I wanted to be all That
by Jesse Loren
If my identity was shaped or defined by television, I hope it was most shaped by Marlo Thomas. I grew up on The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and That Girl. I was the youngest of five kids in a His, Mine and Ours household, but I never saw myself as that petulant Cindy.
My family was musical — my brother would have made the perfect “Danny” — and we could have commandeered a bus from the school across the street, but we were never that organized as a team. No for me, being the youngest without anyone to really identify with, I wanted to be THAT GIRL!
I especially wanted to have the light flash into my eyes and bright teeth as I gleamed the biggest smile of what the world offered me. Yes, I wanted to be Marlo. I wanted eyelashes, big hair, big bangs and New York City. I wanted to twirl in my perfectly short lavender dress with matching umbrella.
I didn’t care about diamonds, but daisies and leaving on a train to get out of the ‘hood of Baldwin Park, California, yes. Any train, anywhere. I would go!
I didn’t want to be tinsel on a tree, I wanted to be the tree.
I wanted to be her — independent, beautiful and unstoppable; just pure beauty, smiles, laughter and sunshine. I wanted to be big eyelashes and wide brimmed hats.
In the opening title, she walks through the street and sees herself as a queen in a department store window. It is as if Marlo present is looking upon the soul of Marlo future. Yes, everything will work out, and you will be crowned a bride and a pageant queen. You are it, girl. That girl. Every dream comes true.
I bought it all, hook, line and sinker, but didn’t ever understand the rest of the theme song lyrics. Sure she would be, (I would be) like sunshine, snowflakes and gingham, but I would also be loved. The lyrics add, “She’s mine alone, but luckily for you, if you find a girl to love, she will be that girl too.”
If I was going to move to New York and become queen of the city, I wouldn’t be able to if I had a man. Unless the man became my New York, and there really was no city, and I was the caged queen bee tucked into a box with a marshmallow plug. Is it just me, or did it seem like we were being offered the keys to the city, but not really “Thee city.”
It might have been a trap.
I never really understood, like bees trying to explain directions to a new hive, I could see the dance of communication, but I didn’t always get where it was going.
I was young, we were all young. We didn’t know how to define ourselves, but television was full of roles. Mom roles, pretty girl roles and sister roles, and art was busy trying to imitate life. Without Marlo and my older mentor Gazelle, I would have never bloomed into me.
Gazelle was 8 years old, a recreation leader at the school across the street, and she became my friend. She took me to her dance classes, college, to Bible study, to bonfires, and dressed me up. I wore Marlo dresses and mascara, heels, and had to exude poise with the adults almost a decade my senior. Gazelle was breathtaking, a dancer, a studio owner, and eventually, a wife and mother. She was an independent mind going to college to make her own life.
Back when I was becoming a grown up, she was, That Girl, the “It Girl,” and everything I hoped my life would become.
For my own daughter, she has a teacher named Sarah Nelson that would be her “That Girl.” Sarah is an exceptionally smart Honors History teacher, and an athlete with a wry wit, giant hazel eyes and the disposition of the big sister any young girl would ever want. To me, she is the perfect role model.
I am glad that Marlo and Gazelle were there for me, and doubly glad my daughter has mentors like Sarah Nelson.