Remember when you were young, and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon dominated your TV viewing? You don’t? Well, I guess that means you’re young then, so good on ya, pin a rose on your nose. For those of us of a certain generation, this television event ended your summer.
You had just the three major networks, and maybe if you had a good UHF antenna with just the right amount of aluminum foil, you’d catch two independent channels. Pre-teen me was always cheesed that I was forced to spend the entire weekend being able to watch the telethon and nothing else because it was all that was on and it was on all the time. (Insert angst-y, petulant huff here) Pre-teen me was kind of a jerk, and in retrospect, lazy as hell because it was Labor Day weekend, you dope. You could be playing outside or reading a book, playing your flute or saxophone, whatever. The TV wasn’t a required element for the holiday weekend, except that it was.
The telethon featured the man of the hour(s), Jerry Lewis, starting strong, looking all dapper, all Vegas and stuff in his tuxedo. He introduced stars of all magnitudes–the BIG stars in primetime with B- and C-list celebs a little later and/or a lot earlier in the dayparts–they appealed to us for pledges to help Jerry’s Kids. I never understood how or why he laid claim to these kids, but I remember just not getting it. Why were they Jerry’s kids? Didn’t their families have anything to say about whose kids they were? At the end of the marathon, after the tote board had been updated once and for all, the host looked disheveled but remained enthusiastic, albeit undone and exhausted in his jubilation. He raised a ton of money for his kids.
I remember watching kids in wheelchairs roll onto the stage and share their stories with the celeb host and co-hosts. I remember the telethon as the second television experience that moved me to tears–not for my own, but shedding tears for someone else’s pain or sadness (the first was Brian’s Song–I know, I have a weird memory for things). The telethon was the first time I’d ever seen anyone in a wheelchair. I grew up in a small town, and so far as we knew those kids were made for TV. I cannot recall seeing a single disabled child in my school or in my entire town for that matter. Those kids were scary to my friends and me, but hey cool! Thanks to this telethon apparently, those kids could go to a special summer camp. It was all so far removed from my little life. The phrase “Jerry’s Kids” did not engender much from my group of friends except ridicule and snide giggles. We were such little assholes.
Well, holy shit, guess what came in my email today? Yep. My son’s interest form for MDA Summer Camp. MY KID is one of those kids. I am not his mom though; I am instantly the pre-teen back in my childhood home watching the telethon locked somewhere in the mid-1970s. This time though, the tears are mine.