Dear Abby has died, several years after the demise of her twin sister, Ann Landers.
When I was about 7 I discovered them and they became seriously important symbols in my life. They stood for the ability to get outside and beyond my own small life and small home and get ADVICE from a sage. I knew that I needed advice and I knew that I needed it badly.
By this time I had already discounted my parents as non-trustworthy. The teachers I knew were either unapproachable. There were no neighbors or friendly older relatives I could count on. I used to read Ann Landers and Dear Abby dutifully—no, really eagerly. That was a time in which even smallish cities had both a morning and an afternoon newspaper and my family always subscribed to both. Their names were magical to me!
ADVICE! It became a word that was beautiful to my ears. I know that I needed advice and with advice my life would be improved. I was voyeuristic about the lives of others and ever hopeful that I could find some sort of model or paradigm that I could apply to my own life. I watched “Queen for a Day” with the same fanatic curiosity and thirst for knowledge that I read the advice columns of those smart twins from Sioux City. Advice was what I craved in the same way that people craved psychoanalysis or spiritual awakening or ice cream. I knew that with advice my small and mostly miserable little life would redeem itself and I would know how to conduct myself and, most of all, how to disencumber myself of the obstacles to happiness. Advice would be transformative!
I planned my quest for advice slowly. First, I had to learn how to send a letter and buy a stamp. Then I had to practice clarity in my cursive. I also knew that I had to wait for a really big issue. I had to wait until life became so intolerable that I could purloin a stamp and an envelope and write. Furthermore, it took me several months to ascertain what a self-addressed stamped envelope was and how to create on. As it happened, I chose to write to Ann Landers because she seemed ever so slightly more sympathetic than Abby and perhaps would take my case more seriously.
I wrote the following letter, more or less, one day in 1959:
“Dear Ann Landers,
Whenever I go to school my little sisters go into my room and mess things up and they even write in my books. How can I keep them out?”
Several weeks later my letter was returned and an adult hand had written at the bottom:
“Get a key!”
I was crestfallen. I knew that keys were forbidden in my house. My parents had an irrational compulsion to fix every door so that they could never be locked. We could not lock the bathroom door. We could not lock any door! And the car doors, in the back seats, had had their locks firmly taped down so that nobody could get in or out without an indecorous entrance via the front and then a tumble into the back.
The advice failed me. I did not have the courage to write back to Ann Landers and tell her that I was not allowed to have a key. I decided not to write to Dear Abby. I needed more subtle and sophisticated advice; I needed advice that understood the wily almost Jesuitical ways of my parents.
Keys! Why was my father so obsessed with having all doors open aside from the ones that he had chosen to permanently lock? I remember two things and only today, very belatedly, I wonder if they impinged on his decision: I was about 2 years old and I locked my mother out of the house. I don’t precisely remember doing it but the story was told so many times! I stared stonily and ruthlessly out the window onto the porch at her as she pled to be admitted. I walked upstairs and carried my new-born sister down the stairs by her feet and I took my one-year old brother into the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator and proceeded to take out the food and to start feeding them (eating disorder anyone?). My mother smashed in the window and turned the lock before I could cram a beefsteak down the baby’s gullet.
Then another scene crosses my eyes. It was only a few years later. My brother got into the car and must have released the clutch because it slowly, gathering speed, went down the incline of the driveway and into the street. We all hooted and hollered with pride but my father had a FIT! True, it was a somewhat busy street. And true there were cars coming. But still---my little brother managed to drive the car! And thus useable keys were vanished and child-proofing was meticulously maintained.
So this is the story of why I wrote away for advice. I never knew that I was tilting at windmills all along. I never had a single key until I had a dorm key during my first year of college.