Debbie, Shirley, Pollyanna & Me
Posted August 30, 2009on:
Debbie, Shirley, Pollyanna & Me
This post includes not one but four iconic figures: Debbie Downer, Shirley Temple and Pollyanna plus a bonus figure. Wade your way through this and you’ll find my point.
In Pollyanna, the orphaned girl goes to Vermont to live with her very rich Aunt Polly. Much to the shock of Auntie, she arrived wearing a dress from the missionary box.
The girl simply perplexed Polly. Pollyanna constantly played the “glad game,” meaning she found some good in everything.
It all began after Pollyanna’s missionary father asked a supporting congregation to send a dollar for his daughter. Instead, they received a box that contained crutches. Her father, who constantly found “glad” passages in the Bible, suggested they find a reason they were glad about the crutches. The response was, “We’re glad we don’t need them!”
As a result of that game, being “Pollyannish” came to mean someone who is overly optimistic and, of course, glad in the face of adversity.
I bring this up because I’ve gotten some hints from a couple people that maybe, just maybe, I should be more realistic about my writing and thoughts about this cancer thing I’m going through. Let me say I know this is serious stuff – you can’t have a child die from leukemia, who at diagnosis was in the 90 percent survival group, and not know this is serious. But cancer is too serious not to laugh.
But, I choose not to brood like the Debbie Downer character from the Saturday Night Live show. Debbie found the down in absolutely everything she sees and does. And every time she did, there was this sad trombone “wah waaah” sound effect and the camera zoomed in on Debbie Downer’s face despairing face. Hence the theme song:
You’re enjoying your day
Everything’s going your way
Then along comes Debbie Downer.
Always there to tell you ’bout a new disease
A car accident or killer bees
You’ll beg her to spare you, “Debbie, Please!”
But you can’t stop Debbie Downer!
Examples from the first sketch that supposedly took place with friends at Disney World:
“Ever since they found mad cow disease in the U.S., I’m not taking any chances. It can live in your body for years before it ravages your brain.”
“Wow, you guys, Disney World really is fun, it makes me feel like a kid again. I mean, the time before my two-year stint at children’s (hospital).”
“With that costume on, (the person in the Pluto costume is) probably under the early stages of heat stroke.”
“So after this, we’ll head to the park guys? Lather up the sunscreen… I had a mole looked at recently, and the doctor told me that due to the extent of its irregular borders, I’m flirting with a melanoma.”
And now to Shirley Temple Black – the child actress who just about any little girl growing up in my era wanted to be at some time in her life. Who could resist all those curls and the sound of her tap shoe, not to mention her feisty spirit singing such songs as “On the Good Ship Lolly Pop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.”
Shirley may also have been the reason my mom signed me up for tap and ballet lessons as a little girl – feel free to imagine me in a ballet tutu or trying to tap. Not a pretty site. For some reason, our family always went on vacation the week of the annual recital. This is the first time that I may have connected a reason for the timing of the annual trip to somewhere.
But what is impressive to me today is reading that after grown-up Shirley at age 44 was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1970s, she was the first celebrity to talk about having a mastectomy and about cancer being treatable. (Yes, she did that before Betty Ford and is coming up on 40 years of surviving. She is truly Pinky Pie before pink became synonymous with breast cancer).
She was diagnosed in an era in which people whispered the word, “cancer,” for fear it would happen to them or their loved ones if they spoke of it aloud. Shirley made it possible for others to talk about this stuff. She found it especially important because at first she did not have the courage to discuss it with her husband. Instead, she left articles about breast cancer around the house.
In an interview in People magazine in 1998, she talked about reaching up to “feel the void” after her mastectomy. “It was an amputation, and I faced it.”
She also was quoted as saying, “I felt pretty good before the operation, and I felt good afterward. I just lost a good friend in between.”
I’m a little surprised that I’m not more like Debbie Downer as I’ve always called myself the eternal pessimist. Since my son’s diagnosis, I have always braced myself for the worst. Besides, in the Houdini movie, the great magician supposedly died because he challenged a guy to hit him in the abdomen and the man did before he had braced himself.
I stand with Shirley, but do so with my own style – this silly brand of humor found in my blog and the many jokes that I make with my family and friends.
Writing these posts are very helpful for me, creating endorphins that make me feel good (and ease some of the fear). It’s a writer’s high.
Thanks to Sue B for Shirley Temple, Jean P for the suggestion of Debbie Downer, and my own head for Pollyanna. Have suggestions for iconic figures for my posts? Email or make a comment and I’ll try to work them in. It’s what I’m calling the Susan T. Hessel Breast Cancer Challenge.