Three cheers for advice columns
I love to read advice columns. Dear Abby. Annie’s Mailbox. If desperate, I’ll even read Helpful Hints from Heloise. I’m fascinated with the art of “problem solving” even if it’s a problem I don’t care about. I get caught up in the drama of people’s lives. Here’s my own rendition of a possible letter:
I’m desperate. My little 5-year-old, Janie, has a large mustard stain on the front of the flower girl dress for my sister’s wedding. I TOLD little Janie NOT to eat the hot dog while we were trying on the dress. But, did she listen? No. She’s grounded from her “Barbie” video for a whole week. But that doesn’t help with the stain. My sister tends to be anemic and quite nervous. If she sees this large mustard stain on the flower girl dress, she’ll probably turn white as a sheet and request mood-altering medication. HELP! Everyone is in “crisis mode” here. Any hint how to get mustard out of the dress?
Desperate Mom of “5-year-old Mustard Girl”
Never fear. Heloise swoops in and solves the mustard stain dilemma with some solution her grandma passed down to her ... and all is right with the world. Heloise may not seem like a hero to the rest of us. But to the Desperate Mom of “5-year-old Mustard Girl,” she saved the day. I like that. It must feel good to “save the day.”
Then there are the advice columnists who deal with dramatic inter-personal relationships. God bless these dear souls. I wonder if they ever get tired of reading letters about nosey in-laws and difficult bosses? What about the nephew who comes to visit each summer bringing with him poor table manners and a vicious dog? Surely the advice columnists get weary of the constant letters from young women that go something like this:
Dear Advice Columnist,
I’m writing from Idaho. My 19-year-old boyfriend, “Stan,” steals money from me several times a week. He never pays when we go out to eat. He yells at my parents constantly. He makes me ride in the back of his Chevy truck because he doesn’t want to wear out the interior carpet. (In winter, he gives me a blanket.) “Stan” kicks my dog frequently. Sometimes I wonder if I should stay in this relationship. I’m just not sure. I would probably break up with him if I didn’t know how very much he loves me. I know it would just kill “Stan” if I broke off our relationship right now. (Besides, who would wash his truck every Saturday?) What do you think?
Desperate and Cold in the Back of a Chevy in Idaho
Don’t you know the columnist wants to hop a plane to Idaho ... and literally drag the girl out of the back of that truck bed, slap the ruthless boyfriend, push the clean truck over a cliff, and tell the girl’s parents to move with their daughter to Topeka? But no can do. A firm and encouraging letter in the newspaper is the best she can offer.
I appreciate what advice columnists are trying to do. But it always makes me a little sad, too. There are a lot of hurting people out there in the world. Most have problems bigger than mustard stains. Some of them just need a friend who’s willing to listen. Most of us aren’t advice columnists but if we offer a “listening ear” to a hurting person ... maybe there’ll be one less “desperate” letter.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.27.08
Lisa Smartt, Smartt View