I’ve written before about the very special episodes of the TV sitcoms of my youth, with some sarcasm. But not all were as corny as I made them out to be. One that I first saw in 1989 still resonates with me, and truly did partially shape who I am.
Season 4, Episode 6 of Designing Women was titled “The Rowdy Girls.” In it, main character Charlene introduces the other women to one of her childhood friends, Mavis. By chance Charlene stumbles upon Mavis’s husband physically abusing her. When confronted by Charlene about it, pregnant Mavis knows that it’s wrong, but claims she can’t leave because she doesn’t have any money of her own, all her credits cards are in her husband’s name, and where would she and her three young daughters go? She’s embarrassed, humiliated, and feels helpless to change her situation.
The next day Charlene comes to see Mavis again, and hands her an envelope of money from herself and the other women. The money is to allow Mavis to leave her husband, and Charlene tells her where and when to meet up with her, and she would find them a safe place to go.
Mavis is stunned when she looks inside the envelope. She asks, “Why would your friends do this? They don’t even know me.”
Charlene answers, “Because that’s the kind of people they are...and that’s why they’re my friends.”
As a teenager, I didn’t know anyone who was being abused. It was something I only learned about on TV talk shows or in school assemblies. I never knew anyone who needed to get out of a dangerous situation like that. But I was still affected by this show, and every time I watched it in reruns years later I had an emotional reaction.
As an adult, I eventually came to know friends who needed a way out of something, be it an abusive relationship or an unhealthy living environment. I remembered Mavis and Charlene, and I made a mental note to be a Rowdy Girl myself. I decided that I would be “that kind” of person; the person who sees when a friend is in trouble and makes the step to show her a way out and give her the necessary help without being asked for it. The friend who helps quietly and unselfishly, not for thanks but for the sake of doing the right thing.
On the show, Mavis does eventually leave her husband, and when she meets up with Charlene later, The Supremes’ song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is playing prominently. I just heard that song on the radio yesterday, and even 20 years later it still calls to mind this episode and reminds me of my aim.
I still strive to be “that kind of friend.” The friend who sees through the excuses and coverups, one who listens to the shaky voices and realizes I’ve been placed in that moment for a reason, and that I can and should make a difference. It’s not always easy to see the need, and sometimes I feel as helpless as those who need the help. But I keep trying.