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My Ode to Norman Lear

 


My Ode to Norman Lear

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are too self-involved… News flash, famous television producer Norman Lear died this week at age 101. Some may say, ‘Who cares?’ But it truly matters. What he produced and left behind was a legacy and a poignant reminder that we need to address things publicly that are uncomfortable in our society, to be better educated and progress forward making the world more tolerable for all to live in.

Many discomforts were addressed in Mr. Lear’s productions. To name some were: women’s issues, racial divides, war, peace, rights of others regardless of sexual orientation, economic status, and my most favorite topic, bigotry.  Ah yes, bigotry. I understood it since I could ever remember. I knew what it was. It was and is pure hatred. And I’m not going to dress it up, I’m calling it out.

You see my maternal grandmother stayed silent most of the time. However, when it came to bigotry, she would stop you dead in your tracks like the character Edith Bunker in “All in the Family”. “All in the Family” was a monumental production by Norman Lear. The show was life altering. Some it soothed, while others it angered. And some watched with earnest skepticism. Only to become addicted as to what subject matter Norman Lear’s production would present week after week. What feathers it would ruffle. And it was my maternal grandmother’s other religion. Yes. Grandma looked forward to every show of “All in the Family”.

My maternal grandmother came from Gypsies of Romanian, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian ethnicities. She had a fifth-grade education and didn’t drive. Eventually, she became as Catholic as they come. She always worked, she walked practically everywhere. She scrubbed floors many of her teenaged and adult years. She worked at a big, unionized supermarket for decades till she was about 83. Yes, as a cashier on her feet for hours on end.

Grandma would wake up at about quarter past four every morning and start her day by reading the encyclopedia. When she began to realize that there was an influx of Spanish speaking people in her town, she added studying Spanish on her own. Yes, she taught herself Spanish. Then when I was about age ten, she threw herself ever more deeply into Catholicism and studied the Bible along with her other studies in the morning, then she became a Eucharistic Minister.

Once she finished her readings, her studies and self-care, she would cook and or bake for the week. That was after making her husband’s lunch for his workday. She would set up dinner plans. Making her own form of T.V. dinners for her husband if she had to work late. Or go shopping for food or an upcoming holiday. She went to church most mornings before work between seven and eight.

She was the complete opposite of her husband. Her husband, a lazy man, a criminal that some knew yet nearly no one spoke of. Her near saintly life most times overshadowed his inequities. When he opened his mouth his lack of education showed, and worse yet his bigotry.  He never served in the military and came to the United States at age five from Germany. He was treated like the royalty he’d come from, as aunts that cared for him here spoiled him—putting him like a prince up on a pedestal. Grandma and he remained married nearly sixty years until his death. She lived another nearly seventeen years afterward.

As Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” played on grandma’s black and white T.V. when I was a child, my mother couldn’t grasp how her mother could watch every episode like a religion. I know that the show gave my grandmother such laughs, although a different genre from her other treasured female comedian, Lucille Ball’s shows.

As my mother couldn’t understand her mother’s enjoyment of such a brash, and ballsy show as “All in the Family”, I was curious. What made my grandmother so enjoy that show? It was an addiction. But not a bad one.

Eventually, I began to understand that the production made fun of the stupidity of racism and any form of bigotries. Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” at the time, held one of the only ways to cope with the cruelty of the backward thinking world Grandma had experienced. The opposite of Love, Patience, and Peace. In that, my maternal grandmother could have some respite from all of the wrongs in the world—by realizing someone out there saw the world the way she did. Then he added a Karmic twist of a saint-like woman calling it out from seemingly left field.--- Jody-Lynn Reicher

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