I first met Mary Richards on the same night as the rest of America – watching the September 1970 première of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
As soon as I heard the show’s bouncy theme song – “Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?” – I was hooked. I was 13, just starting eighth grade. Mary was a lovely 30-something woman on her own in a big city. She had an adorable apartment, a job in a newsroom, and a natural likability that made everyone want to be her friend. What was not to love?
My friends were huge fans as well. We especially liked Mary’s friendship with best buddy Rhoda Morgenstern, whose breezy New York patter we tried to replicate.
“Hey, Mare!” we would shout to each other, passing in the hallway at school, trying out our imitation Bronx accents. “Hi, Rho! See ya later, kid!”
The show lasted seven years, but our fascination faded earlier. By the time Mary put the lights out in the newsroom for the last time we were 20, already off to college and – we thought – more important pursuits.
But that wasn’t the end of Mary for me.
In the 1990s, when I was single, living alone in an apartment in a city – and, as it happened, working for a news organization – a cable TV station began airing reruns of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” at 10 every evening.
I was hooked all over again. It became my favorite half hour of the day, as each night I treated myself to a small teacup of ice cream while I got reacquainted with Mary Richards.
But this time was different. Mary was now my peer. The way she navigated her career, handled her relationships, and mostly, sent a clear message that being 30-plus and single was just fine, won my respect on a whole new level.
Once again, however, life moved on. I got married, went to live in a different city, and 10 p.m. became the perfect time for me to call my mother each night.
For me, talking to Mom was always an unmitigated pleasure. My mother was someone for whom human relations were extremely uncomplicated: She liked everyone, and everyone liked her back.
If you were a baseball fan and ready to talk about her beloved New York Yankees, wonderful! But if not, no problem – she also loved children, dogs, flowers, chocolate, or whatever it was that you were particularly excited about.
My husband used to marvel, when we took her to a Yankees game or a Broadway show (her two favorite outings), that by the time he and I got our coats off and sat down, my mom was already eagerly introducing us to her new best friends – the lovely people in the adjoining seats.
So when my mom passed on, I felt like the neighbor from her condo complex who wrote me to say, “It’s as if the sun has gone out of the sky.”
That feeling seemed particularly intense at 10 p.m., when I’d find myself staring at my silent phone. And then I remembered the question I’d first heard at age 13: “Who can turn the world on with her smile?”
Mary Richards, of course! And thanks to the wonder of technology, Mary was now as close as my phone. So every night at 10, instead of indulging in sorrow, I would dial up an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
I had never thought about the similarities between the good-natured Mary Richards and my warmly sociable mother, but now it seemed only too obvious that that’s what I’d liked most about Mary all along.
In fact, I think it’s what we all love about Mary – and my mom, and all the other bright, smiling faces we meet in the course of any given day. There’s at least a bit of the cheerful, helpful Mary in all of us, I began to realize. We feel it in ourselves, and we recognize it in others. And when we see it, most of us want to enjoy as much of it as we can.
Some weeks after my mom’s passing I realized I didn’t need my nightly sessions with Mary anymore. My mom’s – and Mary’s – grace was showing itself in other corners of my life and, once again, I was ready to move on.
“Thanks, Mare!” I wanted to say. “See ya later, kid!”
I fully expect that I will.