Growing up in the ’80s meant I had the fashion horrors of Reebok hightops with leggings and torn sweatshirts to make me look like Jennifer Beals in ‘Flashdance.’
The ’80s also gave us some of the best sitcoms ever: “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show” and “Designing Women.”
Who couldn’t like “Designing Women?”
It was set in Atlanta and Suzanne Sugarbaker even had a pig named Noel she took to Dairy Queen in her convertible.
“Your mama is just like that mean one,” Granny stated matter-of-factly one day while we watched the program.
“What mean one?” I asked, all teenage chubbiness and side ponytail with my neon green plastic bracelets. “You mean Julia?”
“Julia’s not mean,” I said.
Granny rolled her eyes at me.
“She’s mean as a rattler. You can’t see it because she’s just like your mama. And you are just as cussed mean yourself, little ‘un.”
I was maybe 16 when Granny made this proclamation. I think I was far from mean. Fashionably challenged and maybe a smart-mouth, non-car owning teenager, but I wasn’t mean. And neither was Mama.
“Mama’s not mean,” I protested.
“She is too. How many store clerks has she ripped a new one? Just like that Julia Sugarbaker character.”
True. Once I had bought a pretty sundress at a store, but when I got it home, I noticed a hole in the side seam.
Mama took me back to return it the next day, and of course, I couldn’t find the receipt. The store manager told me he would not even let me exchange it without the receipt and my driver’s license, which I didn’t have. I was only 15.
I had gone back to the car and told Mama what the store manager had said. She got out of her car and marched in to the store like she was going to war, not even bothering to put out her Virginia Slim 120.
“You didn’t need her driver’s license when you sold it to her not even 24 hours ago!” she had exclaimed to the store manager, who cowered behind the counter.
The man was a good foot taller than Mama, but Mama’s redheaded Irish had been fired up and she was not backing down.
The man gave me money back and promised me a discount off a future purchase to which Mama told him we’d never darken their door ever again.
I think I snuck in there a few weeks later when they had a sale, but I didn’t tell Mama.
“When your Mama gets on one of her tears, she’s worse than that woman,” Granny continued. “She gets all fired up about something and she tells people off – she don’t even do it right with bad words, she does it all fancy pant-cy with her big words. Just like Julia Sugarbaker.”
Again, true. Mama can shame-face curse you out – making you feel like you’re about as tall as a ladybug when she gets done. Usually it has to do with how you are morally incomprehensibly wrong and asinine.
She’s even been known to throw in a few biblical quotes for added character demoralization.
But from what I had witnessed in my youth, Mama always stood up for what she believed in, she always defended those in her life that were unable to defend themselves and the few times I saw her get really wound up usually involved me or another family member – even that mean old woman who birthed her and was claiming her to be like a TV character Dixie Carter played.
“You’re just like her, too,” Granny repeated, as if that was a bad thing.
“Funny, Mama says I am just like you,” I said.
The thought still makes me shudder.
Mama didn’t care that Granny said she was like Julia Sugarbaker. I think she kind of liked the comparison because Julia was her favorite.
“I think she is just a caricature of the strong, outspoken Southern woman,” Mama declared. “I think that’s what all good characters are – exaggerations of who they truly represent. We all have a little Julia Sugarbaker in us.”
Granny was right, I do have a tendency to stand up for the underdogs and try to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
But I have not gotten really fired up in a long time. If anything, I feel like my fire has been doused sometimes.
I told Mama one day that I felt like I had taken a lot of bovine waste for long enough but didn’t know how to handle it.
“You know what you need to do?” she asked.
I didn’t have a clue.
“Kitten, you need to invoke that inner Julia – ask yourself what would Julia Sugarbaker do? And you will have your answer.”
Mama, as usual, was absolutely right.