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Here's the Story LP
Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice
The One Day When This Lady Met This Fellow
I wish my mother had been alive for my fiftieth birthday. I think my attitude would have surprised her. Rather than dreading the half-century milestone, I celebrated it. I embraced the idea of getting older. My family was around me all day. At night, they brought out a big cake and I blew out candles. We toasted . . . me!
I said silly things like "fifty is nifty." Several reporters called, wanting to know how Marcia Brady felt about turning fifty. Politely, I reminded them that Marcia Brady was still a teenager, but I, Maureen, created not in Sherwood Schwartz's imagination but in the womb of Irene McCormick, felt okay about it.
And no, I responded to another frequently asked question, I hadn't had any plastic surgery and didn't plan to. I borrowed Flip Wilson's line: What you see is what you get. It wasn't that bad. Despite the punishment I'd heaped on my body over the years, gravity had been kind to me. I didn't have many wrinkles, at least none that were undeserved. I had few complaints.
But those questions got me thinking. Why would I get surgically pulled, stretched, and Botoxed? When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to see me. The real me—warts, wrinkles, and everything else. I'd gone through hell and back to get to a place where I could, and indeed wanted to, look at myself—and like what I saw.
My mother had spent nearly her entire life doing the opposite, hiding from her past and trying to avoid the truth. It clouded much that sheshould've liked. A stay-at-home mother, she was a hard worker, with a good sense of people, good morals, and a good business sense.
Before the end, she came around and was much better and happier for it. By then, of course, much had happened.
My mother was born in 1921 in Burlington, Iowa, a small town along the Mississippi settled by German immigrants. Her father contracted syphilis while serving overseas during World War I, and he passed it on to her mother. She entered a mental institution with extreme paresis and died there without being able to recognize my mother or her younger sister.
A week after she entered the institution, my mom's father locked himself in the garage and breathed the exhaust fumes from his car. He died leaving his two girls inside the house. My mother was ten years old when she lost both of her parents. She and her sister moved in with an aunt and uncle. They were dedicated, devoted, and loving people. They provided my mother and her sister with a loving, nurturing home, though small-town life being what it was, my mother and her younger sister were still subjected to scorn. A year later, she was diagnosed with syphilis, an event that scarred her more psychologically than physically for the rest of her life.
It turned out she'd inherited the disease at birth from her mother. Following the diagnosis, she was warned not to tell anyone, ever, lest she be branded diseased and dirty. She didn't have to be told. From that first moment on, she felt dirty and diseased. It was the most shameful thing in the world to her. She was also frightened that she'd end up in an institution like her mother.
She was treated with stovarsol and mercury capsules, though both treatments caused a bad rash and later a more extreme skin condition. She ate her meals off a separate set of dishes. It was like wearing a scarlet A, only worse. At thirteen, she began special treatments at the State University of Iowa in Iowa City to ensure she would never pass the syphilis on to any children she might have. Those treatments lasted for three years and required long and lonely bus rides.
"At the time of her last visit here, on December 28, 1938, she seemed to be in good health, had been taking mercury and chalk fairly regularly, and had been going to her local physician for weekly Bismuth shots," her doctor wrote in a report. "Physical examination at the time of her last visit revealed a well-developed, well-nourished female. She was quite cooperative but acted rather self-consciously."
Despite everything, she did well in school, worked numerous odd jobs, and put herself through business college. She blossomed into a beautiful, intelligent, ambitious young woman. On the one hand, I picture her sitting on those long bus rides to the hospital: alone, scared, praying no one found out about her condition. On the other hand, I marvel at the strength she must have had; though she didn't show it, she was the strongest woman I've ever met.
At twenty, she fell in love and married a soldier who was immediately shipped off to Europe. A week later, he was killed in World War II when a German U-boat sank the transport ship he was on.
Devastated, she moved to the West Coast with her best girlfriend, Mary Crawley. They wanted to live in Hollywood, among the movie stars and fancy theaters. They dreamed of adventure, maybe even stardom. But they ended up fifteen miles away in Westwood, near UCLA. My mom didn't care. She was happy to be out of Burlington and away from the stares and stigma of her past.
My father, Richard, was the youngest of three children born to Joseph McCormick, a bartender in Riverside, New Jersey. His father was a heavy drinker who abused his wife. He lost everything in the Depression and died in his mid-thirties from illnesses related to alcoholism.
My father's mother did the best she could to raise her family, but they were very poor and at one point they had to burn furniture to keep warm in the winter. My dad spent most of his youth in a wheelchair, the result of osteomyelitis. By his late teens, though, his illness was gone. Near the end of World War II, he lied about his age and joined the Coast Guard. One day he was on deck, cooking for his shipmates, and his gas stove exploded, severely burning his leg.Here's the Story LP
Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice. Copyright © by Maureen McCormick. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.