Column: The real deal
Every once in awhile, flipping through television stations, I catch a snippet of the real housewives from someplace or another. It would be hard not to. They're everywhere. People magazine treats them like real celebrities, devoting pages to the bankruptcy of one, the pregnancy of another and the catty actions of most.
Next month, when my friend arrives to help me celebrate my birthday, I'll ask her if she's seen the shows and what she thinks of them. Especially the one set in New Jersey, where we met. Even though I returned to Minnesota nearly 35 years ago and she headed for Pennsylvania not long after, our friendship survived. We still talk about how lucky we were to live two houses away from each other on Valley Road in Upper Montclair. Though we were housewives in New Jersey, our lives bore no resemblance to the present day TV stars. There were no mega-mansions or hoity-toity condos for us. We both lived on lower levels of old duplexes and spent most of our time together watching our children play; taking them to the park and library. We cleaned our own houses. Had no funds for a nanny or even a babysitter. Swanky lunches? When we dared to spend money on lunch, our kids sat right next to us at the neighborhood deli where they ate peanut butter sandwiches and our pumpernickel bread was stuffed with egg salad.
But we did have one luxury: a monthly night out for the consciousness-raising meeting where we met. I had been skeptical about the idea at first but another friend thought that since I had only been in town a short time, I'd enjoy meeting some new women. A self-proclaimed feminist and avid reader of Ms. Magazine, in the name of sisterhood, I decided to give it a try. Ten of us were at the first meeting held at the home of a woman I had never met. Questions about what to wear and whether anyone would like me coursed through my mind that day. The doubts feminism was supposed to erase but never did. It didn't matter. We all clicked. Even the two who dropped out the second month because they didn't like the suggested topics supplied by the local chapter of NOW, the National Organization of Women. The two should have stayed. We barely followed the guidelines. And I question whether anyone adhered to the rule that when it was our turn to host a meeting, we shouldn't do anything special like dust or vacuum.
If there had been a reality TV show back in the 70s about our group, the cameras would have caught me cleaning every inch of my home when my turn came to have the get-together. But they never would have caught any of us taking verbal swipes at each other for the benefit of the show. We would have bored audience members who wanted blood and bad words. After all, we were a support group. Not to mention: Would anyone have watched a program called The Real Domestic Engineers of New Jersey?