence. She learns how to take a stand for what she believes in. She blossoms into her best self."
Linda dried her hands with a dish towel and rejoined us at the breakfast nook. "So--the Mary Richards years? What does that mean?"
I raised my hand as if to say, I've got this. It was, after all, my phrase. "Okay, so the show ran from 1970 to 1977, and Mary is thirty when it starts and thirty-seven when it ends. So now you're thirty, see, which means you're just starting your Maty Richards years--a time of unprecedented personal growth and self-discovery!"
"Well, I'll take your word for it," Linda replied. Her mouth was serious, but I could still see the smile in her gray-green eyes. "Here's another question, though: do you really have to wait until you're thirty to begin such an important quest?"
"Oh, we're training for it now," April assured her, fork aloft. "But it helps, you know--to be looking forward, to have Mary out there on the horizon. She's kind of like our lighthouse so we don't crash into the rocks."
"New Cellular Women"
Linda never fully embraced her title as our honorary Mary Richards, but she did give April and me an exceptional preview of coming attractions--and in some cases, revulsions--of adult womanhood. We learned more from her than from our own mothers and cable television combined.
Linda's mother had died when she was in first grade, and we speculated privately that this fact may have accelerated her coming of age as a wise and confident woman. Could the Mary Richards years be different for everyone? we wondered. And was seven years important, even symbolically?
"You know how they say in science that it takes seven years for your body to completely regenerate its cells?"
April was painting her toenails, but she seemed to be listening. "Uh-huh."
"Well, if you think about it, that means we're new cellular women every seven years. It's a fresh start from the inside out. So the Mary we meet in the pilot episode and the Mary we send off during the series finale doesn't just seem different--she actually is!"
April reached for the acetone. "That, my friend, is a very deep thought."
"And it's true," I beamed, "because of science!"
Linda on tampons:
"There is nothing to be afraid of. And if you are afraid, you can wait to wear them until you start having sex. But the most important thing is not to wait until you start having sex to get to know your body. You should be the first person to pioneer that territory."
Mary on tampons:
Linda on douching:
"There is no reason a woman should be made to feel that she has to douche. I've done it before, but that was a personal choice, and I probably wouldn't do it again. This culture, as it stands, is completely obsessed with controlling women's bodies, particularly how we smell. You don't need any powders or perfumes or scented lotions, and you definitely don't need to buy anything that targets your intimate areas. No "feminine deodorant sprays," and no douches. Any man who really loves you is going to want to bond with your scent."
Mary on douching:
Linda on female desire:
"Every woman is different. Don't let anyone tell you that there's only one thing you can like or want or feel. I have a friend, and she doesn't like kissing on the mouth. It just isn't her thing. It doesn't turn her on. But it took her years to admit this to herself, let alone to anyone she was dating, because she thought people would think she was abnormal. Frankly, some people did. But you aren't living your life for other people, are you? And if you can't be honest about what you want, it's going to be pretty hard to get it."
Mary on female desire:
[Even more crickets]
Linda on religion:
"No, I don't own a Bible. No, I never really got into any of that--church or Sunday school or even bedtime prayers. I don't see much point in being an atheist, which requires taking and defending a position on God's non-existence. But I don't see much point in being religious either, as it requires taking and defending a position on God's existence. So, yeah, if I had to say I'm anything, I guess I'm an agnostic."
Mary on religion:
During her interview for a secretarial position, which is upgraded to associate producer at WJM News, Mary's future boss asks what religion she is. She tells Mr. Grant he isn't allowed to ask that question of a job candidate, and he replies, "Wanna call a cop?" At this, she blushes and shakes her head no. When he switches gears and asks if she's married, she blurts out, "Presbyterian!" then stammers, "Well, I decided I'd answer your religion question instead."
This is all we ever learn about Mary's religious heritage, but omission is a powerful force at work on the show. That is, viewers never see Mary attend church, and we never hear Mary pray or evangelize anyone. We can merely infer she is a nonpracticing Protestant.
In a real-life interview, Maiy Tyler Moore explained that she had been raised Catholic but did not consider herself a religious person. I wrote in my journal: Since Catholics and most Protestants are baptized as infants, is there some kind of "drying procedure " that allows us to reverse the ritual if we choose? *
I left this entry starred, pending a future answer.
Linda on lesbianism:
"Well, you know, my housekeeper, Laurie, is a lesbian. [I didn't know!] She has a nice girlfriend named Jane, and they seem really happy together. [She does? They do?] That, to me, is the bottom line. [See also: Lindas commentary on female desire.] If you're doing anything just to make other people happy, or just to prevent other people from being uncomfortable, then you probably want to reconsider. It wouldn't feel right to me to be with a woman, but that isn't because it's wrong for someone else to be. Laurie told me that when she dated men, everything felt wrong to her, like a left-handed person using a pair of right-handed scissors. She wasn't saying that dating men should feel wrong to me, you know, just that it didn't feel right to her. And knowing what you feel shouldn't lead to prescribing those feelings for other people."
Mary on lesbianism:
I don't know yet why it's important to me that Mary Richards is socially progressive, particularly on a topic like this. After all, I want to like boys. I want to be popular and desirable to my future dating pool. Why should I care if Mary Richards would be friends with a lesbian, let alone if she ever felt a more-than-friendship feeling for a girl? I want to like boys, and I insist I like boys, and yet ... I find this is a sentence I cannot finish. *
"Here's what we know, definitively," April summarizes as we lounge on lawn chairs in Linda's backyard. "Mary and Rhoda and even Phyllis, surprise, surprise, are members of the Concerned Democrats of Minneapolis. That's encouraging, you know--values-wise. They're liberals."
And Linda, we knew, was a Democrat, too, another startling difference from the Fauntlee Hills status quo. In fact, Linda Breuer may have been the first Democrat we had ever met in real life. This was exciting to consider but also dangerous to reveal. When my mother found out the pastors wife had met President Clinton, she refused to shake her hand after worship. "I don't want to catch anything," she said.
If she found out that Linda B. was a Democrat--let alone that her cleaning lady was a lesbian--I might be put to soak in a tedious bath indefinitely, with nothing to read but William Bennetts The Book of Virtues. Somehow I had already received three copies of the tome, one of which even contained a personalized message.
"And remember when Phyllis thinks her brother is dating Rhoda, and she doesn't like that idea at all, but then we find out that he and Rhoda are just friends because--jaw drop--Ben is actually gay?" I nod. April has made an insightful point. "Mary doesn't say anything much either way, but she definitely doesn't freak about Ben's orientation."
Linda, who is refilling the bird feeder and tending the rhubarb and raspberry plants, intercepts us now at this pause in our conversation. "My turn," she says, with an impish grin.
"Now I get that you both are incredibly loyal fans, and I admire how you put so much time into analyzing every aspect of The Mary Tyler Moore Show-- almost like it's a subject in school and you're aiming for a 4.0. But why this show? It was already off the air before you were born."
"Don't remind me," I sigh. "I missed it by two years."
"I only missed it by one," April says, with a rare glimpse of one-upmanship. "But in the end, a miss is still a miss."
"And a ma'am is still a ma'am!"
We burst out laughing and then between giggles try to explain about the episode in which Mary is called ma'am instead of miss for the first time and takes it as a sign she's getting old.
"But--okay, okay." Linda tugs the brim of her baseball cap, the one she always wears while working in the yard. "I see you're nostalgic for a time in which you didn't live, but why not a show centered on people your own age? I'm just curious. Why not The Wonder Years? That show's on now, but it's about kids growing up in the '60s and '70s."
"You know, Bonnie, the school secretary, gave me an autographed picture of Fred Savage," I say. "He wrote May all your years be wonder years, which was a nice touch, I thought, but I'm still holding out for an autographed picture of Mary Tyler Moore."
"How many days since you sent her the letter?" April asks.
"Sixty-four. But I understand it takes time to reach a really famous person, and I'm willing to wait."
"That still doesn't answer my question, though" Linda says. "Mary belongs to the 1970s, and she was born--"
"April, 1939," April beams. "We don't know the exact date, so we can't be sure if she's an Aries or a Taurus. I'm inclined to say Taurus, though, based on typical characteristics of the sign."
"Mary Tyler Moore was born on December 29, 1936," I add, "which means she's a Capricorn, a sign that fits her remarkable determination--"
"Enough!" Linda calls a truce by raising her trowel. 'You each receive a valedictorian medal for your knowledge, but let's stay focused here. Mary, the actress and the character, is a child of another time. Any way you slice it, she's two generations removed from you. Explain to me the appeal."
We look at each other, and then April starts tugging at some clover, her version of a pass.
"Come to think of it"--I am stalling now--"you do look a lot like Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years." She really did: right down to her slender shoulders, long straight hair, and the small pink bow of her lips.
April just rolls her eyes and laughs. "Do not."
Finally, I say: "Linda, no disrespect or anything, but you've got it all wrong. You think people are living in one time or another, but I'm pretty sure I'm living in three. Fauntlee Hills is the '50s, Mary Tyler Moore is the '70s, and the rest of the world--calendar world and Nightly News world--is the '90s. Maybe Mary is just the best bridge for a really large gap."
April stops tugging at the clover now, and Linda puts down her trowel. "Okay," she nods. "That was really--I--okay."
"Sometimes Julie does that," my friend vouches for me. "She says something, and it's really smart, and you want to put a note after it like End scene or Curtain falls."
"And you don't think of your Aunt Linda as Mary Richards because--?" It is a leading question, but these are my favorite kind.
"Well, I love her--like a whole lot--but she's not exactly what I would call a Modern Woman. She has her own apartment and a job in an office building and even a swanky Mustang like the one Mary Richards drives, but those are just surface similarities. She's here, you know, at my grandma's, every weekend. She calls to check in with her mother every night even though she's almost fifty years old."
I take a deep breath because I know what I'm about to say is something I shouldn't. "Also, she only wears pads, and she's saving herself for marriage." I tug the clover, too. "It all seems like a placeholder to me, pretend-grown-up-- like she's not really independent at all, just an older girl waiting for a prince to come and hold out a fancy shoe."
"Hmm." Linda is good at listening without judging. She walks back toward the house and begins to unwind the hose. After a while, she says, "Well, I am flattered to be your role model--"
"Oh, we think you're terrific!" April gushes. "We've been talking about how we'd like to make you an honorary board member of our detective agency."
"Definitely! We'll even put your name at the top of the letterhead we're designing for important mystery memos and such."
"Mysteries are good," Linda nods. "Sleuthing is fine. But Mary Richards was a newswoman, right? What about putting all your curiosity to good use and doing some investigative journalism?"
April and I eye each other, then spring to our feet in tandem. We are mouthing the words investigative journalism, and it's clear we both like the sound of them, this new heft on our tongues.
"So--would we--we'd just--?"
Linda has the sprinkler going now, and we all stand in the grass admiring its gentle arc and surprising range of motion. "Why not start a newspaper? You like to nose around in other people's business, and you like to write." She tugs her cap again. "If you make it legit, you could charge people something for each issue, sell ongoing subscriptions at a discount, that kind of thing. And you'd add something else to your college applications." Another pause. "Parents like that, right?"
"Oh my God! They do! They really do!" I am overheating with excitement now, peeling off my shoes and socks despite the cool weather. "We could report the local news--like super-local-- missing pets and petty crime in Fauntlee Hills! We could even interview the neighbors about any number of things and let them advertise their garage sales with us at a better rate than The West Seattle Herald!"
"I could do a fashion column," April volunteers, "and horoscopes, too ! I could even make surveys to get a more interactive component going!"
We are jumping up and down, running into the sprinkler fully clothed.
"Let's call it The Fauntleroy Gazette'." I shout.
"We'll be the editors in chief, and Linda can be our editorial adviser!"
But then April does the Mary thing and turns practical for a moment. "We'll need some office space, though, and some way to actually print the paper."
Linda, halfway up the back stairs, calls over her shoulder: 'You can use my computer--once a month." We like the fact that she sets boundaries with us. "When you're done out there, dry yourselves off, and we'll have a look at some two-columned templates."
We mouth the words two-columned templates. They taste good to us, grown-up and accomplished.
"Maybe," I murmur, "we can even figure out a way to leave smudges on all our subscribers' hands!"
Of all the things I ever said I wanted--kissing and more than kissing, whatever that might entail; moving the tassel on my graduation hat from one side to the other and tossing it, Mary Richards style, high into the air; driving my own car into a strange city and signing a lease on a cozy studio apartment with a balcony and a fold-out couch; accepting an offer from the CIA or the FBI or a comparable organization committed to worldwide snooping and spying; and of course publishing my first book, which my mother insisted would be worthwhile only if I managed to outsell Danielle Steel--I did not know if any one of these, or even all of them in sum, could transform me more completely into a human hot-air balloon rising from the earth in pure elation than receiving an autographed picture from Mary Tyler Moore.
I sent her a fan letter. It was long, detailed--part televisual analysis, part personal testimony. Then, I waited. And waited. And waited.
After ninety-eight days, each square on my calendar marked with a squiggle and an optimistic Not yet, I returned from school to behold the black and white DO NOT BEND durable envelope rising like rare obsidian from our mailbox. Before my mother had even finished braking, I stood breathless on the porch, tearing along the seam, then guiding the 8-by-lO glossy from its protective sleeve. It was her--the Mary of the moment, a woman in her middle fifties with a striking short haircut and a turtleneck sweater. She had written with fine-tipped pen, Julie, Many thanks for caring! and below that, her signature--Mary Tyler Moore. Authentic, bona fide, inviolable.
Was this how astronauts felt when they blasted off into space? I had defied gravity after all! I had made contact with a woman so marvelous she might as well have been another life form! The return address, I noted, wasn't even California. It was New York City, where I knew from a recent documentary that Mary Tyler Moore lived in a penthouse overlooking Central Park, with her third husband, Robert, and their two dogs, Dudley and Dash. I had reached her. I had finally reached her.
I let my schoolbags drop to the ground. I let my mother holler about homework and chores and not being late for dinner. With the envelope tight in my hand like a relay baton, I ran full tilt toward my grandmother's house, she who had gently cautioned against "getting my hopes up." Celebrities don't always have time to answer letters from teenage girls. I would show her--not in a gloating way, but in a joyous, I-always-knew-she-would-come-through-for-me way.
But as I crested the hill, I saw Lindas house, and I recalled how she had said she would take me shopping for my eighth-grade graduation (shades of Bess and Mary, no less!), let me pick out something I liked all for myself over which my mother had no control. And though it was only a little after four on that late spring afternoon, I noticed her car parked at the curb, wheels turned just so--her car like an invitation.
I didn't stop to think how she was picking up her new beau at the airport; how she had told me this fact only yesterday to prevent me from stopping by unannounced or leaving rambling messages on her phone machine that echoed throughout the house. But in my altered state, I forgot all these things and flew instead through the front door, calling out "Hiya!" the way Rhoda often did, followed by a "You'll never believe this, not in a million years!" And then there was Linda sitting close to Simon on the couch, white wine in the glasses beside them, and a holy shit gleam in their eyes.
These were not the first adults to dispel silent profanities in my presence, but still I could not refrain:
"Linda! Linda! It's here! Mary Tyler Moore sent me an autographed picture, and now I know what I want for graduation--a really beautiful, elegant, perfect frame!"
"So then what happened?" April wants to know. Ten minutes later, I'm sprawled on my grandmother's bed, Mary's likeness propped on her pillow, the phone pressed close to my ear.
"Well, it was pretty awkward. For all I know, they could have been making out just seconds before I arrived. But once I realized what was going on, I apologized, of course."
"And did you leave--I mean, pronto?"
"I left, but I showed them the picture first." April sighs. "Well, how could I not? It's the whole reason I barged in on them in the first place!"
"I'm not sure an apology's going to cut it. Linda might be mad at us for a while."
"Not at you. Why would anyone ever be mad at you?"
"Oh, we're a package deal, and everybody knows it." For some reason, this made me smile.
"Should I write her a letter?"
"Yeah, you know--try to explain what the picture means to me and how it may have clouded my judgment--"
"Just let this blow over, okay, Julie? You already apologized for ruining her date and generally acting like a psycho." April laughs a little, to lighten the mood. "I think the thing to do in these kinds of situations is to ask yourself, What Would Mary Do?"
"Not write the letter and go next door and put it in Linda Breuer's mailbox?" I wince as I say this out loud, remembering the episode in which Mary tries to dissuade Rhoda from sending a how-do-you-feel-about-me letter to a man she has just started dating. Of course Rhoda still sends the letter, and of course its a huge mistake.
"Bingo." April is slurping her Cup o' Noodles now, but I know she means what she says. "If you think it will help, I can make you a bracelet: W.W.M.D."
I think it would help a lot.
"August and Everything After: A Prolepsis Episode" Linda Breuer did forgive me, which was a Mary Richards kind of thing to do, and she also reassured me that it wasn't my fault when she and Simon broke up a few weeks later. They just weren't compatible. For my part, I practiced writing W.W.M.D. over and over in freshman calligraphy class, establishing my expertise with these four capital letters. When Sister Janice asked what they stood for, I told her, but I got the distinct impression she thought I meant the Virgin Mary.
Speaking of Virgin Marys:
Like me, Mary Tyler Moore attended an all-girls Catholic high school. Hers was called Immaculate Heart, and mine was called Holy Names. Both intrigued me conceptually.
Sometimes I tried to picture what it meant to have an immaculate heart--like a little dollhouse in your chest, all the feelings neatly tucked and stowed? My mother was fond of saying: a place for everything [love, fear, hope, rage ... ?], and everything in its place. Or was an immaculate heart more like a tidy carport--only room for one shiny wagon or pure intention at a time? No competing impulses or contradictory desires. Surely no power tools cluttering the three spare walls.
And what about a holy name? No name was more sacred to me than Mary, be it Mary Richards or Mary Tyler Moore. I even secularized the "Ave Maria" in my head as we sang the homage during mass. In one interview I read, Mary described herself as a "good girl" who lost her virginity on her wedding night. She noted that she was only eighteen at the time, a new high school graduate eager to strike out on her own. Yet it didn't escape my notice that she chose a husband--ten years her senior, no less--to help her complete the leap. Within a year, that Virgin Mary became Mother Mary to an unplanned baby boy. (Contraception and abortion, I inferred, were equally unthinkable in that 1950s as in mine.) They named the child Richard after hisfather, almost as if Mary had nothing to do with him.
The whole Jesus story, I noted in my journal, went down in an eerily similar way.
Over the next four years, April and I wrote, typed, printed, and sold fifty issues of the Fauntleroy Gazette. We charged fifty cents per issue, with a discounted rate of five dollars per year at Lindas suggestion. In any given month, we had twenty-five to thirty subscribing households, and we hand-delivered each issue as part of our personal-touch philosophy. The final edition featured a clip art banner of mortarboards, with the tassel moving progressively from right to left. "It's time to move on," we announced in Monotype Corsiva, and the issue included a retrospective of our favorite stories.
Of course many of the biggest stories of those four years were intimate and emotional, not journalistic. They happened outside the scope of our public reportage.
For instance, I started running a lot. My father used to ask what I was running away from. I thought myself clever when I told him I was running toward. "Okay--toward what then?" he asked. And that was where I faltered.
The future seemed a cop-out thing to say, given that it was coming anyway. But was there something I could do to hasten its arrival or to alter its shape? I didn't know. I was jittery, and I couldn't say why. Running helped to soothe me, to steady my nerves. And I learned that if I joined the cross-country team at Holy Names, I'd have the opportunity to letter.
To letter. I chewed these words hard and kept them close at all times, perpetual as a cud. Before the coach said so, I never knew lettering was a process, that letter could ever be a verb. Maybe this was how Mary Richards earned her golden M? She had been a cheerleader in high school after all, a fact I skirted, tried never to dwell on too long. I feared it meant that she and I could not have been friends in the immaculate Roseburg High of my imagination.
So I ran for the team. At first, I was just good enough, and then I was better than average, and then I was promoted to varsity, which was another way of saying that I had lettered.
"What do you think about when you run all that time?" April asked. She didn't go to my school, and running wasn't her thing. Like Mary, she favored ballet. She knew how to exercise pretty, how to stretch her muscles out long instead of bunching them tight. "It's just so far, and I know that if I didn't pass out, I'd be hopelessly, miserably bored."
I told April the truth: that I thought a lot about television and also about films. I replayed favorite scenes in my mind, and if there were songs, I always sang along in my head. Music helped to set the rhythm of my footfalls. I liked theme songs best, and the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, written and performed by Sonny Curtis, was especially strong. I loved how both versions began with questions, but the first season's question was credible: "How will you make it on your own?" The episodes would reveal the answer. After that, the question became rhetorical: "Who can turn the world on with her smile?" Duh. Mary can! And just like that, she appeared--Mary, divine in her winter coat, haloed with sunlight, smiling.
I told April the truth, but I didn't tell her everything. Omission was a powerful force at work in my story, too. I thought about women. I thought about Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens on Bewitched and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 on Get Smart. I also thought, relentless as a spinning record, about Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, a movie I wasn't even supposed to have seen.
But when I thought about these women, I didn't want to be with them like a good friend at dinner parties or stakeouts or running the obstacle course at Langley. And I didn't want to be them either, doing all those things by myself. It was a different feeling, perhaps one without a name, which was ironic since Agent 99 didn't have a name either. She only had a number. This feeling I had seemed nameless, and the days of keeping it to myself felt numbered, too. It would all add up, I feared, to something undeniable.
My parents permitted me to watch a few contemporary TV shows, like Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman and Touched by an Angel. Similar nameless feelings arose when I saw Jane Seymour hike up her pioneer dresses to avoid the mud or Roma Downey toss her auburn hair that seemed to perfectly match the color of Della Reese's convertible. The jitters came from looking and later recalling their bodies on the screen--from something low in my belly that wasn't hunger exactly but wasn't not-hunger either. I wanted to touch them, I knew that much, and every time I recognized this longing, I pulled my mind back like a hand from a hot stove, a camera panning out to a more aerial view.
And then I thought about Mary. She was my salve for the thing that was burning.
Such relief to realize I didn't want to touch her; that I didn't feel the hungiy not-hunger in my gut when I watched Mary or Rhoda or Phyllis; that I didn't feel it in later seasons when I watched Sue Ann or Georgette either. I didn't feel it even when Georgette performed her dance routine to "Steam Heat" at the Teddy Awards, her body unquestionably lithe, her top hat and faux tuxedo beguiling. I scanned my body: no deep ache, no covert quiver. I was free when I thought of them, rounding the final turn on the three-mile course, sprinting toward the finish. They were women I loved and admired, laughed with and even laughed at sometimes, but they were women I did not ever, even once, desire.
During this time, April's parents began sleeping in separate rooms. Her father had fallen in love, he said, with another woman, and he took April and her sister to meet this woman and her kids. There was talk of divorce for a while, and then there was no talk at all, and I knew April was living in her own kind of limbo, a namelessness she would not discuss.
We didn't know why love stopped or changed. We didn't even know why love began. But April developed a two-pronged strategy for coping with all the uncertainty in her life: collecting tiaras and finding a boyfriend.
She had always liked sparkly things, and some part of her must have also wanted to become one. Some part of me wanted to be April, wanted to like sparkly things and the thought of turning into human glitter for prom. But somehow I didn't believe there were enough sequins in the world--or enough neck kisses from boys who drove Volkswagen bugs, for that matter--to putty the gap between who I was and who I was expected to be. Instead, I spent a lot of time saying, "I like this one, but that one's nice, too," and learning secondhand about second base.
When Coach Boyle called me to his office to claim my letter at the end of the year, I ran. What else was I going to do? I burst through the door and held out my hand, awaiting the J that would align my life visibly with Mary's. Sure, it would be smaller than Mary's M, which had been enhanced for television, and yes, I knew it would be fabric instead of copper, but that didn't mean I couldn't hang it on my wall or tack it to my bulletin board. Maybe I would even want to wear it on a jacket someday, to keep that J with me all the time.
"Congratulations," he smiled, and into my palm he placed a gray felt H with dark maroon trim--our school colors.
"There must be some mistake," I replied. "Is this Hannah's letter?"
"Oh, no," Mr. Boyle smiled again, scratching his midday stubble. "They're all Hs. The letter stands for Holy Names."
In my journal, the entry simply reads: WHAT THE H?
Also, during this time, Linda got serious with a pilot named Paul. Shortly before we graduated from high school, they told us that Paul would be moving into the Fauntlee Hills house. "It's big changes, all around, for everyone," they smiled.
April and I wanted to be happy for them, we really did, but it was hard. We were eighteen and seventeen, respectively, which meant we found it easier to be self-absorbed, to believe that we should change while everyone else remained the same. We were the parade after all, and we needed others to stay in their places on the sidelines. How else were they going to cheer for us as we passed gloriously by?
Thank God for reruns, I wrote. They are the only things we can count on these days, the only safely foregone conclusions.
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|Author:||Wade, Julie Marie|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2020|
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