This weekend, we watched Bye Bye Birdie on TCM. There's a song I really love in that movie, especially now that I'm a parent.
My favorite parenting song of all times is Kids, sung by Paul Lynde and Maureen Stapleton..."You can talk and talk till your face is blue! Kids! But they still just do what they want to do! Why can't they be like we were, perfect in ev'ry way? What's the matter with kids tooooday!" I sing that last part out loud to Sydney quite often; why can't she be like I was, perfect in ev'ry way... I'm sure there would be some disagreement with that if I ever sang it to Sydney in front of my parents.
Another interesting fact is that my cousin played Birdie. Jesse Pearson's mother was my Grandmother's sister.
Unfortunately, Birdie is all I really know about Jesse. The only other memory I have is going to the airport with my Grandmother to see him arrive for a visit. I was little, maybe 7 or 8 and my sister and I were dressed up to go with her for this important event. Of course, all I can remember from the day is that a cousin pushed me down in a mud puddle before the airport and the seat of my pants got dirty and my Grandmother brushed the dirt off with a hairbrush. And, I cried because I was a mess for an important event. That probably led to some shyness which helps explain why I don't remember much else.
I don't ever remember meeting the man.
I do remember when he got sick and came home to be near his family for the end of his life. I remember that he was in the hospital for a long time with cancer and that I wasn't taken to visit. I remember that he brought his partner home with him and that the partner did his best to make a life in our small town and interact with the family. And, I remember that there was much controversy about him being gay. I even remember that I asked one of my Aunts, when I was in college, if Jesse was gay and she said she didn't think so. I don't know if she was protecting me or just in denial.
I remember that there was great shame in the family. I also remember that my Mom told me once that at least Jesse had moved away so he didn't embarass his family. And, I remember that as the catalyst for me moving away.
I can say I wish I had gotten to meet him. Not just shake his hand, but actually gotten to know him. I know there was much he could have told a gay boy from a small town about what the world was really like. I'm glad that times are different now and that I don't have to share the same things with the young gay sons of my friends. I can talk to them about how hard it is to fit in, not about how hard it is to hide out.
I don't know if the Aunts talk when I bring Rob home. I don't know if there's great shame in the family when he's there. I don't even know if they know we're there. I know that for a long time I thought I was wrong and bad because of how the family felt about Jesse. After all, until I was 20, he was the only gay person I ever remember hearing about.
The irony is that parents still overprotect kids 47 years later. We're overprotective of Sydney, just like my parents were overprotective of me and Paul Lynde was overprotective of Ann Margaret. There must be something about a requirement that parents overprotect kids or it wouldn't turn up as such an overwhelming theme in theater and movies.
Or, maybe it's just that the line between protecting and overprotecting is so thin that it's easy to step over it without even realizing we're doing it.
Take care and have a great Way Back Wednesday. Lane