Congratulations, Mrs. Keaton!
Meredith Baxter just got married! I feel a tiny personal stake in this, which is mostly ridiculous because she is one of the icons of my childhood and I am just me. I am over-the-moon delighted for her and for her partner.
Not quite a year ago, Meredith Baxter wrote me a letter, creating for me one of the most important object lessons I could give to my kidlets, a reminder to say the nice things out loud. (In every role, she really was the best mom ever.)
Because my ignorant children had no idea who or what Meredith Baxter or Family Ties were, I had to come up with a this-generation star to drive my point home. Claire Dunphy, of Modern Family, was the obvious parallel.
Imagine you said a nice thing, I told them. And all of a sudden, there was Claire Dunphy in your inbox! Worth it, amirite?
My state, Washington, passed a marriage equality law last November. This development made me think some things that I almost didn’t say. The things were about the language we use around marriage, and the unexpected gift, for little ol’ heterosexual me, that my gay pals brought to that language. And I almost didn’t say them for the usual reasons — What if it’s corny? What if people think I’m weird? and so on.
But I did say the things. And then the New York Freaking Times picked them up, and my terror multiplied — justifiably, it turned out. Some people did, in fact, think I was weird.
But that did not matter even one bit. Because the things I said, which were nice, got read by Meredith Baxter. Who then said her own nice things. She could have just sat at her kitchen table with her lovely partner and said, “Gosh, I liked that article. Here, do you want to read it? I only dropped a little jelly on it.” And left it at that, which is almost certainly what I would have done. But Ms. Baxter took the time and said the things, and that has been a lasting gift to me.
I share her letter here. Because it is lovely. And because you might have grown up with her, too. I realize this feels a bit oh look what I did, and I wish I could think of a way around that. But I found her words and her story so astonishing, and I want everyone to join me in being so delighted for Meredith Baxter. I think you'll agree that, in addition to her other talents, she is an absolutely gorgeous writer.
She very graciously gave me permission, at the time, to share her lovely words:
Dear Ms. Page ... this is Meredith Baxter writing. I want to thank you for your very moving, timely and tender essay, which I first read on my own then read to my partner out loud.
I was a wife with a husband three times covering a total of 23 years. The last two times were harrowing, punishing experiences which left me angry and bitter with little understanding of how marriage ever caught on as an institution.
The term wife didn't concern me again until, ten years later, I found myself in a very loving, mutually supportive and honest relationship with the woman to whom I read your essay. We've been together over seven years and have been talking about marriage, but the idea of being a wife again has been a terrible stumbling block for me. In my mind, a wife was always on the receiving end of contempt and abuse; she was the goat to blame things on; she was an afterthought, not considered and barely tolerated.
I appreciated knowing that, although you are in a loving relationship, you too, understand that unfavorable take on that word ... how negatively loaded it can be. Except, as you noted, there are all those who do not view wife as negative and even long to be one … or even better, two, but cannot.
Put in your light of understanding and re-evaluation of the thinking around the labels, I actually felt myself letting go of the noise I carry about wife. I love my partner Nancy unequivocally; she has never been married, but with her I think I could realize all the potential intended for a marriage. So, with you, and thanks to you, I'm getting used to tossing that word wife around with more ease and light, leaning into being one again ... and having one.
Thanks so much ....... m
High fives (that's what we did in the eighties, kids) to Meredith Baxter. How very right that, after all those years spending her energy to make us smile, there's a sweetie in her life now doing the same for her. And they’re married.
Probably the things I took the time to say had nothing to do with it.
But what if they did?
Say the nice things, kidlets. Just say them. Pick up the pen, pick up the phone, touch the shoulder, say the things. They might matter.
Congratulations, Meredith Baxter and Nancy Locke!
Margot Page’s memoir Paradise Imperfect: An American Family moves to the Costa Rican Mountains was released in 2013 by Yellow House Press. She blogs about, travel, Pope Francis, and things that amuse her at margot-page.com. She lives, writes, and works in Seattle, Washington.