We all love Edith Bunker, the put-upon wife of curmudgeon Archie on All in the Family. But do we want to BE her? Valerie Arbada isn’t so sure. Read more from Valerie on her blog, A Writer Always.
Life has an uncanny way of imitating art.
When Archie Bunker and his menagerie of kin came into our living rooms in the form of All in the Family in 1971, I was but an inquisitive wee lass of seven. At that tender age, I knew little of the comedic bigotry for which Carroll O’Connor would soon become synonymous. What I did know was that whenever I heard the show springing to life, thanks to my Mom who was an avid fan and would have the television turned up loud enough for my prickling ears to hear, I would morph from an innocent little girl into Edith Bunker.
As Jean Stapleton, in full-on Edith mode, warbled the show’s theme song, Those Were the Days, I would match her, fractured note for fractured note, as loud as my diminutive voice could. It was a song I knew well, and grew to both despise and fawn over in the coming years. The high-pitched screeching seemed perfectly suited for my youthful voice, and I made full use of my burgeoning talents. By the time The Gong Show rolled around in 1976, I swore I was ready to make my stage and screen debut … and I knew exactly which song I was going to sing. I was so ready for my encore.
My mother had created an off-key monster. Soon, every Sunday evening, just as Archie’s and Edith’s faces filled the screen and began to sing at the piano, my mother would hurriedly turn the volume down on the television. I couldn’t imitate what I couldn’t hear, right?
Eventually, my mother’s attempts to thwart my songbird stylings were too great and Those Were the Days faded into the background of my life. My Edith was gone.
Today, some 36 years after the last episode of All in the Family aired, I am happily married to a wonderful man. He is my sidekick, my comforter, my love. He encourages me to new heights and never embattles me with harsh or bitter words. All was right in the Albarda household.
And then this happened.
While watching television one evening a couple of years back, a commercial break was my cue to go into the kitchen for a quick snack. As my husband stayed rooted in his spot, his body draped half on/half off the comfortable oversized plum-hued chair, I stood in the kitchen tapping my bedroom slipper-clad foot and contemplated what form of useless, empty calories was going to snag my attention. Would it be a Little Debbie Nutty Bar? Maybe my taste buds were up for a bag of microwave popcorn. Oh, I know … I’ll have a big bowl of caramel praline crunch ice cream.
“Baby, you’d better hurry. The show’s getting ready to come back on!”
The two minutes of blabbering commercials was winding down. I had to make haste. In panic mode, I grabbed the nearest snack-like food—a bag of salted cashews—and shuffled back into the family room. My husband looked up at me, more intrigued by the sound of my slippers dragging across the floor than anything else, and lapsed into a fit of hysterical laughter. What had I done that would cause such unabashed mirth and merriment?
Between gasps, and in the throes of hyperventilating, he managed to shame me with his words. “You look like Edith Bunker running like that!” The excitement was apparently too much for him. He actually snorted.
Edith Bunker had one helluva way of sliding her feet across a floor. Her gait was less of a walk and more of a dance of harried embarrassment. She scuttled about everywhere—to fetch a beer for Archie, to answer the telephone and just general, around-the-house shuffling. Her movements weren’t not associated with any neurological disorder; it was just the way she moved. Now, I can’t scurry around the house without my husband thinking I’m imitating Edith. As of late, my running has also digressed into this shameful display.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy an exuberant trot every now and then. I’m not above jogging on the treadmill or a spirited power walk, arms pumping furiously at my side. My early 40s body ate it up. My mid 40s frame still found a measure of joy in my animated motions. Now that I’m in my early 50s, even though I frequent the gym at least a couple of times a week, there has been a noticeably dramatic shift in what my body can and can’t do. Yes, I still jog, but I fear that my weakened knees, sore joints and flippity-floppity parts of my body—a side effect of midlife—cause me to do so while inadvertently mimicking Edith. I don’t do this on purpose; it is an evil manifestation and sick joke of Mother Nature. Now, as I trot along, I am about as graceful as a duck billed platypus on ice skates. The image is not a pretty one.
There are enough ravages to contend with in midlife without being told you resemble a squeaky, quivering put-upon housewife from the 1970s. Thank the heavens that I am neither naïve, submissive nor a dingbat. But, alas, I must admit that I do shuffle.
My coltish walk/run takes gangly to a whole new level. Again, I blame midlife. It’s as if my once reliable knees are now reaching east- and westward to knock each other out. Periodically, I stand in front of the mirror stark naked and check to see that my knee caps aren’t actually digressing inward. Thankfully, they aren’t, and I have no real basis for my trepidations as the malady of knocked knees does not run rampant in my family genes. Still . . . I fear the day is not far off when I will run to a) catch a taxi, b) greet a friend or c) answer a knock at the door and my knees will bang together clumsily, hurling me to the ground in a big, clumsy, heaping mess o’ midlife.
Is midlife the harbinger of evil and woe? My inner Edith certainly seems to think so.
Monday 20th of April 2015
All in the Family shows here on the oldies station. My guilty pleasure is to tune in just in time to sing along with the theme song. You know, the social and political satire of the show is still really sharp!