The death of deeply talented Jean Stapleton, Hall of Famer, Stifled Division, reminded me of Archie Bunker, her TV sitcom husband in “All In The Family.”
For an odd reason, her
passing reminded me of the bedroom I grew up in. It did not have a
television in it, of course. That was downstairs, right under the shadow
box art of a full-rigged ship nailed into the real varnished pine
that and the 19-inch black-and-white was the most crucial and advanced
mechanism in our home, the rabbit ears with tin foil tips. Oh, baby.
watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on that television. I watched
Roger Staubach throw touchdown passes on it and Pete Maravich make
Saw some “All in the Family” on it, too.
who played Edith, would be the first to tell you that awesome ain’t
easy. She loved Archie in spite of his faults and tried, in her own way,
to help him dig out from under a few of those. I don’t know if he got
better, but she kept him from getting worse. There was no other
character like hers on television, but there were a few in our
hometowns, much more real than Beaver’s mom or Mrs. Brady. Edith was
more covert than other TV moms in both her devotion and instruction,
except maybe that one time she yelled at Archie, “Stifle!” Hung him up.
what I wanted to tell you was that I was one of the few kids in
America, I would think, that owned an Archie Bunker poster, hung with
thumbtacks just to the right of my little twin bed. It was a close-up of
Archie, played perfectly by Carroll O’Connor, with the grin, sitting in
“his chair.” The words on the poster read, “In your heart, you know
no idea what that meant. It sounded like some deep, grown-up truth. As
if me and Archie, a kid from Dillon County and a dock foreman from
Queens, had a bunch in common, a read on the world others had missed.
Or maybe it meant, “Hey, kid, bumpkin, you’re a bigot, too! Stifle yourself!”
truth is, I just thought he was funny. His face. His self-importance.
His realization, never admitted, that the world was going to change and
he was going to be able to do very little about it. His good-looking
daughter was going to wear mid-drifts. She was going to fall in love
with a meathead.
But again, I loved Archie because he was funny. The secret was that Edith made him funnier.
wives I know make their husbands funnier, certainly better all-around
than they would be otherwise. Like the big-hearted, hard-working Edith
Bunker, the women I grew up around and others we know today aren’t so
much drill sergeants as they are mirrors held up to dents in the male
armor and to potholes in the male vocabulary. They compassionately but
purposefully smooth things.
In your heart, you know they’re right.
Email Teddy Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.