It all began innocently. An overheated friend, who will go by her B-Girl name Tastic, mid-schvitz and still acclimating to New York City summer, commented offhandedly, " I want to climb into my freezer."
And for whatever reason, it flashed me back to an episode of the short lived and hugely important '80's sitcom, "Punky Brewster." The premise of the show- and by the way every 7 year old girl's fantasy- was that Punky was abandoned in a shopping mall by her mother, had no father in the picture to save her and so she is orphaned. I can't explain why the desertion fantasy is so attractive but there's enough examples- Annie, the girls from Facts of Life, the boys from Different Strokes and if you really want to get obscure about it, remember, "Rags to Riches"? to prove it. Developmentally, maybe that's when kids just want to be their own people and think that's only possible with dead parents.
But anyway, Punky gets adopted by a carmudgeonly old guy, with a soft spot for Punky and her equally orphaned dog, Brandon. She makes friends with the kids in her building- a sweet, slightly derelict bunch of neighborhood 8 years olds. Her best friend is Cherie, a gal who's all sass and if I remember correctly had a tough talking city judge for a mother upstairs. Enough back story, I know, but as I recall it, all these stupid details that have been locked in a fault in my brain since 1985 come rushing back.
The story of the episode that sent me back to a panicked, cold sweat kind of flashback was when Cherie got stuck and locked into a refrigerator put out in the trash. No one knew she was trapped. Her air supply was running short. WOULD THEY FIND CHERIE IN TIME?
Of course, they did. A cute little girl with corn rose suffocating in a kitchen appliance surely would have ended the Punky craze.
But this whole memory got me thinking about all a whole series of these cautionary/scare tactic episodes of sitcoms and experiences from my youth.
Remember when on, "Webster" Ma'am was pregnant and fairly graphically lost the baby ? I'll never forget it, the image of her crawling across the floor in agony, in her signature silky pink robe, calling out for George and Webster.
How about when Arnold was molested on, "Different Strokes"?
Or when Tootie almost got sold into prostitution on that very special trip to NYC episode of, "Facts of Life"?
I'm pretty sure somebody got molested on, "Silver Spoons" too, but don't quote me on that.
I really could go on and on here.
The point is the 1980's was Code Orange for kids.
And let's not forget the ultimate scare your children senseless moment, when we all were rounded up by our elementary school teachers to watch the Challenger Space Shuttle take off on TV.
I remember the excitement, "Look kids, this teacher is from New Hampshire! She's the first elementary teacher to go to space!" said Mrs. Simpson, my third grade teacher. I can see still her perfectly feathered, frosted and sprayed bangs, moving in one monolithic piece.
"Let's count down together!"
And all of us, the Punky Brewsters, The Annie's, The Arnolds counted down.
"Three, Two, One. Blast off!" We cheered! So exciting! New England teachers in space!
And then of course, not even after 10 seconds, the whole shuttle blew into a million little bits in front of our 8 year old eyes. No one cried, I think, except the teachers and we were shuffled quickly out of the classroom.
I think, in a way, that was the JFK moment of my childhood.
Anyway, I wonder if other folks went through this. Perhaps I'll start a support group or a book club. More to follow.