Mary Tyler Moore holds a special place in my heart.
Not Mary in the Dick Van Dyke show (though we loved here there, too). I’m talking Mary in Minneapolis. Mary in the newsroom. Mary with Rhoda. Mary in her apartment serving drinks to Lou at a Very Bad Dinner Party.
Mary Richards seemed to be the seventies embodiment of my mother. Funny, kind to a fault, determined, sometimes naive–and always fashionable–Mary was like mom is so many ways. My mom before kids, working as a bank manager, rocking blonde hair and wide-leg pants, hosting cocktail parties with friends.
When I heard about Mary Tyler Moore’s passing I immediately thought of mom and my many memories of watching the Mary Tyler Moore show with her–which, I will admit is a little weird as a high school kid in the ’90s. It wasn’t like any of my peers were staying up late to watch Nick at Night reruns of a syndicated seventies sitcom with their moms.
My mom’s love for the show was contagious. I became a fan with her. In re-watching her favorite episodes (Chuckles the clown’s funeral comes to mind as one of our all-time favorites) I got a glimpse into my mom’s life as a working woman in a male-dominated workforce int he 1970s.
I‘ve long seen my mom in Mary, but it is only now that I realize my mom saw a bit of Mary in me, too. As I went off to college, graduated and moved to bigger cities in states far from home, got my first suit, my first apartment. As she watched me experiencing all the highs and lows that come with tossing your proverbial hat in the air as a single working woman. As she saw me live out some of the Mary Richards’ experiences she never had.
Those were the part’s of Mary’s story were foreign to my mom, who married my dad at the young age of nineteen, never attended college, or lived alone in her own apartment, or navigated the dating scene. This fact was lost on me much of the time, especially as I was living those experiences. I often resented what I perceived to be my mom’s desire to project her own dreams onto me as I made questionable choices about careers, men, hairstyles.
It’s only now with the benefit of age, and becoming a parent myself, that I get it. My mom wanted me to get every ounce out of the Mary Richards experiences that she couldn’t have. She wanted me to get it just right, to savor these freedoms that were not in her reach.
My own daughter is only four, but I already think wistfully about how I hope things will be better for her–that though I am afforded more privileges that most of the world’s women, I still dream bigger. I hope my daughter doesn’t have to demand she gets paid the same as a man for doing the same exact job. I hope, should she decide to have children, that my daughter doesn’t have to navigate a workforce still trapped in the Mad Men era.
I can’t wait to someday introduce Mary Richards to my own daughter and tell her how much her grandmother loved the show. I’ll tell her the stories my mom told me about life in that era, where her only career encouragement was to go to typing school. How she ascended the career ladder in a male-dominated workplace, without a college degree, to become a manager in a bank. How she loved working full-time and letting the dishes pile up in the sink at home–a wild version of my mom that I caught glimpses of but never fully saw, as she lived out her life within the confines of motherhood and part-time work and breast cancer and the damn patriarchy.
Until then, I’ll stream some episodes of Mary Tyler Moore just like old times. I’ll make popcorn on the stove like my mom did. I’ll sit in the dark and laugh and cry as I watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show–this time just me, with mom and Mary in heaven.
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