In the spring of 1987 the TV show ‘Designing Women’ was in its second season and my two brothers and my sister were at my house to celebrate my son’s birthday.
They were all gathered in the dining room. I was busy cooking in the kitchen.
As usual my brothers were teasing my sister. My sister wasn’t easy to get along with. She had “airs about her” my brother M would say. My sister was talking about an episode of ‘Designing Women’ where the beauty queen sister gets herself into trouble with some rich guy at the country club.
”Dianne loves that show” my brother J said. “I think Suzanne (beauty queen sister) is her favorite.” My sister said she assumed the “bitchy opinionated” older sister would be my favorite. I remember feeling my blood pressure rise and my hands clench into fists but I continued to cook.
M laughed and muttered something about my sister knowing way too much about “bitchy”. J, the youngest of us all – I’m the oldest – said his wife loved the beauty queen sister too.
”Dianne is Julia” M said. “They call her The Terminator on the show, come on, think about it, who does a rant better than Dianne? Who always tells people that they’re acting like dicks? Who always steps up?”
M – all the while laughing uncontrollably – told the story of the time I came to school and put his teacher firmly in her place after she wrongly accused him of stealing. “She told Mrs. K to get better glasses, stop picking on the boys and while she was at it, eat a mint. Her breath was as sour as her attitude.”
This reminded J of the night he got into trouble with the local tough guys. “She showed up carrying Jeffrey and looking like a wild woman. She threw names around like she was connected to the Gambino family and told them they were all assholes who beat up on little kids because they had tiny penises.” J was also laughing uncontrollably – “it killed me that she said penises instead of dicks, isn’t it amazing that that’s what sticks in my head even now.”
The laughter died down. My fists were unclenched; the baked ziti would be fine.
”You know she’s the only parent we’ve ever had” J said quietly. M agreed. It hurt me that my sister said nothing. That day is the last time I clearly remember us all together. My sister died in the fall of 1987.
Years later while looking at photos of that birthday I told my son what I had overheard and how his aunt had remained silent. He reminded me of an evening I had forgotten.
A few weeks after that gathering my sister and I were together watching ‘Designing Women’. The episode revolved around a series of classic Julia Sugarbaker rants against sexism.
”Don’t you remember when Aunt P said you were Julia and she was Suzanne?” my son asked. I didn’t. “You assumed it was because Suzanne was the beauty and Julia was the bitch” my son continued. “P said no, it was because Julia was the brave one. And she hugged you Ma. It got weird after that and I left.”
It could be seen as selfish to honor the passing of Dixie Carter with stories all about me.
The thing is, only a truly strong and gifted actor can create a character that lasts in our memories long after the stage goes dark. A character that illustrates a certain type of person. A character that allows people to share their humanity through her.
Julia Sugarbaker is that kind of character. Dixie Carter brought Julia to life.
Peaceful Journey Dixie
you can see two classic Julia scenes HERE and HERE