Some Important Reasons Why We Need “I Love Lucy” Back in Reruns
As one of Lucy’s godchildren Ronnie, Uncle Vic and Aunt Lucy took their role as my godparents so seriously throughout my life after my mother Gerry passed away when I was still in high school. VJ and his brothers asked me to share a few reflections in celebration of Aunt Lucy’s amazing life that I’m quite sure many of you share in common with me.
For those old enough to remember the “I Love Lucy” TV series, I kinda feel like we have our own version of the “I Love Lucy” show. Aunt Lucy was no red headed comic, and let’s face it. Uncle Vic at 81 is way more charming and better looking than Desi Arnaz! This last episode proved to be both a shocker and a real tear jerker for all of us. We never expected Lucy to be gone at the end of the show. We certainly saw hints of her illness in earlier episodes leading up to this moment. But Lucy’s sparkle, her strength, her radiant vitality had us convinced the end was far off into the distant future.
For Aunt Lucy, being a lifelong nurse was more than a career choice, or a vocation. It was her passion, her calling. She was always taking our temperature and nursing all of our hurts over the years. She was the strongest woman we ever knew. The thing about her was she had absolutely no whine, and just so much fight in her.
And what about that smile of hers??! Absolutely glamorous.
She took on all comers with that fabulous smile of hers. If we were directing an episode of our own I Love Lucy, I’m sure all of us would have quite a few things in common on the set. Lucy would emerge in each episode center stage as our iconic star with her characteristic stunning black hair, coiffed to perfection, clad in a striking pink ensemble, offset by her signature red lipstick and makeup flawless as ever. The set would boast extraordinary quantities of Italian and Polish food. Dozens upon dozens of grandchildren and cousins would be running around with an endless arsenal of footballs, basketballs, hockey sticks, skates and weapons-grade squirt guns. The audience would watch her in absolute awe as she navigated various plates of hot food, crying infants in need of bottles, burping or diapers, conveniently sidestepping high octane grandsons immediately underfoot and an architectural display of delectable homemade desserts she couldn’t wait to tell us all about on the table behind her. Anyone standing around on the set who was idle or complaining would be sent off to the store to get ice. Lucy would tell us all about the food, starting with dessert first, of course. “This cassata cake was made by the same guy that bakes for Madonna. You need to try it, it’s so delicious!”
In our version of “I Love Lucy” all the women have starring roles, starting with her sister Toni, and then Lynn and Denise, Mya and Zoey, Lindsay and Emily. Every woman on set would be pretty in pink. Lucy reminds us that strong women are both smart and beautiful as well. And Aunt Lucy reminds us what Uncle Vic learned long ago. That all stand up guys are ultimately redeemed in life by the women who love them. We must all find redemption in this thought.
Over the past 50+ years I’ve watched a lot of our own version of “I Love Lucy” episodes, some numerous times. For the life of me I never saw one episode where cancer wins. Cancer never gets the best of Lucy. It just didn’t happen that way. Not in one single solitary episode. Her family and friends get the best of her.
Many of you have seen these episodes too— the ones where Aunt Lucy is hugging Tom, Toni and Sal, bundled up in 5 layers of clothes outside “the Beast” motorhome at Lion’s pre-game tailgates in the Eastern market pushing meatballs and mostacelli, or at swim parties at VJs making sure everyone had a drink or dessert. As I look thru decades of family photographs with VJ, Mark and Dean, along with their kids and her abundant loving extended family— we see the same thing, again and again.
There’s a new episode in recent years that follows I love Lucy. It’s a reality show refereed by her son Dean featuring Mikee and Joey, the reality show comics that come on each week after each episode of I love Lucy.
In these episodes, Lucy is smiling, delighted to see everyone. She is mesmerizing in every moment, radiant and healthy and so grateful to be in the center of her family’s life. She is brimming with a hug and has a Kleenex ready to wipe the smudge of lipstick off their cheeks just as she gets ready to kiss them. And then we see Mikee and Joey’s live action version of whack-a-mole where they use their hockey sticks as hammers and Drew and Braden are running around pushing prince William in his stroller as the fast moving moles in this live-action version of the game. Every kid adores Aunt Lucy because she knew how to let them be kids, running around, making messes. She had their absolute adoration because each and every one of them was her absolute favorite.
We remember Lucy at every turn in life right there in the middle of one of these scenes. At first communions, and confirmations. At my own wedding in Ohio, when she first saw my bride Kay she said, “she reminds me so much of your mom.” She saw the resemblance that drew me into lifelong love and marriage. She had a way of pointing us in the right direction. It was the same way she described Lynn and Denise with similar admiration.
I think “I Love Lucy” turns out to be my aunt’s way of seeing the best in each and every one of us. Isn’t it true? We always looked and felt better when she was around. We know better than to whine, whimper or waver when she’s around. I’m convinced this is what Aunt Lucy wants us to remember most right now.
I remember last summer at uncle Vic’s 80th birthday. Aunt Lucy was whirling around in the 95-degree heat making us all sweat just watching her, taking special care to make sure the cassata cake for uncle Vic was properly chilled, as he puts down his cigar and invites everyone into a prayer of thanks. She taught us that the family that prays and plays together, stays together. And is amazing together. A biological connection to aunt Lucy and Uncle Vic was completely unnecessary and irrelevant. Everyone was family and everyone was her favorite. Aunt Lucy took the obligations of being an aunt, sister, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and godmother to heart, and oh so seriously.
So when the “best of the I Love Lucy” show is viewed in the days and weeks ahead, I predict the rest of the world will come to know what we’ve long known about Lucy:
That aunt Lucy actually invented the kids table where messes and noise don’t matter; that she invented the utensil that starts out as a spoon and morphs into your very own fork when you turn 7 years old; that her own cookbook never had a recipe for spaghetti sauce that served under 50 people; that it was in fact Aunt Lucy that asked Facebook to launch the “love” button on Facebook, the one with the red heart.
There are several rumors however that I can’t confirm; that a commemorative pink LOVE button is planned for Facebook next year; that Ford Motor is bringing back the pink T-Bird in 2017 on her birthday. There remain multiple rumors of a new app in the Apple store where you press a button and it automatically gives you every kid’s birthday, communion, confirmation, and the daily scores on all their personal sports on that particular day so you can automatically be the first to post and shine about them to everyone.
So what do we do now?
Our faith reminds us that Aunt Lucy’s smile never fades; that any pain she felt is forever gone. As her adoring son Mark reminded me, She won the battle. She beat death and crushed cancer. Like any champion athlete, she simply retired to the sidelines to invite newcomers into the sport. In her physical absence, we need to simply look to our own “I Love Lucy” reruns, the ones with her doting forever smile. Our consolation is this simple image of her in repose, smiling in an everlasting state of grace.
Lucy taught us that the only way to prepare for death was to ignore it, to focus completely on living. Because the art of living well is a faith based, live action reality show at its best. So maybe we have done enough thinking about her death for the past few days. Maybe that part is over and done. Our faith sends us off to watch all the “I Love Lucy” reruns, again and again, bearing witness to her life, and taking something new and significant from each episode unfolding: the joy, the laughter, the warmth, the smiles, the strength, the humor and grace that Lucy uniquely brought to each and every live episode.
As a comfort to us on this day, let’s plan on watching our own “I Love Lucy” reruns forever together. God bless us all! We Love Lucy.