I can't get the whistling out of my head. Since hearing about Andy Griffith's death yesterday, the folksy little theme from his TV show has been running through my mind. As I've confessed in this space before, I am an old TV fan. I mean, a fan of old TV, not an old fan of TV. Well, all right, I guess I'm both. My 55th birthday is a few months away and apparently, the universe thinks I need constant reminders. Even my beloved reruns are striking blows to my young-at-heart ego.
The thing I love most about classic TV is that it takes me back to the days of my youth. Not just childhood, but early adulthood as well.
"The Andy Griffith Show" makes me feel like a kid again, giggling with Opie about those silly grown-ups. "Soap" and "WKRP In Cincinnati" are even more rejuvenating, because they remind me of when I was the silly grown-up. Those were two of my favorite shows in the late '70s, when I was blissfully learning my new role as a young wife and mother. Today those shows are half-hour tickets to a sweeter, simpler time and some of my most treasured memories.
I was 28 when "The Golden Girls" debuted in 1985. Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia were Caucasian versions of my mom and aunts, delightful role models, the kind of spunky, funky, fun-loving woman I hoped to be in later years. Much later.
Cut to later. Much later. The other night, the Girls were digging into their umpteenth cheesecake, lamenting the loss of their youth, their husbands, their size 6 figures. I don't even remember which one said it, or what she said, exactly, but suddenly, the realization hit me like a sledgehamner. The Golden Girls were no longer role models; they were my peers! Those jokes about wrinkles and sagging skin weren't just jokes anymore; they were true stories. I am a Golden Girl! The epiphany nearly caused me to choke on my cheesecake.
And that was just one of the painful reminders tossed at me by the cosmos. Last Saturday, I went to see comedian Mike Epps in concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Early in his set, he questioned the audience, "Where're the '60s babies at?" At first, I thought he meant folks who graduated from high school in the '60s, but he went on to clarify, "Who was born in the '60s?" And then he asked for the '70s and '80s crowds. Didn't even bother with us '50s babies. It was sobering, to say the least. The '80s group was the biggest, or at least, the loudest. As they roared and shouted, I was stunned by the realization that they weren't just younger than me, they were younger than my baby boy.
Saturday was also that baby boy's 35th birthday, another implication of my advancing age. I remember when he turned 30, it was quite a milestone year, with my husband's death in April, Jimmy's birthday in June, then my Big Five-O in September. I suppose that explains why, even with these recent reminders, I feel younger today than I did on my 50th birthday.
And then there's my mother. She was never coy about her age or the fact that she was older than my father, so the old adage about women always lying about their ages didn't make sense to me. Until I turned 50. Mom, on the other hand, always seemed comfortable with her years, at 50, 60 and now, 87.
Last month, we spent two weeks with Jimmy and his three daughters in Michigan. For the first time, my son looked like a real man to me, with his neatly trimmed beard and handlebar mustache. Even my little granddaughters aren't babies anymore; the 11-year-old is 4 inches taller than me. Mom reveled in great-grandmotherhood, naturally. And I, the reluctant 50-something who bristles at being called "Auntie" by strangers, joyfully answered to "Grandma" a hundred times a day. When Lilly, Lotus, or Lula says it, it's music to my ears. For two weeks, I felt completely comfortable in my skin, fulfilled, proud, ageless.
Oh, I suppose the taxi driver in Chicago might have added to my euphoria. He was surprised to learn that Jimmy was my son. "I cannot believe. I thought for certain you were husband and wife. You are joking, yes? I cannot believe!"
That cabbie made my day. Poor Jimmy, on the other hand, must have been mortified to think that he might look as old as his mother. He didn't say anything to burst my bubble that day, but a week later, he snipped the handlebars off his mustache. He said it was becoming bothersome. I told him the trim made him look younger, and he flashed me the same smile I'd given the cabbie.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.