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.