Today I had a lunch date with Donna. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. I consider her to be both an unlikely mentor and an inspiration. We get together every once in a while for lunch and occasionally coffee.
I met Donna years ago when I was a kid. She and I hung out every night one summer. After evenings at the baseball diamond, after endless Monopoly games, after midnight snacks, and long after my parents went to bed…Donna was there. And so was her husband–Dr. Stone, Mary, Jeff and later, Trisha.
The Donna Reed Show has had an odd place in my heart ever since. I didn’t grow up in the era of her show. I came upon her sitcom by chance, back in the days when Nick at Nite was in its infancy. It came on very late and included other black and white shows like Mr. Ed, Dobie Gillis, My Three Sons, The Patty Duke Show and so many others that I came to adore as a kid. Off all of these comedy classics, Donna Reed was my favorite. My siblings and I laughed at Jeff’s antics and joked about how boy-crazy Mary was. We wondered if Dr. Stone was the only pediatrician in Hilldale? (Anyone ever notice how that man never had a moment to himself? That poor town had the sickest children’s population ever imagined!)
Donna’s show was popular back in a time when family was more than important, it was everything. Back when there were high standards and ideals. Back when girls were expected to grow up to be ladies and even the orneriest boys grew into gentlemen. Yes, I know it was just a TV show. But even back in the late 80s/early 90s her show was relevant and fun. And I latched on to it BIGTIME! A permed-hair, gum snapping, jelly-shoe wearing kiddo like myself could easily step back into time and come up with applicable and memorable lessons in life. I recall seeing the Stone family deal with time-management issues, sibling rivalry, the pros and cons of marriage and countless other teachings. We saw them donate their time, help others and land themselves in all kinds of crazy jams. We learned what to do and what not to do in 30 minute episodes. And what stuck with me was the manner in which they carried themselves through good and bad situations and how they looked out for each other with kindness and loyalty.
It wasn’t like I was a neglected kid pining for this type of family. I had a great family…Mom & Dad both in the home, siblings I loved and adored, a good neighborhood, middle class upbringing and on and on. So for me, I guess it reinforced all the good that I already knew and cemented the concept of good that I would come to expect and demand of myself and my own family.
Nowadays most of my dates with Donna occur while my kids are in school and my husband is busy at work. I’ve tried getting them to watch with me, but they don’t share my delight with Donna. And, that’s okay. Those TV moments have become somewhat sacred to me now. It’s thirty minutes where my 80s kid-self can meet up with my laundry-folding, house cleaning, reluctant chef mom-self and be in perfect harmony. In some ways I ended up becoming just like her…and for all her notable qualities, that really was the last thing I was trying to do! But in rediscovering her show on DVD a few years ago (and loving it just as much now as I did then), I realize that Donna and I have become quite a duo…and I’m good with that.
Now you’ll have to excuse me while I straighten my apron and check on the roast…Alex will be home anytime now, Mary will need me to help set her hair, Jeff has homework to do, and Trisha lost the dog in the park (again).