So Tammy Faye is dying. If you watched the Surreal Life when she was on with such classy icons of pop culture as Ron Jeremy and Vanilla Ice, you got to see a little bit of her. If you lived in the Carolinas in the 70s and 80s, you got to see too much of her, but if you ever met her, you'll miss her.
Right out of college I was a young freelance stagehand working around town, anywhere I could, when I got a call to do a week-long gig at Spirit Square, a local church turned into a 750-seat theatre (best room in town then, best room in town now). When I got there we started loading in lighting and watched as folks started loading in props and set pieces, adding carts and country fair type crap to the stage to fit the theme of the shoot. It was Tammy Faye Messner shooting an infomercial for her motivational tapes "If life gives you lemons, make Lemonade," and it was weeks before I got the smell of lemons outta my hair, which at that time was down around the middle of my shoulders.
She was a little woman, and our interaction with her was limited, but she was unfailingly polite and pleasant whenever she was asked to reshoot something for lighting, or had to stop and restart due to the inevitable technical tweaks and touchups. It was hard for me to reconcile this nice middle-aged lady with what I'd seen on TV as a money-grubbing hypocrite. I came to realize over the course of the week that her faith was really devout. She may have married a couple of real winners in a row (I think her second husband was getting ready for a prison sentence while we were shooting), but through it all, she maintained an unwavering optimism and faith that I found a little inspiring.
So when I would flip channels and see her on Surreal Life, I'd take a minute to watch, until the inevitable Vanilla Ice scenes, which would send me scurrying for the relief of the TV Guide channel or something else that dwarfs Ice in intellect. And it seemed like that sweet little lady was still hanging in there, having a good time no matter what curveballs life threw her. And even now, when the doctors have stopped treatment and she weighs only 65 pounds, she's still optimistic. She clings to her faith, and her faith holds her up, and I admire that kind of unwavering dedication to an idea.
So I'll miss the lady who was the laughingstock of a nation for her ridiculous makeup, the lady who made her reputation by being able to cry on cue and run rivers of mascara down her cheeks in a studio a few miles from here. Because I'll remember the sweet lady who made lemonade, even if she did have to stand on a pair of appleboxes to be tall enough for the shot.