From the time I was 9 to about 13, my mother worked shifts at the hosiery factory and couldn’t afford a sitter. When she was on days — or when she was sleeping days because she was on nights — my babysitters were the TV and books checked out of the library. Sometimes the books were inappropriate, and the librarian would give me the eye at the check out counter. If she pressed me, I’d lie and say my mother had asked me bring them home for her. That’s how I found the Harlequin romances and Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon. The TV shows that kept me company weren’t always that appropriate either — remember Love, American Style? — but that’s what happens when nobody’s home.
My afternoons were filled with kid stuff: Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family. But during my summers alone, morning TV played reruns of adult-themed shows like All In The Family. My favorite, by far, was One Day at a Time. Bonnie Franklin played Ann Romano, a spunky, single, working mom in a rundown apartment raising willful daughters, one of whom was a brown-haired, basketball playing, tomboy just like me. Or so it seemed at the time. I never missed an episode and watched the reruns for years afterward.
Looking back I can see how much I was comforted by the show’s premise. I didn’t know any other girls with a single mom, and I identified completely with their circumstances and their problems, with their underlying love for each other even with all the yelling, with the lessons they were constantly learning as an all-female house in a world dominated by men. I held tight to the story of their constant, if fictional, survival.
I read today that Bonnie Franklin has died. Pancreatic cancer. Age 69. Rest in peace, Bonnie — and thank you for your Ann Romano. Somewhere there’s music playing.