Aspiring to Julia

When I was a little kid, we didn’t get a lot of television channels. More specifically, we got three. Maybe five by the time I was eight. We had one television in the living room that got channels. We had another that was hooked up to the Atari in the “children’s den”–I think this was originally a bedroom of sorts, but we used it as a play area when we had to be out of the way of the adults. In any case, we didn’t watch a lot of TV. I remember a few shows, though. The TGIF line-up stands out. Things like Boy Meets World, Family Matters, Full House, etc.

We didn’t have a remote, so we had to get up to change the channels. This means, as the youngest, I was often told to go change the channel, but rarely had any actual control over what we watched (the exception being when I was allowed to watch Disney movies on VHS). My father and brother preferred the news and sports. My mother and my sisters (pretty much all the women I knew, actually) had a deep devotion to soap operas. General Hospital and All My Children ranked supreme. And both of them had strong, powerful women in the cast. But it was a different show entirely whose strong female lead captivated my attention.

Before I knew what the word politics meant, I was listening to epic political commentary via one Ms. Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women. I was still young when the show went off the air, but I remember the steel gentility with which Julia would cut down the people who tried to insult or gaslight her. She rarely used anything like a curse word. She could calmly and with great dignity cut someone to the quick with her words. And when she did finally raise her voice, the whole room listened. My father always told me that the art of being Southern was being able to tell someone to go to Hell and make them think they’d enjoy the trip. Julia could do that (looking at you, Ray Don). I loved her for it.

While I haven’t seen the show, except in clips here and there, in years, I’m sure there are problematic aspects of it. I’m certain of it. It was the late 80s and early 90s. Everything was. Most everything still is. But I still feel like I could learn from Julia Sugarbaker.

Someday, I want to be chill enough to be like Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls. I want to sit around and tell crazy stories, break my friends out of Shady Pines to go to parties at the Senior Center, and laugh at life. But Sophia will have to wait. I still have work to do. Right now, I have to be like Julia. She worked hard, she loved deeply, she held her head high and she put her foot down whenever she had had enough.

On Tuesday I talked about not trying to be like someone else. And I’m not. I’d like to think I have a dash of Julia in me anyway. I think that’s why I loved her. She was a fictional representation of what I had already been taught and what was modeled for me. What I aspire to be.

Someday, Sophia. But today, Julia.

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