The Church of TV

Mom, Mr. Black and DadThose of you with a Tivo know it will record shows that it thinks you might like. A while ago my Tivo started recording a show called “8 Simple Rules�. It was a sitcom about a family. The father, Paul, was played by John Ritter and the mother, Cate, by Katey Sagal. They had three children.

Bridget was the oldest daughter, in high school, the hot bombshell who knew it, shallow, selfish, over-the-top self-confident, yet surprisingly good-hearted from time to time. Kerry was the middle child, Bridget’s younger sister, razor smart, with a caustic wit, always living in Bridget’s shadow while at the same time struggling to be superior. She had a darker personality that somehow hated that her father always called her “Care Bearâ€?, yet also took comfort in it. Rory was the youngest and the only male besides Paul, his father. They had a special relationship, signified most poignantly by the phrase “don’t hurt the boyâ€? any time Rory got in trouble with the girls.

Most of the show centered upon Paul trying to keep Bridget, and to a lesser degree Kerry, in line with their male suitors. It was also about the many situations and circumstances the family members faced, both alone and together, children as well as parents. The sitcom was unusually well-rounded for, well, a sitcom. There was an honesty and depth to the situations they encountered, possibly helped by the character Paul being a writer.

Each weekday there are usually two episodes recorded and waiting for me. It’s a nice little diversion sitting down to watch — a break in the workday. It’s light-hearted yet witty, with usually a very nice spin on some bit of decent subject matter. It’s certainly not all goody-goody, but usually very positive.

Today’s episodes were a surprise for me. The first episode started out with Cate receiving a call, then rushing away, uncharacteristically upset. Paul died in the supermarket in isle three. I had forgotten that John Ritter died. It turned out that both episodes where devoted to the Hennessy family going through the death of their father. This might have been a very stupid thing had John Ritter not died in real life. I’m sure that his passing was very much like losing a family member to the cast, and to the writers.

It’s been six months since my mother died. There have been many people offering their condolences – both people who have lost family members, and people who have yet to know what it’s like. There are several friends of the family to whom my mom was like a second mother. All of them have families of their own now. Some of them have lost one of their real parents as well. But after a while everyone drifts back to their own lives, and life goes on.

I have decided to stay in the house I grew up in with my father. It’s a strange situation. We’re older than the Hennessys. People who know our history usually consider my staying a noble thing to do. People who do not, raise their eyebrows at me living at home. My sister Kim is beginning her own family with her husband Jon and a baby is on the way. My staying is not a noble thing to do. This is home. And home is usually just a little bit selfish.

It was odd watching this sitcom family go through what they did. Cate, feeling like their bedroom was so large now, and that she couldn’t be in the room. The family looking at Paul’s desk, where he did his writing each day, afraid to go near it, with it holding so much of Paul. Rory getting so angry because there was no milk. Bridget, the last words to her father being, “I hate youâ€? because he wouldn’t let her take the car. Kerry mercilessly teasing him because of the dorky clothes he was wearing. Paul’s last words to Cate being, “where did you hide my socksâ€?.

I have heard it many times before, that you never really know how much people mean to you until they are gone. And we do the dumbest things to each other — the cruelest things. We take each other so much for granted. We don’t have time. We always meant to say. If only I would have. They must have known. It doesn’t matter. It’s no big deal. I’ll deal with that later. And then one day they’re just gone.

Here we have different things to see. The absence of hanging flowers on the side patio. The dirtier floors. The unusual foods collecting the in pantry. The familiar ones that remain. No more abundance of cigarette lighters. The colors chosen on the walls. The watercolor paintings. Silverware from the beginning of time. No longer being told how things should be. At least from mom…

A few days ago my father gave me a DVD to copy. A friend had made it, bringing it to her after-death party. It had video footage of her, old pictures and music. I still have not watched it. I started to that day I was copying it, but couldn’t. Part of me felt like I should. I also have yet to make fudge since she died. Fudge was a secret art and science between us.

So, I watched “8 Simple Rulesâ€? today. I wondered, if my mom had not died recently, would I feel this way watching it, or would I fast forward, going, “oh, geeze… cornballâ€?. I couldn’t tell any more.

Now, I find myself looking at the house. The yard, the trees, the stream I used to play in. All the familiar noises of the house and the creatures outside. The tall, thick Evergreen tree standing sentinel at the road, planted the year I was born. My dad, falling asleep in his chair throughout the day. Me hounding him to get up and get some things done.

Thinking of friends from my old neighborhood in the city, who I rarely see, living so far out into the “wilds�. The happiness of silence, fresh air, the movement of living, natural things. The uncertainty of tomorrow, or even today.

Yesterday I had dinner with Nils. He reminded me of what I always have said – the world is enormously wider — yet often it’s the smallest things that matter most.

So, if it’s been a while since you’ve heard it from me — I love you. In all its cliché-d glory. And if you take a moment to imagine me, I hope you can see, how unique that is between each of us.

I know… some of you are rolling your eyes. And some of you think I might have gone off the deep end. Others say,“how niceâ€?, “how sweetâ€?. After all, I did read some critiques of the show after John Ritters death complaining that the first few episodes were too “heavy handedâ€?. But most of you understand.

Peculiar how simplicity can be so complex. But none of that matters, in the end. It all boils down.

I just wanted you to know.

OK – now you can hit me with something… 😉