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COME BACK TO THE KITCHEN, DONNA REED, DONNA REED

22 February 2002

It was the high heels that did it. There was a ladder on screen, and at the top of the ladder all you could see were 3" heels. The camera slowly panned up and there was Joan Crawford dresssed in her business finery (now there's a lady who knew how to wear shoulder pads) dusting lightbulbs. Really! Dusting lightbulbs. In heels. On a ladder.

Oh shades of Donna Reed.

Donna Reed has ruined my life. I don't mean Lorene,  in From Here to Eternity. I mean Donna Stone, wife of Dr. Alex Stone, mother of Mary and Jeff.  The epitome of wholesomeness. My whole life I've suffered guilt beause I don't vacuum in my high heels (or own high heels). I can't remember a morning when our squeaky clean children sat as straight little soldiers around the kitchen table while I floated in on clouds of crinoline, perfectly coiffed and made up, to serve them gourmet breakfasts before sending them off to school.

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Intellectually I know it was only a TV show, but in the back of my head all of my life I've been comparing myself to Donna Reed, and falling far short of the mark.

I don't know how all those sit-com Moms of the 50s did it. (Well, probably with the help of the makeup department, costume department, hair stylist, and a friendly camera person!) There was Barbara Billingsly every morning in her knit jersey dress with pearls around her neck, again serving breakfast to Wally and the Beav.

I guess I forgave Jane Wyatt for being the perfect wife to Jim "Father Knows Best" Anderson. She got points for marrying Sarek and becoming mother to Spock. That Vulcan hairdo might have been perfect, but it was fantasy and I couldn't relate, so her Margaret Anderson faded into the far corners of my mind.

I thought about all these women as I sat in class this evening watching Mildred Pierce. I'm afraid it's really difficult to watch Joan Crawford looking lovingly at a beloved on-screen child when there are echoes of Mommie Dearest in my memory banks. I look at her and see coat hangers.

But there was Joan, being noble and strong, with the shoulders of a linebacker.

Amazing to watch this 1945 movie and realize how far we've come in the past ~60 years. First the divorce...Mildred had to beg her husband for a divorce, which he refused to give her. Then she takes the "shameful" job as waitress, which is such an embarrassment to her daughter.

It's nice to know that we've progressed from the days when the height of female accomplishment was running a luxurious home and being kept by a man, when owning a chain of restaurants would be considered something to be ashamed of.

But I'm afraid part of me will always be comparing myself to the fantasy housekeeper/ homemaker that Donna Reed was, and feeling like I've failed, somehow.

No Donna Reed

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Created 2/20/02