How `Lucy’ mirrored my family

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

“I Love Lucy” came on in our house every morning at 9 a.m., or so it seems to me now. In memory, I associate it with the feeling of being pleasantly not at school. Perhaps I saw the small screen (which did not seem at all small to me, since I was sitting cross-legged right in front of it) as a window through which I could look at what people did “at work,” where my mother was. I found the
heart and the cursive writing of the credits very beautiful-I knew that heart was white satin, which said everything there was to say about Lucy and whoever it was who loved her. I also found the music that played over the credits at the end so poignant that occasionally I cried.
Ethel Mertz was a version of Ethel Graves, my grandmother (just as President Eisenhower was a version of my grandfather). They wore similar clothes and had similarly shaped faces. Just as Ethel Mertz pooh-poohed many of Lucy’s schemes but went along in the end, so Ethel Graves pooh-poohed but finally accommodated us all. I considered it perfectly natural that my family should be reproduced, at least in certain ways, on television. Why else would TV be in our house?
Lucy herself was strangely like my mother-well-dressed, of the same physical type, exuberant rather than quiet, and a rather public person in her aspirations (my mother was a newspaperwoman). But she was also strangely unlike her. However, Lucy was the star of her show, just as my mother was the star of our show, and so surely they were meant to coordinate. I watched Lucy for signs of what a woman should do and shouldn’t do, especially away from home.
I had to conclude it didn’t make sense. Lucy never seemed to learn from one episode to the next how not to get into trouble, and since I didn’t understand comedy, I never laughed at the incongruity of the situations Lucy got herself and Ethel into. I thought they were real possibilities, the sort of thing that could happen to my mother or to me if we didn’t watch out. There would be reprimands and apologies, even tears, in the end. But even though the show made me uneasy, I watched every day-it is the only show from that time in my life that I still remember, no doubt because I identified Lucy not only as my mother, but also as myself. Could I really get into that chocolate fix? That wine vat mess? Why not? It was a frightening possibility.
When I got older, I discovered Lucille Ball, Lucy’s better half, a woman of talent and ambition who had been around and knew how to make something of her talents. Lucille Ball-now there was someone to pay attention to. I knew nothing of her personal life, only that her demeanor in real life was utterly different from Lucy’s, and that was enough to say all there is to know about the difference between life and art.