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Morning, UP

‘Mad Men’ evokes memories of The Day ...

March 26, 2011
Renee Prusi

My Dad had already left for his job at the mine by the time I'd drag myself out of bed in the morning to get ready to go to school.

My Mom decided when I turned 13, she would treat me as the adult I thought I was and let me get my own self moving instead of setting her alarm clock so she could wake me up. Which was smart on her part: After all, who would want to deal with a cranky teen early in the morning unless absolutely necessary?

All of which meant, early on weekday mornings, long before sunrise as I waited for Terry Talo's No. 3 bus - the snub-nose long bus - to pull up shortly after 7 a.m. to take me off to school, the radio could be on. And it was, every morning, tuned in to whatever station was playing Top 40 music since it was only me listening.

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Renee Prusi

The first time the song came on, my interest was piqued. Not only did it sound great, it went on forever, at least compared to most tunes on the radio. But what did it mean?

That song, popular the year I was 13 and in eighth grade, was Don McLean's "American Pie."

Of course, now most people know the song is about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper back in February 1959.

And after seeing "The Buddy Holly Story" and "La Bamba" about Holly and Valens, respectively, it is rather easy to understand at least some of what the lyrics were all about.

However, my 13-year-old self who hadn't yet expanded her musical knowledge to include Buddy Holly thought "American Pie" was about John F. Kennedy. That was "the day the music died" in my mind.

Why all of this is forefront in my brain in 2011 is the television show "Mad Men." Yes, I am late to the "Man Men" party but am thoroughly enjoying the show. It's excellent in every way, something discovered through recent DVD rentals.

The other night, watching the third season, the episode centered around the characters' reactions to what happened Nov. 22, 1963 had me weeping. One of my first memories is of the day JFK was assassinated.

It was my kindergarten year and that Friday, my Mom was ironing in the kitchen when I burst through the door after school. Being an enthusiastic student, I always had to tell her, without being prompted, what we did in Mrs. Munson's classroom that day.

My Mom, bless her heart, was patient and let me ramble on. When my monologue was complete that day, she served up my favorite of all lunches: Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Although my Mom was an awesome chef, this was the ultimate for 5-year-old me. The soup, made with skim milk instead of water, was warm and creamy. The sandwich was a work of art, toasted to perfection with the Velveeta melting just so. And to dip the corner of the sandwich into the soup... ecstasy!

Dip, sip, talk... that's what the pattern was on tomato soup-grilled cheese day.

My Mom listened to the radio while she did her ironing and when the news broke about the events in Dallas on that dark day, she shushed me so she could listen. What rattled me were the tears in her eyes as the radio newsman spoke.

Mom escorted me into the living room and snapped on the television. Unprecedented behavior, that. My Mom didn't watch TV during the day. Ever.

She sat on the couch and I curled up next to her and fell right to sleep. When I awoke, my brothers, both teens, were sitting in the living room and were crying. Five-year-old me was completely baffled: My brothers never cried.

And on it went. My sister came home crying. Even my Dad was choked up at the dinner table as he tried to speak about what had happened. In the days to come, a pall descended on our house as the president was laid to rest and our nation changed forever.

Eight years later, when Don McLean sang about "his widowed bride," my mind said it had to be Jackie Kennedy he meant.

Wrong, of course.

"Mad Men" brilliantly captured the mood of that time in our history. It must seem impossible to younger people nowadays who have witnessed assassinations and shuttle explosions and tower collapses to understand the shock of that day in 1963.

Although I was a kindergartner, like most Americans, the memory is something embedded so deeply it will be with me until I die. "Mad Men" took me back to that day with a perfectly presented, written and acted hour of TV.


Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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