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Decade in Review: The Day that Margaret Thatcher Went Away


By Michelle Railey


April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, passed away yesterday. You might have heard. As an unabashed child of the eighties, I will say that nothing, nothing, has made so plain that childhood is dead and said childhood is basically thirty years gone, like the prime of the passing of Ms. Margaret Thatcher.

(This is not to say we, or anyone like us, is stuck in childhood: just that we, or I, perpetually drop a decade and the fact that our childhood is not twenty but thirty years passed is a constant surprise. Because we, or I, still feel somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 to 25. Anywhere at all between 13 and 25.)

Of course the eighties were already passed into the point of nostalgia when Thatcher went away. The world watched many of its pop icons pass away or disappear into reality shows and/or obscurity. The political figures have been trickling off the world stage for awhile now. The fashions and appearance of the eighties have gone and come back again. Kids now don’t think of Germany as two places and are surprised, I think, to hear about Iron Curtains and multiple countries. Or, say, Yugoslavia. I would like to think that kids do actually hear about these things at some point.

But maybe because Reagan was gone before he was gone, it’s Maggie who seals the deal. Margaret Thatcher has passed away, taking any inexplicably lingering illusions about the innocence of children of the eighties with her. We really can’t go back again. It was too long ago. We suspected that already but we know it for sure now.

The eighties to me were many things. And a surprisingly large chunk of them consists of the non-stop doodles of Chris P. If you’re in the year 1987, and you are me or someone like me, your days begin with social studies class with Mr. F. Mr. F. has a perpetual white crust around his mouth that you long to remind him of (seriously, Mr. F., check your face before you stand in front of 7th graders: We are very unforgiving and judgmental). Mr. F. will be one of the first and only teachers you encounter before high school to suggest in red-state, Bible Belt Indiana that alternative religions to Christianity have rich and storied histories and equal validity in the world to the stories of and beliefs about Jesus. Mr. F. served in the military but he was never able to be very specific about it, in class and all, and you (the seventh grader) remember that he served and are ashamed you noticed the inevitable white mouth crust and stale nicotine fumes.

But your days begin with Mr. F. He tells you about Korea (we had a war there, in the fifties), and Hinduism (more people in India believe in it than Christianity and that’s really okay). He mentions the Treaty of Verdun and he doesn’t make students spit out their gum. He speaks for 55 minutes exactly every morning, five days per week, and seldom gives quizzes. He just talks and waves unconcernedly at the chalkboard he would never dream of getting up from his seat and writing on.

And you, you are sitting there in 1987, and you are taking copious, precise notes in pink, purple, or turquoise ink. Occasionally you will check out the megaphone on your Coke watch or the coral reef on your Swatch. Occasionally you will draw a damn good version of Mr. F.’s head on your notes, which are more complete than could be expected from the Lisa Frank notebook (bubble gum machine, very perky, further festooned with Lisa Frank stickers of teddy bears, unicorns, dewy-bubble-eyed and 80s-fantastic.)

But sometimes, you will look over at Chris’ messy, paper-everywhere, helter-skelter desk. You will watch him doodling on loose-leaf paper (can’t even pull the Trapper Keeper out of his bag and put it on the desk, nope. Too much to ask). You will notice he never, ever takes notes. What he does, all 55 minutes of first period long, is draw.

He draws boxing gloves (Rocky IV!). But mostly he draws weaponry. And there’s my complete (your complete, if you’re like me) pre-1990s introduction to foreign policy, on a Mead loose-leaf, wide-rule sheet of ridiculously cheap paper: bomber airplanes, U.S.S.R. sickle-and-hammers, more bombers. The occasional mushroom cloud.

And in a weird way, retrospectively, you’ve got to hand it to Chris P: the news I saw scattered in the evening between Kate and Allie and My Two Dads was actually very much a story of bombers, the U.S.S.R., and…Margaret Thatcher.

Not that Chris P. ever once drew Maggie– he wasn’t prone to drawing humans. But still, she was there, like the threat of the mushroom cloud, the boxing glove, Red Dawn, and the Wall-pre-torn-down.There was anxiety, hidden well by Alf, Rainbow Brite, Coke jerseys, and Guess jeans.There were evenings of news reports that, weirdly and yet again in retrospect, probably really did come down to Chris P.’s drawings of boxing gloves and Gorbachev’s birthmarks; news reports in which Margaret Thatcher’s name was a chronic inclusion.

So, on Monday, it was announced she is gone. She has passed: she was sick and now, she has gone. Stealthily and quietly, in 2013.

And that’s when it occurs to you (to me) that time has passed faster than you know. I mean, in your head you’re fully aware that it’s 2013. You don’t generally think of the eighties that much, except in your nostalgia fits, nor the ’90s nor the aughts. You know it’s the day that it is. You go to work. You do the laundry. You read the paper. You worry about the future.

But a lot of the time, you feel uncertain. Like a 12-year old.

And it occasionally dawns on you that the uncertainty you’re feeling is the same uncertainty you’ve had since the beginning, and that you were really aware of, back in the day of Bonne Bell lipgloss and used clothes you hoped would be disguised by Palmetto jeans miraculously passing as your best and only Christmas Guess (by Georges Marciano) pants.

And then it will dawn on you: my god. That was thirty years ago.

Margaret Thatcher is dead.




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