Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Heroes Gone too Soon

Frank McCourt just died.

When one of my idols passes on it’s as though I have lost an opportunity, lost that improbable chance to meet them and share with them just how important they are to a Nobody like me. It happened when Elizabeth Montgomery, Michael Landon, and even my parents died. Of course my parent’s deaths were not improbable, just unnatural. I should, by all rights, have had plenty of opportunities to get to know them, tell them how much I love and hate them, as all good children should. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me, which is perhaps why I was drawn to so many others who represented love, security, guidance, and mentorship.

As a little girl Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) was the mother I should have been born to. Perhaps it was the happy little family and the bright colors of the sitcom that drew me, but I suspect it had more to do with the magic abilities the show’s characters possessed. I wanted to be able to twitch my own nose and clean my room, transport myself anywhere in the world, make my unique family one that all of my neighborhood friends would envy. I’m sure that early childhood fascination is what draws me to the Harry Potter stories in adulthood. I love the idea of magic in the world.

Michael Landon as Pa Ingalls was the image of the father I believed every little girl would be so lucky to have. He was a provider, lover, prankster; he adored his wife and children and to top it off, he welcomed children that were not his own into his fold and his heart. I loved the images of the land their home sat on and the small town they lived near. I was especially drawn to the moral messages each show provided, fashioning my own principles after many of those presented.

Growing up the 16th child raised by a woman who, understandably, was tired out by the time I reached adolescence, I turned to whomever I could to teach me how a life could and should be lived. I am thankful it was those innocent idols I gravitated to and not the other, perhaps less healthy influences that were so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s.

(That's Grandma Oberlander on the bottom right with just a handful of her family)

Upon reaching adulthood I continued to seek out inspirational mentors who would often guide my decisions, although they rarely, if ever, knew it. There were some instances in my life where I reached out and was rewarded with their acknowledgement.

The first was Elizabeth Montgomery who I would write fan letters to. On vacation in Florida one spring, I must have been all of 9, I sent her a necklace with a palm tree image on it. In return, I received an autographed black and white picture, one of two I have in my collection. Those were the days when a child could inundate a celebrity without the fear of stalking! When I moved to southern California and worked for a short time as a waitress in a restaurant in the Malibu Hills there was a chance I would meet my idol, but alas she never came in to dine, in spite of the owners insistence that she often did.

My close encounter with Little House on the Prairie was meeting and chatting with a 13-year-old Melissa Gilbert at a celebrity event in Los Angeles in 1977. Her bratty and entitled behavior did not impress me. I lived at the time in Simi Valley where LHOP was filmed, but never figured out how to get on the set. Years later I was very disappointed to read about Landon’s infidelity so it was probably better that I held the image of him rather than know him personally.

Two of my most treasured encounters were meeting Jane Goodall, the renowned animal behaviorist and activist, and Lucia St. Clair Robson, the author of the book, Ride the Wind.

There are so many people I would still like to shake hands with, or better yet, have a sit-down chat with. Frank McCourt was one of them. I wanted to pick his brain, find out just how he could take such dire circumstance that was his childhood and bring both smiles and tears to the reader with the magic of his words. As I read my own blog posts and try to convey my own experiences for those few who read my words, I always, always want to write with humor mixed with the poignancy of the experience. I always, always fail miserably.

Now that he’s gone, as are Elizabeth and Michael, I realize that I am on my own. I will have to rely on the lessons I learned from them while they were here, confident that I have gained knowledge from their time on this earth and the gifts they shared with others. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I will have developed a bit of my own magic and someone out there is looking to me and what I have to share, someone I may never have the chance to meet but who is influenced nonetheless. After all, that’s what human encounters, in person or not, are all about.


Vegas Linda Lou said...

Beautiful post, Lisa! And gee, wasn't Elizabeth Montgomery beautiful?

Anonymous said...

Dear, sweet Lisa. As a girl in high school I never understood or even pondered your "home" situation. All I knew was the person sitting behind me in biology was special. You still are. I draw strength from your brave life. Since your blog was about inspirational people,you should know I count you as one in my life. Miss you and love you.