I watched Oprah from the beginning – before she was famous. Oprah started out as a small Chicago syndicated talk show in 1986. Every morning I’d send the kids off to school, then retreat to the basement where my not very exciting exercise project awaited – an old-fashioned stationary bike, plopped down between the furnace and the workbench. I dragged out the old black and white rabbit ears, jumped on the bike and pedaled away for an hour, with The Oprah Winfrey Show helping me fend off the boredom of exercising in a dreary basement.
Oprah and Oprah’s show was different then. It was like having coffee with a good friend, while you tried to solve your own and the world’s problems. Often the show would feature an ordinary woman sharing about a particular problem or dilemma – depression, domestic violence, etc. Oprah would gently guide her through an interview, then bring in experts, often in panel discussion format, to discuss the problem and ways to solve the problem. Whether it was plump Oprah or thin Oprah, she was always beautiful, kind, gracious, tactful – like your best girlfriend.
Later, as the show became more popular and changed to the 4 PM time slot, I eventually stopped watching. I would occasionally tune in, but although I still admired Oprah, the show had less resonance for me as Oprah dabbled in celebrity gossip, self-help gurus and her favorite things, shown in snippets between way too many commercials. Even though I no longer watched Oprah, I still admired her for her accomplishments and her humanitarian work, and kept tabs on her comings and goings, and of course, her weight.
Oprah had the uncanny ability to span generations and race – to appeal as much to an 80-year-old as she did to a 30-year-old. After my father-in-law’s illness and death, my frail mother-in-law found comfort, solace and friendship as a new devotee to Oprah’s show. This little woman, who grew up during segregation and often had uncomplimentary things to say about other races, thought of Oprah as she thought of her sisters. When 83-year-old Mom expressed her wish to attend The Oprah Winfrey Show, my husband and I sprang into action. Even though we knew it would be a challenging task to transport an elderly woman on a six-hour drive to Chicago, my husband and I spent hours on the phone and web, trying to get tickets, but eventually to no avail. Mom never got her wish, but I know that if somehow Oprah had found out about it, she would have scooped up this frail lady into a plane or limo, and plopped her in the front row like a celebrity guest. Oprah did things like that for people because she could, but mostly because she cared.
I haven’t watched the last show yet. When I’m ready I’ll get a cup of tea and sit down in front of the TV, which is no longer a black and white model in the basement, and say goodbye to my dear old friend.