Sunday, February 19, 2023

The One Where I Get Sentimental About a Sitcom That's Not 'The Brady Bunch.'

We were just a few months into our marriage when Friends premiered, and I distinctly remember sitting in our first apartment, watching our old TV, and coming across the second episode. Watching "The One With the Sonogram at the End," I could tell the characters were relatable and the writing was sharp, so I started recording the episodes each week.

One of our early-marriage cheap dates was to go to Kinko's and make covers for our homemade VHS tapes. (Doesn't that just scream "hip" and "cool"?) We would copy photos from magazine and newspaper clippings to create custom case liners, and we had fun giving our favorite shows and movies boxes that looked a little nicer than the striped Panasonic or Memorex cardboard covers. Long before the series was on DVD, I had my own set of analog-quality, commercial-filled recordings of most of the episodes.

Around the same time Friends premiered, we bought our first home computer--a Macintosh Performa purchased at the late, great Incredible Universe--and took advantage of the free download to join America Online, join the crowd, join the revolution. Now this early AOL was all about pages and keywords. There were no websites and dedicated fan sites. What we did have, though, were groups. Somehow I found my way to the group, and through that listserv, starting "conversing" with other Friends fans from all over the world.

And thus, my first case of obsessive internet fandom was born. It was fun to go on and on (and on and on) about each episode, repeating favorite lines, critiquing plot points that fell flat, and taking sides (but weren't we all Team Rachel?). Every day (until I finally broke down and switched to Digest mode), my inbox would fill with messages about my favorite show. I remember fans sharing when and where they first heard the extended Friends theme hit their local radio airwaves. I also remember going to our newsgroup to share shock and sadness the afternoon of the OKC bombing.

As the show took off, our numbers and discussion threads grew. Season 1 ended, but our speculation and anticipation did not. When "Phoebe" opened season 2 with a recap and a "So, how've you been?" it felt like she was winking at us, offering us a spot on the couch, giving a little acknowledgement that we were all part of this new community, this cultural phenomenon.

Now that we're marking the 25th anniversary of the premiere, plenty of folks have been revisiting the show, complaining that it's overrated, that it's far inferior to sitcoms that had better acting or were more groundbreaking. Others have pointed out punchlines and plots that would never fly today. I can see their point: some episodes can be cringe-y or downright offensive in 2019, and popularity does not equal quality. In spite of its faults, however, Friends will always be one of my favorites. Seeing one of those old episodes takes me back--not just to those early days of our marriage, but to the days of my young adulthood, when I was trying to find my own way in the world away from my family and wound up finding my way to a family of friends.

When the series ended in 2005, we had seen the Friends marry, divorce, have kids, change jobs, and move. In that 10-year span, Brett and I had bought a house, had two children, faced financial, marital, and health challenges, and discovered unimaginable joys. By the time the six left their keys on that counter, we, too, were far past that young adulthood the series celebrated. But for a quick hit of nostalgia, that show "will be there for me, too"!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Aunt Berniece.

My mentors: Aunt Berniece, Aunt Lois, Mom, and Granny.
Strong, capable, devoted, loving.

Last week we celebrated the life of Aunt Berniece, my dad’s sister. And what a life it was! Throughout the funeral we heard about her service to others, her strength and strong will, her love for her family. Of course, none of that was a surprise. We were blessed to witness those qualities firsthand.  

Uncle Gerald, Aunt Berniece, cousin Annette, my dad, cousin Susan

Aunt Berniece (center) with my grandparents, Aunt Lois, and Daddy.

With Annette and Susan at my grandparents' 50th anniversary party

Widowed at 47, she faced multiple challenges, but her faith never wavered. In those years after my Uncle Gerald died, she took some vacations with my parents and me. I remember lots of singing and laughing on those road trips. 

We got into some trouble in Colonial Williamsburg.

And then there was the time we did a little shopping in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Daddy made some comment about limiting their shopping to what Mom and Berniece could fit in our car. Challenge accepted! They spent the drive home with their purchases on their laps, but they managed! 

When my dad died, Aunt Berniece was a steadfast source of strength and support for my mom, who was just 49 when Daddy passed away. When Brett and I got married the next year, she was quick to jump in and help with the planning and prep work. I don’t know how many birdseed roses she made, but I know it was a lot!

The roses were a family wedding tradition.

Aunt Berniece and our friend Lydia did a great job with rose assembly!

With Granny, Aunt Lois, and Uncle Don at my wedding

Helping my cousin Linda with my cake

Ryan and Katie loved going to Aunt Berniece’s house in Houston, just like I did when I was a little girl. We enjoyed so many meals, so much laughter, so much love there! Then that house—where she had lived for decades—flooded twice in two years. During one of those floods, as her refrigerator floated in the rising waters, she spent the night on her kitchen island until help could arrive. 

During Hurricane Ike, Aunt Berniece came to visit
my mom (and us!) for a few days.

At the funeral service, we heard all about the canasta and Mexican Train games Berniece organized, her much-loved senior camp retreats at Bandera, her volunteer work with her church's prison ministry, the way she would drive friends to church, how she was there every time the doors were open.

Playing Mexican Train at Susan's house

Those stories came as no surprise. We already knew how seriously Aunt Berniece took her games, and we had seen how she served others and shared Jesus. But a few years ago, I learned something new about Aunt Berniece. Her sister, my Aunt Lois, gave me the most precious steno pad. In it, my grandmother had written "A Sketch of Jim (Partial)," an account of my father's childhood with hemophilia. 

Granny wrote about how much Berniece and Lois doted on their little brother, trying to protect him from bleeds and bruises. Granny recounts the time that the sisters sulked because Granny had spanked Daddy! 

Check out Granny's response: "I realized he must be punished
or he would become a child that no one would love." Whoa.

A few pages later, Granny explains that because of Daddy's frequent hospitalizations and crazy medical bills, the family struggled financially. That's where Berniece came in.

In those pages I learned that Aunt Berniece, fresh out of high school, had taken a job as a bookkeeper. She "went beyond her responsibility" to help her parents pay the bills. Even though this was news to me, it shouldn't have been a surprise that she would do this, considering how much she loved her family.

With her daughter/my cousin Susan during one of our more recent visits to Houston 

In the last few years, anytime I talked to Aunt Berniece, she would provide an assessment of her current challenges, from health issues to moving into a senior living apartment. Regardless of the struggle, she could never complain without adding the same statement: "I'm blessed." Even as she outlived her siblings, in-laws, and friends, she never stopped counting her blessings.

As Aunt Berniece would say, "Well..." Well, my dear aunt, YOU were a blessing to all who knew you. We love you and we miss you, and we will never forget your strength, your spirit, and your inspiring life.