My Annette connection: A contemporary, my favorite Mouseketeer dies, leaving me to contemplate once again

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 Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh I believe in yesterday. ~ John Lennon and Paul McCartney

The tune caught my ear this hot summer day, as I breezed through a Mickey Ds for an iced tea on the way to meet my father-in-law at the airport.  Yesterday, the soulful Beatle’s song, grabbed my heartstrings in a heartbeat.  I don’t hear it often.  After all, that pop tune was from 1965, the year I graduated from college.

So, I have a Beatle’s connection from the 60s. A bit of nostalgia knocks on the door of my spirit, always, when I hear the music. You know the feeling when — if only for a moment – you long for yesterday.

Mickey_ Mouse_ on_ swing 2013-07-18 14.15.17_edited-2
Yesterday seems far away, yet Walt Disney’s Mickey is still here to inspire…

My Annette connection was the decade before that. As a celebrity who was my age, Annette Funicello became my favorite Disney Mouseketeer; she’ll always remain an image for me of those times.  So the announcement of her passing  in April brought up long ago memories.

 By now, of course, there are many yesterdays to remember. In a recent blog — inspired by a marker birthday and Annie Martin’s Williamston Theatre play 10:53,    running that month – I discovered myself revolving around the topic of longevity and the fleeting moment of time-travel that our lives seem to be when looking back.

You never figure it’ll be that way when you’re in your teens or twenties. You’re looking ahead, after all; you’re facing the precipice of a vast, distant future of infinite adventure. The sensational, scintillating seventies are off your radar. Totally. Or even the supernova sixties, or the fabulous fifties.

 In retrospect, I’d never have imagined that one day I’d be gazing back in that month of my marker year, at the influence of a celebrity on my life. A celebrity, whose story surfaced in the news this April, who played a part in the life of my contemporaries – if they were Disney fans (and who wasn’t/isn’t?). We couldn’t wait to get home from school to catch the Mickey Mouse Club and the latest escapades of Spin and Marty… and, Annette.

As Dennis McLellan and Elaine Woo wrote in The Los Angeles Times, “If you were a girl in the 1950s, Annette Funicello was the ideal of feminine goodness, your fantasy best friend forever. If you were a boy, she was your dream date, demure, doe-eyed and just different enough to set hearts pounding.”

New York Times writer Doug Martin noted that “she was getting more than 6,000 fan letters a week, and was known by just her first name in a manner that later defined celebrities like Cher, Madonna and Prince.”

Yes, Annette Funicello was an early piece of the collage of my life. Although her birthday was Oct. 22 and mine is May 22, for five months we were the same age. I thought it was neat that hers was the 22nd of the month.  October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013.

I’d been vaguely aware of her battle with Multiple Sclerosis; I’d seen a smattering of news bites now and then. Mostly though, I probably wished to ignore what I was hearing. How could this icon from my past, with whom I identified so much in my teens, possibly be suffering from a debilitating disease like MS? And, why couldn’t she be cured?

As is often the case, once something comes into your awareness, more follows. I received the literature from National Multiple Sclerosis Society [NMSS] the other day. MS, says the brochure, is all about connections.  It’s “an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. It disrupts signals, divides minds from bodies, and pulls us from our lives and away from each other.”

They say there are breakthroughs being made, with more therapies, and discovering trigger factors and disease patterns.  The NMSS dedicates its work to creating connections between the public and those who are living with MS for research funding and for supportive services.

The Annette Connection is appropriately, then, a good name for her website.

Most of us, no doubt, feel a connection to a celebrity at some point in our lives–an actor, a sports hero, or other personality, perhaps even someone like Princess Diana.

For me, Annette was the sweet, perky dark-eyed beauty of the original Mickey Mouse Club. We enjoyed all the Mouseketeers, but  Annette’s bubbly friendliness and charm seemed to radiate straight from the heart through that black and white screen — of our first television sets – to us, her audience in living rooms across the land. She was, we felt, authentic.

I think we’re attracted to authenticity, whenever we can find it.

“She’s the perfect girl next door,” actor Frankie Avalon had said about Annette, according to Laurence Arnold and William E. Ahearn in Bloomberg News. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. She’s the sweetest girl I know, and nothing’s ever changed.”

Perhaps the sweetness came from her innate shyness. The L.A. Times authors also wrote about this aspect of Annette: Concerned about her extreme shyness after she became a young star, she once asked Disney if she could see a psychologist.

“Annette,” she recalled Disney telling her, “You have a certain charisma that people respond to. I think your being a little bit shy is part of your appeal. Going to see a psychologist would change that. Why do you want to change that?”

It’s amazing how events can trigger memories: Simply being in McDonald’s, hearing an old tune from your youth, or the sudden news of the death of a contemporary celebrity, who back then was a virtual friend. I have to smile, thinking of the technology today and all our virtual friends online. I’m sure I’d have been a diehard Facebook fan of my favorite Mouseketeer.  And, with the wonders of You Tube, I can hear them sing anytime I wish. How does that go, again?

We are the merry Mousketeers. We’ve got a lot above our ears. Hopefully, we of the Mousketeer generation do have a lot above our ears… and a lot inside our hearts. We surely should have blossomed into a positive, creative bunch by now.

 Of course we never go backwards, except to visit in our minds and hearts. We always move ahead; and sometimes we take quantum leaps in our perspectives.  We might zig, or zag along the way, but eventually we evolve; we make peace with the person we’ve become.

So, I guess you could say I’m evolving, more than revolving around this longevity focus.  I know I’ll get beyond these feelings about entering a new decade of life.  Longing for those yesterdays are fleeting moments.  And, yet, in April, when I heard the news of her passing, we weren’t 70; we were 13 again, and I was rushing off the bus after school, hurrying in to the house to catch my Disney show with Annette and company.

Within the lyrics of Yesterday is this reflection: Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say. Sometimes you just want to ask that question, directly to the person who has died.   “Why’d you have to go?” I’ve wanted to ask my sister-in-law that question for the past four years, since she succumbed to the ravages of diabetes and heart disease, or my best friend Loretta, mere months after the onset of leukemia almost a decade ago.

It is painful for the family and friends they’ve left behind. Yet, you know there has to be meaning to the way things work out. There has to be; and we have to discover it. We have to believe in the memories. We can say that love was an easy game to play – back then. We can shout out, I need a place to hide away.  But that won’t change the way our journey goes. We can’t hide from images of celebrities like Annette – or Christopher and Dana Reeve, or Patrick Swayze, or Michael Landon —  whose life stories on You Tube make us sob, dabbing our eyes with tissues, and internally crying out, “Why?”

At this stage of life, the responsibility is to be the elder we are meant to be. We pass along the wisdom we’ve gained; and we continue to nod our heads, singing… Oh I believe in yesterday. All those yesterdays, we understand now, have shaped us into who we are today. We believe in yesterday and the memories, but now we’ve grown the resilience to carry on.

My father-in-law has that resilience.  So, must I.

Blog links:

Williamston Theatre : Whose productions continue to inspire

 Annette Funicello website: Annette Connection

 Annette Funicello: Wikipedia page

News stories of Annette’s death in April 2013:

Lifescript: Annette Funicello dies of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms

USA Today

Los Angeles Times

Bloomberg News

National Public Radio

National Public Radio remembers Annette

Multiple Sclerosis page at Wikipedia

New York Daily News

New York Times

You Tube features about Annette and Multiple Sclerosis:

A World News Accidents feature revealing  Annette’s last days, and the ravages of MS

Merry Mousketeers

Famous Faces of Multiple Sclerosis

About Susan Parcheta 101 Articles

Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were — writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared — and always lovable — cat, Spock.