Donna C. Terrell

I Was Just Thinkin'

Watching Me on TV 2015: Reflections of Blacks on Prime Time Past

I’m not old, but I am mature. I’m still in the coveted demographic that advertisers like. I’m old enough to remember when vampires were scary—not “hot.” And I have memories of boxy television consoles as pieces of furniture, only three major networks and local stations with really bad programming. Color television shows were such a major big deal that announcers would actually tell you—“The F.B.I.— in color!

Color TV. That held a different meaning for me. I’m on the cusp of being called “colored” right before we sequed into being called “black.” Back then, it was so rare to see a black person on TV that when we did, we’d get on the phone and call relatives. “Aunt Shirley, quick, there’s a colored woman on channel 2!” In the late 60s I loved watching Diahann Carroll in Julia, a show about a widowed single nurse and her young son Corey. That was a first— to have a black female lead. Bill Cosby had a self-titled show that came on Sunday nights. He was a gym teacher. There was Room 222, where there were several positive black characters in the fictional Walt Whitman High School, like Mr. Dixon the teacher, Ms. McIntyre the guidance counselor, and Richie, whom all the girls had a crush on. Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) graced the small screen weekly informing Captain Kirk “the communication channels are open.

In the mid 70s, things took a stupid turn. Gone were the positive images. We had to endure the likes of Good Times, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. It still was slim pickings for us, so we laughed at JJ and his endless “dynomite” rantings, and Fred Sanford always calling Lamont a big dummy. George Jefferson may have lived on the east side, but his worldview was Ghetto Ave. I guess TV was reflective of the movies, which at the time was the “blaxploitation” era. The shows were funny then, but as many back-in-the-day reruns that I now watch, those three are and will NEVER be on my TV.

The 70s did bring us arguably the most spectacular mini-series of all time, Roots. Anybody who was anybody in black Hollywood was in it, and the show was grand to see. There were no VCRs or DVRs, so everybody made sure they were in front of the television to not miss a second. (And woe to the person who dared call while Roots was on…) Roots dominated conversations for days afterward in school. And in classes where there was a black teacher, we’d spend the whole class period discussing it.

Bill Cosby was our TV liberator in the 80s. The Cosby Show was loved by all. There were those in the beginning who felt that such a show with black leads was “unrealistic”—we simply did not have two-parent households where the couple was loving towards each other, had professional careers, normal kids and lived in a nice house. ABC passed on Cosby. NBC flourished because of the show. In my frame of reference, Cosby, not Good Times, was the reality. I also loved A Different World, the Cosby Show spin-off. It was fun seeing young black adults in college, and their shenanigans were my life.

The 90s had some decent comedies. At least they portrayed us positively, like Roc, Living Single, and Family Matters. (Urkel was pushing it!)

My beef with programming is there are very few black dramas. Black people are in dramas, but they are not the cast majority. Black-cast shows always had a one-way ticket to Cancelville, hence Under One Roof (1995), City of Angels (2000) Lincoln Heights (2007–2009) and Undercovers (2010).

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Scandal, starring Kerry Washington, is doing very well and now in its fourth season. I absolutely love How to Get Away With Murder, and there are not enough superlatives to describe Viola Davis. But why aren’t there more of us in those casts? The jury is still out for me about Empire. Yes, it’s a black drama. But why, in our shows, is it always Profanity as a Second Language? I like Terrance and Taraji, and the dynamic their characters have. I like the Lucious Lyon storyline and the comic relief. But I have yet to develop an affinity for any of the characters, and I hate that youngest son the most. I watch it if I have nothing else to do, and I’m always busy. It doesn’t have the exalted series recording on my DVR, and it gets watched in real time. I not apologizing that I’m in the minority of black folks who doesn’t watch this show. I feel a little guilty, but that’s how it is.

I have resigned myself to accept that there is always going to be a small number of black folks on television. We may not be the stars in most, but there are excellent black actors on the small screen now and in really good roles. We are savvy newswomen, hospital chiefs of staff, forensics experts, fire chiefs and ghost busters. I tell my friends about the shows I like and call relatives.

Even now, I still get excited about watching “me” on TV.

 

(Photo: IMDb.com)

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Gumballs

Growing up, I felt like I had the best of both worlds. When I hung out with Dad, we were in the car. Dad did the grocery shopping on weekends and we always headed to Western Ave. and parts beyond. Dad rarely went east of our neighborhood to shop.

When I was with my mother, we were always on the bus because she didn’t drive. That, too, was an adventure. Sometimes we caught the bus to the train and went downtown. Most times we went to Roseland, the neighborhood directly east of our Maple Park. Michigan Avenue in Roseland between 111th and 115th streets was as bustling as north Michigan in those days. There were so many thriving businesses and that 4-block stretch was always crowded. There were also 2 or 3 grocery stores in the area, unlike the food desert that exists today. Roseland, also in those days, was pretty much all white.

One day my mother and I were in National Tea, one of the grocery stores. She gave me a few pennies for the gum machines. I scurried off to buy a few colorful gumballs while she waited in line. As I stood in indecision, a white woman walked up behind me with a little girl in tow.

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I deferred to this rude and nasty woman. I ran to find my mother to tell her what happened. The Mama Grizzly Bear rose up in her. “Where is she??!!” But of course, the woman and the little girl were gone.

I think about that incident and I wonder if that woman recalls it. What does she think about herself, bullying a little 4- or 5-year old black girl? Does her daughter remember? How would she replay it?

National Tea grocery store is now a vacant lot by the railroad tracks on 115th street. The heyday of Roseland is long gone. That woman, as a sign of the times, probably flew out of there with all the rest.

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One Snowfall, Two Takes

The weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside’s delightful. But as long as I have you, so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Snow, snow, snow! It won’t be long until we’ll all be there with snow. Snow, oh! I want to wash my face, my hands, my hair in snow!

Snow is a whole lot of fun when you’re six, or crooner Bing Crosby a la White Christmas.

Kids love snow. The thought of the white stuff sends shivers of delight down their spines. Adults just shiver.

When the city’s schools take the proverbial snow day, adults start scrambling. Where’s little Brattina going to stay for the day? What are we going to do? Worse yet, will I have to take off work? Some folks don’t get paid if they don’t work. And rarer still, adults don’t get snow days!!!

Oh, the historic Big Snow. What fun! We were home from school for several days.

But poor Dad was stuck at work for a day and a half.

We were gleefully diving into snow banks.

That’s because no snowplows came down our block.

The men on the block got together to shovel 117th street out from the clutches of the snowstorm. The women got hot drinks ready for them. We kids watched from warm houses, too small to pitch in. But now we’re the ones out there trudging downtown in double-digit wind chills, bundled up in sweats and thermal underwear, the days of trying to be cute in the cold long gone. There are no gender assignments; if you can pick up a shovel, get to work! You have to get the snow off your car and forge a path through the parking lot or down the street. Please, please don’t get stuck, car! Gotta get to the train station, and pray there are no transit snafus.

We can build a snow fort!

The snow is blocking the front door.

Let’s make snow cream!

How am I gonna get to the grocery store?

We can make a snowman!

Don’t these folks know how to drive in the snow?! C’mon, man!

Oh to be six again, to relax and simply enjoy it.

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How Was Your Weekend?

 

I have decided that I’m done with idle chit-chat in the workplace. Particularly the whole “How was your weekend?” thing. Most folks, probably all of them around here, do not care how my weekend was. I really don’t care how theirs was. These people are not concerned whatsoever if I was well or sick, how the holiday barbecue tasted, or anything about me. We have nothing in common. Certainly no one has anything to add to the “I went to church” answer.

I remember when this phony woman once asked me “How was your Cinco de Mayo?” Like, do I look like I observe Cinco de Mayo? Nothing in my black heritage cares about or is even aware of it. I would have responded as such had she not been the VP of Creative.

Now I’m not mad at anyone, I’m just no longer interested. Just because you’re in the break room at the same time as a coworker, you should not feel obligated to talk. Talking about nothing is a waste of time and I’m done with it. Right now my time is very important to me. It’s nice to be friendly and it makes the day pleasant, but I just want to do the work and go home. Home is where conversation of substance really matters.

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Summer Shows We Hope Will Not Disappoint

Yay, summer’s here! Yet, with the summer comes a drought. The drought of the regular programming you’ve grown accustomed to over the last few months. Like when your childhood best friend moves away, you feel empty inside. What’s a TV-holic to do when there’s nothing to watch?

First, one should actually get out of the house and spend some time with friends and family doing interesting things besides kicking back in front of the flat screen. But, oftentimes, we’re tired because we still have to work, make runs, do laundry and stuff whether it’s summer or not. So TV still remains the zone-out of choice.

With OnDemand and Netflix and even DVDs, you can binge-watch shows. Binge TV watching is a great new phenomenon. I think watching shows back-to-back is cool because you don’t have to hear all the goofy promos and teasers. This week, Someone. Will. Die.

TV seasons are so short now; we’re lucky if we get 20 episodes of a show. Bonanza had 34 episodes in a single season! But that was 50 years ago. And summer shows that were coming on in June are now coming on in March and April, so where does that leave us in July? And I was so looking forward to a summer of Mad Men. I have searched, researched and stumbled up on these shows. Any other suggestions you have will be welcomed.

Here’s what I’m planning on watching:

The Next Food Network Star—This is the only reality show I watch. 10 or 11 Rachel Ray/Guy Fieri wannabes compete for a chance to have their own Food Network show. They’re not as cutthroat as folks on other shows, but they have their moments. The food’s the thing. (June 1st Food Network)

Under the Dome—This will be the second season for this show based on a Stephen King novel. It was kind of interesting, about a small town that’s trapped, well, under a dome. (June 30th CBS)

Extanct—Halle Berry has a show coming out in July, but it’s not peaking my interest as of yet. I’ll watch the first episode because I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi show—good being the operative word. I’m also a fan of Miss Berry. Hmmm, Halle doing the small screen? Well, haven’t seen her in anything else for quite some time. Maybe this will help her career. (July 9th CBS)

Halt and Catch Fire—This is about the start of the PC wars back in the 80s. IBM against Hewlett-Packard, etc. It’s fun seeing the old desktop computers the size of actual desktops, the 70s and 80s cars, and no one has a cell phone grafted to their ear. The three main characters are the usual tech-geeks, and their backstories haven’t yet started to ramp up. The show is Mad Men-slow, and I’m waiting for the moment I get hooked. (June 1st AMC)

Dominion—Archangels Michael and Gabriel at war with each other? Here on earth? This is spiritually disturbing to me on so many levels. But the concept has intrigued me that I’m going to watch the first episode. Like I said, I like a good sci-fi show. We’ll see.(June 19th SyFy)

Murder In First Person—This is actually pretty good! I watched the first episode last week. I like Taye Diggs’ character Terry English, and the fact that his wife is dying makes him interesting. Ann-Marie Johnson does a good job on her deathbed. The show will focus on one case for the whole season. (June 9th TNT)

Chasing Life—I was flipping through the cable guide last week trying to find something to watch, and the title caught my attention. I sat through the entire show about a 24-year old woman, April, who finds out she has cancer. Her renowned-doctor uncle informs her. He’s estranged from the family because he was driving when her father was killed in an accident. April’s mother is starting to date, her sister is a train wreck, she herself just started to date a cutie from the office. As of yet, no one knows about the cancer. That element alone makes it just interesting enough to stick around and see how it all works out. (June 10th ABC Family)

The Last Ship—A pandemic kills off most of earth’s inhabitants and it’s up to the crew of this ship to find a cure. Guess they were out to sea when everything went down. (June 22 TNT)

You can easily catch up on these shows now since most I’ve mentioned have started and only aired 2 or 3 eps. We wait in high hopes for the rest. Anybody got any other suggestions for some good clean TV fun?

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There Is None Good! No, Not One!

Here’s what I wrote after the season finale of Scandal:

Why do we like Scandal? Why are we glued to the TV every Thursday, or refuse to watch it in real time as not to miss a single word or action? Those folks ain’t right—not a single one! Let’s break down their character traits, or the lack thereof, shall we?

President Fitzgerald Grant—He’s a killer. He killed a woman in season 2 by cutting off her oxygen supply as she lay dying on her hospital bed.

First Lady Mellie Grant—Plotted, planned and connived, along with others, to get her husband elected through nefarious dealings. She even induced labor to try to get Fitz to pay attention to her. However, Mellie is now emerging as a sympathetic character.

Chief of Staff Cyrus Beane—He, too, is murderous and has no conscious. He hired an assassin to put a bullet through the head of his lover, but thought better of killing the poor guy at the last literal second. Although never actually committing crimes, Cyrus throws the rock and hides the hand.

Vice President Sally Langston—Supposedly the voice of moral purity and devout piety, she literally stabbed her down-low husband in the back and covered the murder up. With the help of Cyrus, of course.

Pops (Eli) Pope—The supreme being of underworld dealings, namely murder and torture.

Mama (Marie Wallace) Pope—Great-granddaughter of Satan. She is pure evil and has no love for anybody. With the possible exception of her daughter, but I’m sure for the right price, she would whack Olivia off too. I wonder what drives such a person.

Huck—Crazed, manic, murderous, yet an absolute technical genius. B6-13 has totally shredded the poor guy’s mind.

Other supporting characters and minions—Sociopathic and psychologically deranged individuals steeped in lies, scheming, conniving, torture and all things base. Oh, and I’m not happy that the perpetual checkered-shirt-wearing Jefferson got killed off by Eli. C’mon, not the brotha!!! I guess Jefferson was kind of expendible.

Olivia Pope—She, herself, is no saint. She’s messing around with another woman’s husband, i.e., President Grant. And Liv now has her panties in a bunch because Prez snapped on her because his wife is cavorting with another man.

Her relationship with Fitz, well, how can you really call it a relationship? It’s all based on sex. They don’t and can’t go out on real dates. They don’t laugh and talk about silly stuff. Most of the time she’s pissed at him.

When does poor Olivia smile? When does she genuinely laugh about anything that’s cleanly funny, like even the cartoons in the paper? Who are her friends? Guess in her line of work she can’t really get close to anyone. But what about the past? No school buddies? Now she’s had enough of the warped world she lives in and has flown the coop. She jumped on a plane, with Jake in tow, and has left everybody and everything. Supposedly. We know she’ll be back.

I think we watch the show, meaning a good percentage of the TV-watching black community, because of the beautiful Kerry Washington. It’s so refreshing to see a young black woman lead a top-rated TV show. Her character, although flawed, is strong and totally in control, yet feminine and sexy at the same time. There are times she employs the strong-arm method, like threatening to destroy the Governor’s life if he didn’t end the relationship with FLOTUS Mellie. Other times, she just wants to be held and comforted by one of the twisted men in her life.

Overall, we watch Scandal because it’s good television. Compelling plots, back stories, strong characterization, and an attractive cast makes for an hour of entertainment. I, for one, like the twists and turns. Who knew the prez’s son would get bumped off? And by a vial of a killer strain of bacterial meningitis that was stored away at the CDC? And it was the work of Eli Pope, and not ol’ Moms, as he wants people to believe.

So now we’re on summer break,  waiting for the fourth season to begin. And in the alternate reality of TV land, may these sordid people take a break from themselves.

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The Patron Saint of Television

The other day, WordPress had a writing prompt in their Blogging U. challenge that was pretty cool. If you could be a patron saint of something, what would it be? I didn’t have time to write it then, but I would be the Patron Saint of Television.

I don’t know if patron saints have powers, but that would the first thing I’d do— declare myself all-powerful. I’d be a powerful, benevolent and understanding being.

First, for the people:

  • Flat-screen HDTVs for everyone! The bigger the better!
  • Endless DVR space
  • A day off every month to catch up on shows—with pay
  • A zapper device to shut the mouths of those who talk while you’re watching your shows

Now here’s where I’d be a hard taskmaster.

These are my edicts for TV execs, programmers, and producers:

  • Original programming. NO remakes of long-dead shows.
  • Give shows a chance to find their audience.
  • Enough with the “winter finales” in early December and then not bringing the show back until late March
  • Understand that anything under 25 shows does not constitute a season.
  • Put a decent line-up on Saturday night.

That’s a good start, I think. Do you have anything to add?

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On Christmas and Coming of Age

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It was in second grade that suspicions flared in my mind about Santa Claus. “Why does every store on this block have a Santa Claus?” I asked my mother as we walked from store to store on south Michigan Avenue, a once bustling hub of activity in Chicago.

“Oh, those are his helpers,” my mother replied.

“Well, why do they say they’re Santa Claus? Why are they dressed like him? I thought the elves were his helpers.” I don’t recall my mother saying anything to that. I think by fourth grade Santa was a non-issue.

Believing in Santa or not, I still had that Christmas morning excitement. It was always such anticipation and suspense leading up to Christmas that sleeping on Christmas Eve night was impossible. Even as an only child, I rose up early to leap into the bounty of toys and gifts under the tree.

Then I’m in my teens and getting out of bed at 5 and 6 in the morning on a non-school day was so not going to happen.

Then I’m single and the only thing I wanted for Christmas was somebody to love and love me back.

Then I’m with The Boyfriend and I wanted him to be The Fiance. I had my mind set on a big diamond ring—that I didn’t get.

As I reflect back on the years of Christmas past, I see that Christmas can be a marker for life. Think about how old you were or where you were in life

  • when you no longer believed in Santa Claus.
  • when you stopped waking up early to unwrap gifts.
  • when you wanted what money can’t buy.
  • when giving and buying for others were more important than receiving.
  • when you realize that you have everything you need and want.

I’m in a really good place right now; I have my material Christmas present—a paint job and new carpet. Non-material items—the intangibles—are the important things. Everybody’s here and healthy. Best friends are dating decent men. Dad is coming over for Christmas dinner. There’s money to buy gifts as well as to pay that speeding ticket I got a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s time to relax and watch Charlie Brown, The Grinch, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. C’mon, it’s not the same without these traditional gems! Whether I’m 5, 35, or 75, happy or discontent, watching a black-and-white or HD flat screen, they are the constant. Good to know that some things never change.

Merry Christmas to you! I hope this year finds you in a good place too!

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On Friendship and Falling Away

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As far as I know, I haven’t done anything to Roslyn (not her real name). One day we’re making plans to get together; next day I call and she sounds all distant and then stops answering texts. Hmmm, what’s up with that? So I text in about a week. No response. Okaaay… Then I send a card in a month with a short message about how I value her friendship and if I’ve done something to offend her, let’s talk about it. No response.

Well, having reached the age of old-enough-to have-wisdom-and-still-young-and-cute-enough-to-enjoy-it, I know when to leave folks alone. This is not the first time a friendship has disintegrated. There are certain relationships you just know will stand the test of time, like with Linda. She was on my Christmas list when I was seven and I figured she’d be on it when I reached 70. Not so. Over the course of time when we became young adults, Linda’s childhood angst started surfacing, and she would start cycles of bizarre behavior that would involve getting angry out the clear blue sky and not speaking for days, then weeks, then months. I remember when she got mad at her brother and me and walked out of a restaurant during her mother’s birthday dinner. (Now if you storm out on your mama…) What we did is still a mystery. I know now that Linda had some serious emotional issues, but at the time, it didn’t feel good for a lifelong friendship to disintegrate.

I think of Belinda, and I realize that it’s been over 20 years since I spoke to her. That, I guess, was a natural drifting apart. She got married and had children, and I was still single with no kids. I would go to social events at her house and realize that most of the people there were married. Next thing you know, weeks would go by between phone calls, and now I haven’t spoken to a person I was once very close to since the 20th century.

I was responsible for ending my friendship with Jackie. We went out of town together with another friend, who was more Jackie’s friend than mine. Some goofy things happened on that trip, and there was a slight falling out. Jackie did call and we talked about it, but things were never the same after that. To her credit, she tried to stay in touch, but I just wasn’t interested in resuming the relationship.

President Obama is partly to blame for Debbie and I not having seen each other since he was sworn in the first time. I remember Debbie sending me a clip from one of his speeches, and telling me in no uncertain terms should I vote for this guy. When I told her I agreed with him, it set off a firestorm of email back-and-forths. I told her we don’t have to email; we can talk about this. Next thing I know, our once-a-month Starbucks meetings lessened. Then I started working more regularly and we couldn’t meet up. Now it’s been well over 4 years since I’ve seen her. Although Debbie and I were very close,  there have been periods of time in our friendship where we weren’t in each other’s lives. Both times when Debbie was pregnant, I had no idea. But she always got back in touch. Hmmm, maybe in 2016…

With some people, you don’t miss the friendship and you don’t really think about them too much. With others, you grieve the loss. Some losses are abrupt; some gradually drift due to circumstances in life. With some people, you realize where they are and you ride it out. Right now, my good friend Michael, whom I’ve known since high school, has been kooky for over 2 years due to a deteriorating marital situation. So if he says he’s going to do something and then I don’t hear from him, whatever. If 2 or 3 months go by with no contact, whatever. I pray for him, don’t take anything personally and move on.

I don’t have blood brothers and sisters, but I have been amply blessed with lifelong friends who truly are my brothers and sisters and they’ll kill anybody who says it ain’t so. Relationships with Clotele, Ebon and Donna—they ain’t going nowhere. I had ups and downs with each of them, that’s natural during the course of decades between family. But they’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with them. Clotele’s daughters are stuck with me. Donna’s mother is stuck with me and my father is stuck with Donna and Clotele. That’s how it is!

They say people are in your life for a season, a reason or a lifetime. I don’t know where Roslyn will fall in ultimately, but I think we should praise God for our lifetimers. They are truly rare indeed.

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Dinner with the Durrs

I recently read an interesting article about memorable Thanksgiving dinners. I got to thinking about the decades’ worth of Thanksgiving dinners I’ve eaten. Nothing really stands out because it was always the same fare—turkey and a thousand side dishes, as well as assorted cakes and pies.

Now best friend and sister Donna and I had a system when it came to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. My family always ate early. Her family always ate late. So round one would be at my house and round two would be at hers. In early years of our friendship, Donna and I never wanted to be bothered with her younger brother and sisters. We’d go off in the living room and talk until time to eat. Later as time went on and everybody got older, it was fun hanging out with them and munching on chips and dip until the food was ready.

By seven o’clock (yep, seven) dinner was served. We’d all cram into the kitchen, hold hands and pray, then pile our plates high. It was the usual—turkey, potato salad, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, and rolls. Donna’s mother is the best cook. I patterned my own dressing and potato salad after hers. It took years, but I finally got there! A couple of years ago, as Donna ate from my table, she raved about my dressing. The Durr stamp of approval! We both want our cooking to taste like Mom’s!

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What I always liked about eating at Donna’s house was that I felt welcome and comfortable. Her parents never made me feel like I was an outsider, or that there was an unspoken boundary I wasn’t supposed to cross. I was expected over there, and it was always grab a plate! Once I remember taking a detour before I went over Donna’s. Pops, as I affectionately called her father, was quite taken aback. “You’re supposed to eat here,” he chided.

The first 3 or 4 years I was married, my husband and I would eat at Dad’s, then go to his mother’s house. I was wistful at first about not spending time with the Durrs on Thanksgiving.  At the Durr house, there is laughter, silliness, and a bond that goes back years and years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being with the in-laws—but it’s just very different. My husband likes the Durrs and they all like him. Lately I’ve just been meeting my husband at his mother’s house after I’ve spent sufficient heart time with the Durrs—my other family. The only thing that drives me nuts is there’s no football on the Durr television. When I can, I steal the remote.

Hmm, I can’t really think of any one memorable Thanksgiving at the Durrs. Same folks, same food. But it’s not about the food; it’s the people you eat the food with. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope it’s a fulfilling day.

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