Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was no Prozac. There were no SSRIs, period. The only "lifestyle drug" available was cocaine. Understand that I was very small at the time, so my memory is not so good, but in those times, there were about 3 ways people dealt with depression: they committed suicide, they drank a lot, or they slogged through it.
Right now I want to say, unequivocally, God Bless SSRIs. For many people they are a lifeline, a ray of hope, that thing they need to get out of a paralyzing situation. I've used them. I know. But are we, as Americans all so deeply depressed that we need a daily lifeline -- for a lifetime? Do the Blues and the Mean Reds need to be cured? Is PMS -- oh, excuse me -- "PMDD" really a mental disease? "To Use, or not To Use..." It's a personal choice, and I will judge no one. But I am speaking about a Long Ago when there was no choice.
I think I was about twelve when my father took me aside and said, "These periods of moodiness you get, when nothing seems good and you don't want to do anything? It's called 'depression,' and you probably got it from me and my side of the family. It's just a thing you have to deal with. But you need to learn to recognize when it's coming on, and learn the things that will help you through it."
And this is how I learned about classic Hollywood movies.
Saturday night began with a bath, and then the TV lineup was the following:
7pm - The Muppet Show
7:30pm - The Pink Panther
8pm - I have racked my brains and I can't remember...
9pm - the Love Boat
After 10pm came the tricky part. 10pm was Fantasy Island, which I really didn't care anything about, but if I was very quiet (that is, I didn't stand on anyone's last nerve getting in a fight with my sister), I could stay up until 11pm, and that was when Matinee at the Bijou came on PBS.
I still remember Rudy Vallee crooning snippets of the theme song: "Andy Hardy never had to go hungry/There was no bank panic/at Tarzan's branch/Mussolini and der Fuhrer/couldn't have been obscurer/on the planet Mongo or the Melody Ranch." (My Search Fu has failed me and I cannot find the complete lyrics on the Internet - yet.) If I made it as far as the song, my Dad would turn to me and say something like, "Hey Mar, you ever seen the original Flash Gordon?" or "You should see this, Mar; this is a good one." ("Mar" is pronounced like "mare," and there's like four people on the planet allowed to call me that, and you are not one of them.)
Together we would watch this show, lights off bijou-style in flickering darkness. And I learned that the same guy who did Popeye cartoons also did Betty Boop, that the Bowery Boys were the Dead End Kids long before they were Junior G-Men, and that Gene Autry was a much better singer than an actor.
It's taken me a long time to unravel the secrets of my family, my parents. I thought my Dad stayed up late because he liked to watch old movies, but the truth is depression wouldn't let him sleep, and Errol Flynn kept him company. He wouldn't give in, and he wouldn't drink; like so many of his generation, he Slogged On. I am certain he learned toughness from Cagney, but he admired him just as much for his dancing. Not many people know about Jimmy Cagney's song and dance movies -- but my Dad does. Thanks to him, so do I.
And this is what he gave to me before there was Prozac: A love of old movies, and the knowledge of how to rest inside them, for an hour or two, while trying to build up the energy to face and move through depression. He had no control over giving me the genes, but he made sure I had the tools I would need not to go under.
Strange gifts from Father to Daughter. Thanks Dad.