When I walked out of my dance class yesterday, Bart was as usual sitting at one of the tables the Y puts out there. Bart, a very recently retired Professor of English, always has something interesting to say. I was betting on a quip about Margaret Thatcher, the news of whose death was all over the place that morning.
“Bad news,” Bart said, looking oddly doleful for someone I was sure had been no fan of Margaret Thatcher. “Annette Funicello died.”
My heart sank. The shock was real and scarcely related to the actual person of Annette Funicello, whom of course I’d never met and hadn’t thought of in over fifty years. I didn’t have to think about Annette because she existed perpetually, never changing, in my own history.
I’m in Jr. high and my first boyfriend David has walked me home from school, carrying my books and my Conn cornet in its clunky case. David is not allowed to come inside, since my parents are still at work, and that’s fine with me. Adolescence is a slow and patchwork affair in the 1950’s; I’m not really clear about why he insists on walking me home but understand that it’s expected of both of us. When he leaves I can go inside and turn on the TV (which has to warm up), and what’s on both of the two stations available? The Mickey Mouse Club!
And I watch. Annette, the most popular Mouseketeer, is twelve and so am I. By current standards we’re way too old for this juvenile stuff, but I don’t know that then. In my late-afternoon living room, surrounded by my mother’s collection of Wedgwood miniatures (green, not blue), it’s okay to be a child, or at least childish, again, and I revel in it. When the show is over I sing the closing song with Annette and the cast, alone in the final moments of both childhood and an era. I will never forget the song.
Bart and I analyzed the source of our reaction to Annette’s death. She was an icon in our history, a remembered symbol of something akin to innocence. Bart said he, like every other American boy, fell in love with her even before she got the famous boobs. He said she always seemed deeply wholesome in some way far surpassing the corny All-American Girl Next Door image. I remembered wanting to look like her, not realizing that I’d have to become Italian. It didn’t matter; she was us. Annette was an ideal, somehow embodying a goodness peculiar to that time, outgrown long ago but cherished in memory.
Bea, Bart’s wife and retired teacher, and Bonnie, an about-to-retire grade school teacher, straggled out of our class. Bart gave them the news; their reaction was the same. We stood around in the sun talking about Annette for a few minutes and then wandered toward our cars in the parking lot beneath a small shopping center. It’s all slab cement and girders in there, dim and echoey. Then somebody started the song and we all joined in, belting it out, the words bouncing off cars and cement, filling our world for one last time. M-I-C…K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWH9HGS7SvQ
I won’t forget that, either.