My parents: Victims of the ’80s culture

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

My father was yelled at during Hands Across America. Remember Hands Across America? It was a feel-good, celebrity-filled effort to raise awareness of hunger and homelessness in the United States. It was an important cause, but it didn’t have quite the impact of a &8220;Live Aid&8221; or &8220;We Are the World.&8221;

I was reminded of &8220;Hands Across America&8221; &045; and the silly anthem that went along with it &045; when I spent far too much of my Sunday afternoon watching a show called &8220;I Love the ’80s&8221; on VH-1.

You know you’re getting older when the songs and trends that were popular just yesterday are part of a nostalgia marathon.

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But aside from keeping the annoying &8220;Hands Across America&8221; theme song in my head the rest of the day, the show reminded me that my parents were victims of the 80s.

Not victims in the sense that I and the rest of my generation were: They didn’t wear Day-Glo clothing or listen to Wham!

Instead, they were subjected to the whims of their children’s commercial-fed desires &045; going to the ends of the earth to find Cabbage Patch Kids and Strawberry Shortcake dolls, handing over a few dollars every time my brother wanted to see &8220;Return of the Jedi&8221; one more time.

The 1980s took up a good chunk of my childhood, and I remember it as a happy time, filled with fun moments with my family and friends, toys and games, and repeated viewings of &8220;Little House on the Prairie.&8221;

What more could a child want?

My parents, on the other hand, has some sacrifices to make. Like the time Michael Jackson’s &8220;Thriller&8221; premiered on MTV. I’m sure there might have been something Mom and Dad wanted to watch that night, but we insisted the Gloved One took precedence.

And then there is the Hands Across America incident.

I remember being quite insistent that we take part, since it was somehow going to show our nation’s unity and goodwill.

So on that afternoon, my dad took my sister and me downtown and spent a productive hour or so at work while Wendy and I roamed around the office looking for free pens.

Then came the moment of truth.

My dad’s office used to be on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis, several blocks from the river. The idea was that the &8220;Hands Across America&8221; would stretch across the bridge into Arkansas. So we stood on the sidewalk downtown holding each other’s and strangers’ hands.

I look back now and realize what a sacrifice this was for my dad, in many ways. He had to give up an afternoon, first of all, but he also had to let his young daughters hang out in downtown Memphis. (This is the same man who was such a safety nut he didn’t let us iron after 9 p.m.)

When it came time for the big moment of hope and goodwill, we were all supposed to join hands and move out into the street, which was blocked off for the occasion. The woman on the other side of my dad was older and a little slower than the rest of us, so he had to leave her behind at first &045; although I know that my dad, protector of small children and animals, was prepared to go back and help her into the street.

But then her sister started yelling at my dad. Talk about a moment of peace and goodwill.

I suppose we children of the 80s were supposed to remember &8220;Hands Across America&8221; as a great moment for our society.

I just remember it as a great moment for my family, a funny story to tell that also illustrates how much my parents gave us, no matter how small the sacrifice.

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at