Saturday, September 17, 2011

Embracing Whimsy

Mark and I planned a trip with his parents to New England this summer.  Mark's parents had gone through a very difficult winter.  Mark's father had his second leg amputated this past winter.  He spent forty five days in the hospital for the surgery and recuperation.  Mark's mother spent many hours at the hospital and transporting his father to therapy after the surgery.  They both were in need of a vacation and some time to get away.  When we discussed the trip with them we talked about places we all wanted to see.  There were several different opinions and ideas of what to see and where to go.  One place we all agreed on wanting to see was Salem, Massachusetts.   Researching things to see in Salem we found many references to the horrific witch trials of the 1600's, the history of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his novel The House of the Seven Gables, and a statue to Elizabeth Montgomery and the television show Bewitched. 

The Bewitched Memorial was sponsored by the TVLand television network at a cost of $75,000.   Many residents of Salem were offended by the idea of honoring a fictitious witch character from television in a city infamous for putting to death innocent victims accused of witchcraft.   I can understand their feelings. 

''It's insensitive to what happened in 1692," said Jean Harrison, one of several Salem residents opposing the plan. ''She was a fictional witch, but the people who died were not witches."

Because of its history Salem holds a fascination.  I wanted to see the city, explore the streets where the horrific events happened much the same way I wanted to visit Auschwitz when I was in Poland.  Not to celebrate the events but to have a chance to experience the location where the historic events happened.   But I also wanted to see the Bewitched Memorial and celebrate something that was important to me growing up.  It was a difficult  to embrace whimsy in such a serious atmosphere.  However once I saw Elizabeth Montgomery's image as Samantha in the city square I was transported back to the 1960's.

My mother belonged to our churches ladies home group.  They had weekly meetings every Thursday evening at our church.  My father was never one to "babysit" my sister and I.  He would be at home on Thursday nights but he was not watching the children.  So my mothers sister came over to our house on Thursday nights and sat with us.  We all watched Bewitched together every Thursday.  It came on after That Girl which was another show I loved.  As a little gay boy I watched That Girl each week with the fantasy that one day I would grow up like Ann Marie, move to New York, become an actor, and meet Don Hollinger.    My father and my aunt thought I had a crush on Marlo Thomas and never realized I wanted to be Marlo Thomas.  And then Bewitched came on.  Here was a show with so many hidden meanings and secrets for me.  Samantha had to hide her true self from the world.  She was not allowed to openly admit that she had a secret.   She had a wonderful flamboyant Uncle Arthur who snarled sarcasm and swished around the house and then disappear if anyone threatened him.   How wonderful to be able disappear when you felt threatened that someone would figure out your secret.  I am sure I did not understand all of this at that age, but in hindsight its obvious to me now that there was a connection I was unaware of at the time.  Now knowing that Bewitched was one of the gayest shows ever on TV it all makes sense.  Uncle Arthur was played by Paul Lynde who was gay.  Endora was played by Agnes Moorehead who was a lesbian.   And even the second Darren, Dick Sargent,  was played by a gay man.

So please excuse me.  I understand and appreciate the terrible things that happened historically at Salem.  But I also understand it meant something to me to see a memorial to Samantha and Elizabeth Montgomery.  Allow me to embrace a memory and some whimsy from the past for a few moments. 

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