Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy 75th Birthday, Mary!

It happened approximately two years ago. In my Composition class, my teacher assigned us to pick an ennobling figure in history. For the rest of the semester, we would go through the detailed and incredibly frustrating steps of writing an essay on exactly why this person was a respectable being.

I said, "That'll be EASY!" First thing was first; I needed to pick my "ennobling figure." Many celebrities came to mind in those early thoughts. John F. Kennedy, Amelia Earhart, and Eleanor Roosevelt are some of the names. And I easily started researching biographies I could check out from the library or buy from the local bookstore. In the end, I found nothing that would intrigue me to write a ten page paper, however.

About a week later, I decided upon the "Unsinkible Molly Brown." She was ennobling enough. She had gusto, achievement, and opinions to boot. PERFECT. But later that night, I found no existence of a biography. We needed a biography for one of the papers. I didn't have a biography for my person. I WAS DOOMED! It was not the first time I had been in a dilemma about the class, either. And I had only been in there for three or four weeks! My mom, knowing I had to find somebody, walked into the kitchen, where I was pouting just then, face down on the counter.

"Can you think of anybody?" I asked in desperation. "I need to decide by tomorrow."
"You should do someone cool. Like Billy Graham or someone like that."
I may have twisted in disgust. No offense to Mr. Graham, but I did not want this project to be completely educational. I wanted it to be fun, light, FUN.
"I'm more into pop culture."
She turned the water on to do the dishes. "Carol Burnett."
"I don't know her."
"Well, there are a lot of people you could do," she said encouragingly. "Dick Van Dyke."
A spark went off. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Mary Poppins. He seems like an interesting character. He did have his own show.
"Was he ennobling?" I asked.
"He made a lot of people happy. He was a great dancer. He had his own show."
I exploded. "Duh! Do you think I was born yesterday?" (I become a bit crabby in those stressful times.) "Did he progress society in any way?"
"I don't think so."
"How am I supposed to write a ten page paper about him then?"
"How about Mary Tyler Moore? She had her own show. Plus, she was a pretty big thing back then. I loved her."

I eventually decided to take on Mary Tyler, although all I knew about her was that she was on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Needless to say, I had a lot of work to do.

I began researching. Mary struggled with diabetes, felt the need to be a perfectionist, and rose as a strong but subtle push for feminists everywhere. I read books, journals, and did nearly everything else I could. And somewhere in the process, the sweetheart of the 70s swept me away with her winning smile and difficult yet shining life. She lifted my spirits, made me beam, and showed me a life far removed from my own. For someone who I have never met, she taught me more than a lot of people. I could have never known at the time, but Mary ended up being one of the closest friends I would never meet.

On spring break that semester, I traveled down to the Twin Cities to go to a play at the dinner theatre there. (I had received tickets for my birthday.) Knee deep in three Mary books, a couple seasons of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and articles about feminists on TV, I felt a need to expound on my research.

It is a known fact that the Mary Tyler Moore Show is set in Minneapolis, where Mary's character is the associate producer at WJM-TV, a news station. In honorarium, a statue of Mary, in her award-winning, berret-twirling pose, stands on one corner of Nicollet Mall, where the opening credits were actually filmed. While I scoff at the innacuracy in its location, (She did throw it at that corner, but she was filmed tossing her hat in the middle of the intersection, not on the sidewalk. The story of it is quite endearing, how she was dodging traffic and all.) I begged my fellow travelers, including my dear friend Jamie, to stop at the statue on our way through Minneapolis.

"We're going to go around the block once and be back here then. Okay?"
"Sounds good!" Jamie and I yelled as we hopped out of the van.
We hadn't known that a Vikings game was ensuing in the coming hour. We also didn't know how many people walked to the game. We waded through crowds of purple and gold, swerved between taxis and runaway buses, and nearly fell victim to theft as we crossed the street with a camera in tow.
There, gleaming in the overcast smog of the metal jungle, was Mary. I had known her for so long, and here she was. Finally.
"Let's go! They're going to be back," Jamie said.
"All right. Let's hurry."
"Go and stand by her," Jamie said, pushing the camera up and nearly backing up into traffic.
She snapped a picture.
"Perfect. Now me."
We exchanged the camera. She copied Mary's classic berret-tossing pose, one hand in the air.
I snapped the picture.
At that point, the statue was relatively clear of tourists. However, when somebody sees someone taking a picture, others take one too. It's mob mentality, I believe. I can just imagine: "That statue must be important! Let's take one too!" That is exactly what happened.
Two men speaking a foreign language rushed up the statue in apparent enthusiasm. They shoved a camera at Jamie and posed for a picture. A group of middle-aged women snapped pictures both from near and far. At this point, I would not have been surprised if Ferris Bueller came floating down the street in a parade, eventually whipping off his German song float and popping up on the statue to kiss Mary on the cheek.
Jamie handed the camera back. "Let's go!"
It became a frenzy around the statue as we rushed away.

As the class ended that spring, I was both happy and sad to see my time with Mary draw to an end. I had connected with her in so many ways. I found so much of me in her. I learned a lot in the class as well. You see, I have this theory. The more frustration a class causes, the more a student learns. Considering that I bawled my eyes out one day, on a scale from 1-10 (1 being not learning and 10 being learned a lot), I would rate the class at 11. I owe my teacher and Mary for those valuable lessons in Composition.

Thus, I conclude. To the woman who taught me to stand up when times are tough, who could turn the world on with her smile, and who caused social change with mere inferences of feminism, I would like to say one thing. Happy 75th birthday, Mary!

'Til next time!

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