April in Glenwood: Here’s to you, Mrs. Brady
December 1, 2016
I remember when I was a kid, I excitedly came home from school every day to watch re-runs of "The Brady Bunch."
I couldn't wait to see the sitcom shenanigans of a blended family with six kids unfold, complete with a well-timed laugh track and polyester bell bottoms.
Basically, I loved everything Brady.
I loved the Brady house with the cool staircase. The Brady kids and their fun family band. That Brady vacation to Hawaii with the tarantula.
The time Marcia Brady took a football to the face before a big date. The frank-yet-lovable Brady housekeeper, Alice.
She took the art of the clean comedy zinger to a whole new level.
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Alice and her quick wit broke up the tension of three blonde sisters — the youngest one in curls — and three dark-haired brothers who somehow formed a family with their newly married folks without burning the house down. Mom Carol Brady also had a way with the jokes, topped with a sweet, reassuring smile.
The storyline seemed unconceivable at a time when the traditional family of a mom, dad and their kids born in wedlock was still considered the right way to do life. Divorce and blended families were often quietly discussed. Yet "The Brady Bunch" became a staple in American homes from 1969 to 1974, with subsequent re-runs airing throughout my lifetime, funny film adaptations, and DVD box sets that make perfect holiday gifts.
Hint, hint, Santa.
The childhood memories of my Brady love, including a kid crush on Peter, was jogged last week upon learning Florence Henderson, who played Carol, died at 82 from heart failure on Thanksgiving.
From her immense popularity on the show, she was dubbed, "America's Mom." Rightfully so. Henderson made anyone who watched "The Brady Bunch" feel that being a mother to six kids — three her own and three her husband's — could be sanely executed with patience, compassion and fortitude. Judging by the social media reaction and the outpouring of condolences worldwide, her role as a mother was her greatest.
Much like the real thing for me.
Florence Henderson was not just that motherly figure so many related to, but she was also dedicated to her Hoosier home state, a connection we share.
She was born in the small southwest town of Dale, Ind., on Feb. 14, 1934, the youngest of 10. Her love of the arts was sparked by singing in her youth, inspired through her own mother, starting at the tiny age of 2. Later, the future Mrs. Brady moved to New York City to attend college at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She performed in musicals including "South Pacific," "Wish You Were Here," "Oklahoma!" and "Fanny," as well as other early television roles before the big one that made her a famous TV mom.
Her life truly encapsulated the American dream.
That ideal — every U.S. citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative — was certainly evident in Henderson's strong midwest work ethic and dedication to the arts.
She never forgot her Hoosier roots, singing "God Bless America" at the Indianapolis 500 each year, accompanied by the Purdue All-American Marching Band, which hails from my alma mater. She was a beloved mainstay at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of my favorite places on earth, and will be missed at the 101st running next May on Race Day.
Ask anyone from Indy and they'll agree her voice is a time-honored tradition here.
More recently, Henderson was a public benefactor to the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind., where many of the nuns who were teachers in her early education lived. The Monastery Immaculate Conception is home to one of the largest communities of Benedictine women in the U.S., and Henderson supported their many causes. Appearing on the game shows "Weakest Link" and "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," she won money in their name, and remained dedicated to her faith.
I graduated from high school in my own small town in Indiana with a former "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" writer, who won an Emmy for his work on that show. I've even seen a picture of it.
So in my wild stretch of the imagination — think of that "Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon" game — I know Florence Henderson. In a sense we all do, really, because she was that mother everyone loved.
She'll always be America's Mom.
April E. Allford's favorite Brady episode is "Confessions, Confessions," when Peter broke Carol's favorite vase and learned it's best to confess. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.