When I was a kid, ABC After School Specials were where middle class youth with troubled families could find themselves. On most Wednesdays at 3:30 pm, alcoholism, divorce and every day dysfunction were portrayed by actors like Scott Baio. I'm sure THE BOY WHO DRANK TOO MUCH was a real comfort to teens struggling with a drinking problem and a good morality play for those who weren’t. I liked them as much as anybody, but for my parents and grandparents, the "problems" portrayed on the ABC After School Specials were a real head scratcher.
"Heavy drinking isn't problem," my grandmother would say. "It is part of life. Now dictatorship! That's a problem!"
If I wanted to see a more accurate reflection of what real problems were like, I should watch DR. ZHIVAGO, my grandfather once suggested. And I did – getting the same, satisfying recognition that most of my friends could find by surfing the networks. Varykino felt like home, even if I didn't live in a frozen summer palace, but a 1960s style two-story house in suburban Chicago.
And like Zhivago, our family story was a two-hanky drama: heroes and villains, cowards, redeemers and the redeemed, those who were beyond hope, and those who pulled victory from a hat just as it looked like it was all over for them. There were ghosts, there were priests, and there were spies. Beautiful women and dashing men. Achingly beautiful love stories and wretched marriages. Drinking and smoking and storytelling - lots of storytelling. "Did you hear about Uncle Jaroslav?" Heavy sigh, deep pull on a Carlton 120 (the "healthy" alternative to Viceroy in our household by the time the 1980s rolled around). "He hung himself in his shed." My mouth drops open. "Why, Baba?" My grandmother waves her hand - smoke goes curling around my poodle's head. "Why not?" she says.
I loved that woman. You'll be hearing from her a lot on this blog.
And I love the stories I grew up hearing at my dinner table. I love black and white films and photos. I love the smell of whiskey and cigarette smoke on a man. And a tailored suit. I love rich, world-weary laughter, and a home with scratches on the wood floors and books piled up all over the place. Strong tea is good. Strong coffee is better. A strong man is the best. An old map of the world pinned to the wall - and two tickets to Buenos Aires in the top drawer - just in case. I love unpolished nails, but a nice coat of lipstick on a pair of parted lips - but not too full, like Angelina Jolie. More like Juliette Binoche. I love the rain. I love the cold.
And if you all like these things, come follow me at www.victoriadougherty.wordpress.com