Tuesday, April 9, 2013

RIP, Again, Times Two

The Burrow is turning into an obituary column this month.  Last week was Roger Ebert's goodbye post.  Today, I started in England and ended up in Disneyland.  It's a dismal set of thoughts roiling through my brain right now.  I am so glad to have you to share them with me.

TBG and I saw Margaret Thatcher at the Marin Speakers Series.  Many wonderful (and some not so wonderful) speakers came through the Civic Center over the decade in which we had tickets; there were only three standing ovations.  One was for Bill Clinton, whose presentation was the largest love fest I've ever seen, preaching to the choir as he was.  Another was for Colin Powell, two weeks after he decided not to run for the presidency. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when he finished speaking; everyone wanted to vote for him, right then, right there.

The third, the most personal, the loudest, and the longest, was for Mrs. Thatcher.

Her politics were offensive to most of the audience. Her adoration of Ronald Reagan led to much shaking of heads and shrugging of shoulders.  But her presence was magnetic and mesmerizing; she earned that clapping.  She stood before us, perfectly coiffed, elegantly attired in a knit suit, perched on stilettos that would have defeated me after fifteen minutes.  There was absolutely no fidgeting.  Her feet never moved, her hands never touched her hair or her face, her posture was ramrod straight.  She was the most comfortable speaker to adorn the stage, except Garrison Keillor, whose sneakers and generally unkempt appearance made ease easy.

She spoke without notes for an hour.  She was surprised that the follow-up questions were written by the audience but presented by the moderator.  She was looking to engage with the interrogator, not respond to a generic prompt.  In left-leaning Marin County, her defense of/attack on the Falkland Islands was not likely to receive a positive response.  Somehow, though, after hearing her explanation, after watching her affect as she spoke of the need to protect my England, as she described what she thought was necessary in a leader, the antagonism in the room began to wane.

Agree with her or not, it was impossible not to admire her.  A grocer's daughter, she described lively dinner table debates, high expectations from her parents, and an unshakable belief in her inner strength.  She ruled for most of a decade; it was easy to see why.  At the end, after the ninety minutes allotted to the lecture, she was genuinely surprised.  Did she have to leave?  Couldn't she stay and answer more questions?  She was just beginning to enjoy herself.  Most of the audience remained, mesmerized, for nearly another hour.... after the standing ovation and the departure of those who had to relieve a babysitter.

Meryl Streep gave a fine portrayal in The Iron Lady. It was close enough to the real thing.  But the slightness of her being, the immensity of the character and personality contained in that slight body, that was missing.  She was small and powerful..... is it any wonder that I loved her?

That's as far as I'd gotten in thinking about this post when I heard the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club on my local NPR station this morning.  I knew what Neil Conan would tell me before he began to speak; Annette had shed this mortal coil, released by death from the ravages of the Multiple Sclerosis that she battled for so long.  The world will miss Mrs.Thatcher; my little-girl-self shed real life tears for my favorite Mouseketeer.

I was never a kid on the show, though I knew that I would have been great.  I couldn't dance or sing or act, but that wouldn't have mattered.  Annette was there, she would help me. I knew it as a rock solid truth.  It was obvious to me - she was the embodiment of the perfect teenager and I wanted her in my life.  Couldn't she babysit for us?  Would she be on the campus if I could convince my parents to take me to Anaheim and Walt's paradise for kids?  Did she know the characters in the on-going dramas the Club showed during the week?  Thoughts of afternoons surrounded by Spin and Marty and Annette and Cubby kept me happy while G'ma and Daddooooo shrieked at one another.  It was a safe and special place, and Annette was the one in charge.

The beach blanket movies revealed a slice of life lived by no one I knew.  I was the oldest sibling and my only older-than-I-am cousin was more into Million Dollar Movie than American Bandstand.  Without Annette, I would have had no idea what it was like to be a teenager.  I learned from her that kindness is repaid, that standing up for yourself led to admiration and respect, that smiling at little ones was its own joy.  I like to think that I'm still living those lesson.

Mrs. Thatcher's intellectual capacities deserted her.  Ms. Funicello's physical strengths did the same.  It's one of life's cruelest ironies, the taking away of that which defined these women I admired.  There was no whining from either of them, ever.  There was acceptance and understanding and determination to live out the rest of life with a smile, with courage, with intensity.

I will miss them both.

8 comments:

  1. Rest in peace to two amazing women. I too didn't agree with Thatcher's politics, but as a woman, I admired her so much.

    I remember watching the Mickey Mouse Club. LOVED it as a kid. I loved the doors they would come out of. Just thought that was the neatest thing. My mom was a huge fan of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and we watched the Beach Blanket movies.

    Thanks for the lovely eulogy for these two amazing women.


    Megan xxx

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    1. As our politicians descend into screaming rhetoric, I am continually reminded of Mrs. Thatcher's ability to sway a crowd with reason, thought, and a twinkle in her eye.
      a/b

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  2. When I was a girl, my cousins and I would play in our big old barn whenever the whole family gathered at our farm. There were bales of hay and a swing rope. So we'd get up on those bales and swing out over the open floor before the swing returned us and the next kid got to do it. I was the oldest and always got to be Annette as we'd do the Mousketeer entrance. Spin and Marty was a big deal to my life and obviously had an influence that still lingers with my choices. I so wanted to be Spin's girlfriend but if I couldn't be, I was glad Annette did get to be. :) It is a release for her given her latter years but it came too early. At least Mrs. Thatcher got to live out a full old age lifespan although at the last evidently she wasn't all there because of Alzheimer's. Kind of ironic given Reagan's end also.

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    1. I thought of Ronnie and Mrs. T suffering the same way at the end, too, Rain. The news spoke of "a series of strokes" and I wondered about the absence of Alzheimers which had been reported years ago.....
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  3. Because I can never start a sentence with a construction like, "As a woman, I...", I can never conclude it with something like "...admired/respected Margaret Thatcher." So I'm afraid I never developed much positive feeling at all towards her. (The movie did help me on that score.) Sorry -- speak ye not ill of the dead, all that -- I disappoint myself to sound so uncharitable.

    Annette, well, an awful big bundle of kidhood memories tied up with ANYONE on the original MMC. The one I had the biggest crush on was Doreen. (The troupe's Web site speaks of "her merry, mobile face and engaging personality." Well, yeah, I suppose. Whatever. I just couldn't stop looking at her. That page also says, "her greatest popularity was with the sort of guys who don't write fan letters." All right, already. Guilty as charged.) But Annette? Cute/Pretty, girl-next-door, all that. Completely unobjectionable. And completely unapproachable. I think I could've made Doreen laugh, even while in elementary school. With Annette, I would have been mung-tongued and clumsy. I'd leave her to the guys whose hands never sweated. So hearing of her death was kind of like hearing of, I don't know... Jackie O's death, maybe.

    Boy, this is a maundering comment.

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    1. "Maundering"..... what a great word. Annette always seemed to me to be the kind, cool girl, not the mean one. But, I will leave you to your musings over Doreen.

      As for Mrs. Thatcher, I didn't have to like her politics to admire her as a person. Her beliefs, though not mine, were well-reasoned and thoughtful. I could disagree with her respectfully.,
      a/b

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  4. Mrs. Thatcher's alignment with Mr. Reagon lowered her in my esteem. Also, my Welsh family of miners didn't appreciate her politics. The movie confused me with the moving back-and-forth in time; maybe I didn't know enough of her history and got lost.

    Annette will always be a best friend, a big sister. It seems as though I remember a story about her decorating her wheelchair for her daughter's wedding.

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    1. Her politics certainly were not mine, but I admired her as a successful woman in a man's world. I'd like the Obama-haters to admire him as a good father and an eloquent speaker and "a real guy" even if they disagree with his politics.

      I love the image of a decorated wheelchair... Annette knew how to make smiles , didn't she?!
      a/b

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