With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I have been reflecting on what I am thankful for this year. Of course, I am most thankful for my faith, family, friends, and good health like most people. But I have been looking deeper, exploring gifts I don’t always appreciate.
Kids today are growing up in a digital society, and social media has always been part of their lives – that will shape them and the way they learn and interact. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, our technology was television. I have been thinking about the way that shaped who I am, and I have been meditating on what I have learned from being a pop culture kid.
Here are some of the things I am thankful for that I have learned from sitcoms.
- Gracie Allen and Blanche Morton taught me having a best friend you can sit down and talk with over coffee is important. On Burns and Allen, every good or bad thing that occurred in their lives was shared and analyzed over a cup of quality roast coffee. Most of the time, these two women shared laughter, but your closest friends understand when it’s the time for tears as well. Having someone to navigate life with who totally gets you and never judges you (but can pull you back to reality with a loving reprimand when necessary) makes the journey much easier.
- Ann Marie taught me fashion is fun, and you can develop your own fashion sense. The last seasons of That Girl coincided with my middle grade school years when clothes were beginning to take on new importance. Before that, we basically had Sunday clothes, school clothes, and play clothes and didn’t give much thought to what was in our closet. During these years I was lucky to have a grandmother who bought me beautiful Sunday dresses and a friend who passed her clothes down to me. I remember that one of my Sunday best was a pink and white gingham skirt (with suspenders!) and a matching blazer. It came from Sak’s Fifth Avenue, and made me feel like a model when I wore it. I didn’t understand the cost of expensive clothing, but I did know that Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Tiffany boxes were very desirable. Thank you Lisa Spahr. School clothes were always a dress or skirt with high knee socks until fourth grade. That was the year that forced us to think more about our daily outfits because, for the first time, we were allowed to wear pants to school. Not any pants, however; it had to be a pantsuit. For Christmas that year I received a navy combination with red trim around the collar – a bit of a naval theme. Play clothes also began to change that year because our play changed. No longer were we only running through the neighborhood; we were going to the movies, the Y, and other places where we might run into certain people – people like boys. My favorite outfit that year was a pair of ecru bell bottoms that had navy and maroon flowers splashed across them, paired with a navy blouse with a very straight collar and three buttons on the cuff. I was convinced if I ran into Keith Partridge or Bobby Sherman in that outfit, they would notice me for sure. I also remember hot pants coming into fashion, and I had a pair of striped brown, tan, and orange ones that I wore with an orange tank with a zipper. Be still my heart. But my most special purchase was a black maxi coat that made me feel just like Ann Marie. Yes, she was a great fashion coach. I still love to watch the show to see what she is wearing.
- The Collins family helped me develop several interests. Dark Shadows came on not long after we arrived home from school, and we never wanted to miss it. As a neighborhood clan, we often played Dark Shadows, and all the girls wanted to be Daphne or Laura. I have not remained an avid Dark Shadows fan, but it did spark two passions for me. No, not vampires and ghosts but mysteries and Maine. Mysteries were my favorite books to read during grade school and junior high. My first memory of the Bookmobile coming to our school was seeing several Nancy Drew books on the library carts. I checked them out, and I was hooked. I read through many series after that – The Dana Girls, Ginny Gordon, and Donna Parker – and then I moved on to reading adult authors that our local librarian had to approve for me to take out. I especially loved Phyllis Whitney. I must have loved books more than clothing, because one year I received a pair of jeans for Christmas that I didn’t really like. I was allowed to take them to Leitzinger’s Department Store myself to exchange them. Exchange them I did for 8 Trixie Belden books. That was not my mother’s expectation, but I thought it was a much better deal. Dark Shadows also gave me a fondness for Maine. I’ve only been there once, but I am looking forward to returning to New England next fall. I loved the large, old homes, the rocky beaches, and the quaint little towns. Something about that area spoke to my soul and drew me in.
- Steve Douglas provided me with sage advice and security. My dad and I had a great relationship when I was very little and later when I was an adult and a parent myself, but those years in between were a bit unpleasant at times, due to some personal demons he was dealing with. My Three Sons began the year before I was born and continued on the air until I was 12. After that, it was on television in reruns for most of my school life. In his sweater and holding a pipe, Steve Douglas became a surrogate father for me. I felt like I was a member of the Douglas family. Steve always had time to listen and had great wisdom. He also understood kids would be kids and you had to pick your battles. He was kind and gentle. When I was dealing with a difficult issue, I would often consider what advice he might give me. When I was pregnant with our first child, a boy it turns out, I gave Dan a Steve Douglas cardigan to announce it. I think it was fitting that I ended up with three children – all boys. Spending time with the Douglas family while growing up helped me understand what it was like to raise three boys. This show has always tugged at my heart. On our first date, the show just happened to be on when we got back to my apartment. Then we had three boys. Our youngest was named Seth for several reasons, one of them being that Seth Bryant had founded the town of Bryant Park where the Douglas clan lived. Somehow, I think I always knew I would have my own three sons.
- Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt taught me laughter is an essential part of life. During my formative tween years, especially in dealing with my father, I began to realize that life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I learned that life held some highs and some lows, but most of life is lived on the bridges between the mountains and the valleys. M*A*S*H taught me the importance of joy and laughter during these times. Humor became an important life skill which helped in making friends and getting through bumpy times. We moved a lot between 8th and 11th grades – I was basically in five different high schools in three different cities and having a sense of humor helped me develop friends in each new place. My closest friends and my family understand that being able to laugh at ourselves and find humor in the mundane keeps life fun. Our family conversations often sound like a M*A*S*H script. Life without humor would be very unpleasant.
- Rob Petrie, Mary Richards, and Michael Scott taught me that work would be much smoother if you accepted everyone and made the best of situations rather than dwelling on the negatives. From Rob Petrie, I learned that developing close relationships at work helped you be more creative and reduced stress. He probably also influenced me to love comedy and writing. Mary Richards taught me that for every Murray Slaughter you bonded with at work, there would be a Ted Baxter you had to put up with, and hopefully you would develop some affection for them by doing so. Michael Scott taught me that we all have our quirks, and if we accept others, they will usually accept us. If we wait for the perfect friend or coworker, we will be waiting a long time. The work has to get done, so stay positive. We all have professional gifts and talents, but our people skills are often what make us a success or a failure at our jobs.
- Shirley Partridge and Bentley Gregg taught me it was okay to love a show simply because you love it, without trying to reason why. There were a lot of shows on when I was growing up that I watched and thought were okay, but they didn’t capture my heart – shows like Gilligan’s Island, Hazel, or The Flying Nun. There were also shows I thoroughly disliked for whatever reason – shows like All in The Family, Good Times, and The Beverly Hillbillies. However, some shows like The Partridge Family and Bachelor Father drew me in and became life-long love interests. Okay, it might have something to do with the fact that I was secretly in love with Keith Partridge and Bentley Gregg. There was just something about the series that would cause me to get up two hours early or stay up three hours later just to watch reruns when I could. And I learned that was okay. I don’t have to analyze why they have become important in my life; I just accept that they are.
Many people criticize sitcoms as fluffy and say that they don’t portray the reality of life. I disagree. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of mediocre and just plain awful shows out there. There always have been. But there are those shows that touch our lives in some way. We learn from them. We laugh with them. We develop an appreciation for people that we otherwise would never come to know. So, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned watching sitcoms. I am also thankful for the passion I developed in sharing these shows with other people. After all, that is what this blog is all about. And I am thankful to you for reading it and keeping these shows alive for another generation. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.