It was a tempting offer.
She would get a beautiful home. Live comfortably. Her son Tommy would get his own room and see his childhood friends again. She'd be able to quit her 54-hour per week waitressing job and become an at-home mom again.She could move out of her one-bedroom apartment where she slept on a pull-out couch.
The man standing in front of her offering a proposal of marriage knew she didn't love him, but that didn't matter because Vinny said he loved her enough "for both of them." Though they'd dated for several months after high school, she broke it off because there "was no music" between them.Then she met Don, who became her husband, and, as her bad luck would have it, later was killed in a truck driving accident, leaving her with no money, no job and a son to raise.
Everyone was excited about the marriage proposal. A colleague at the
diner told her, "Vinny is your answer. . . You won't have to worry about Tommy's [hole-ridden] shoes anymore." Plus her buddy added, "You're a lady in her mid-30s with a 12-year-old son," and chances like this didn't come around very often.
"I think marriage should be more than a ticket out," she replied.Though she gave it some serious thought, in the end, Alice Hyatt, the lead character of the 1970s sitcom "Alice," decided not to marry her old boyfriend, even if it meant living in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with her son, his hole-ridden shoes and her 54 hours a week working at Mel's Diner with the cantankerous, greasy-shirted owner. "All my life, I've been dependent," Alice told her would-be suitor. "And now, for the first time in my life, I'm taking care of myself. I'm making it."
Though "Alice" bears a striking resemblance to "One Day at a Time " with its single mom theme, there are several key differences between the two series. On "One Day at a Time"(1975-1984) the mom, Ann Romano, left her husband because of irreconcilable differences. Her daughters were teenagers, and she had at least one friend with some cash who could help her every once and a while on the blue moon when she would allow it. On "Alice," (which ran from 1976-1985) the mom, Alice Hyatt, was a widow and mom of a 12-year-old. Her husband's sudden death gave her no time to plan for a life on her own. And, aside from the marriage proposal from her old boyfriend Vinny, she had no friends with money hanging around. (Her husband left no life insurance behind.) Nonetheless, the two series were similar in that they showed how difficult it was for divorced or widowed working moms to labor at low-paying jobs while trying to parent alone, with little or no help from the father.
Though "Alice" was populated by several quirky characters - from Flo
("Kiss my grits") and Vera (Remember her from the opening scenes where she sent the straws into the air?), to gruff diner owner Mel - the show's heart and center was Alice, who, despite her circumstances, didn't spend a great deal of time worrying about money, mourning her husband or fretting about her parenting. She took it all, bravely, in stride.
Another thing that leaps out at viewers from these old episodes of "Alice's"first season is the workplace climate. Male customers repeatedly made sexual advances, groped the waitresses and riddled their conversations with sexual innuendo. And Mel's Diner wasn't exactly a 70s version of Hooters; the waitresses at Mel's wore buttoned up pink waitress uniforms. Sexual harassment - including a customer offering Alice a candy bar if she'd go into the back room with him for five minutes, and Mel uttering, "Broads and business, they're all dummies" - was simply a way of life. (Even Alice once said, "My kid costs more to keep than a congressman's secretary.") And if you needed the job and the money, female employees simply put up with it.
And Alice put up with it because she had few choices. After her husband died, she decided to leave New Jersey and take her son Tommy to Hollywood, where Alice -- who'd been a piano bar singer on the side - wanted to take a stab at launching a singing career. But their station wagon died when they'd only gotten as far as Phoenix. She didn't have money for the repairs, so she took the first job she could find (at Mel's) and got an apartment she could afford (the one-bedroom unit). By the second episode of the first season, though, Alice demonstrated that despite her stalled singing dreams, she was plowing ahead and taking night classes at the local college. She was hell-bent on going somewhere.
What also stood out for me while watching the first season was how relaxed Alice was in her parenting, a stark contrast to today's hyper- parenting vigilance. That's not to say that Alice didn't pay attention to what her 12-year-old son did - when she was unhappy with what his school's health teacher taught him about sex, she was very pro-active - it's that she didn't hover. She simply couldn't; she didn't have the time. Alice would be at the diner in the early morning hours, leaving Tommy to get himself ready, then walk himself to the diner for breakfast. After school, he took care of himself until his mom came home. At times, he went to the movies by himself.When he needed a talking to about sex or about responsibilities, Alice sat him down, or enlisted help. An Alice Hyatt of 2007 would likely be verbally eviscerated by today's helicopter parents who would accuse her of benign neglect.
"Early to rise, early to bedIn and between, I cooked and cleaned and went out of my head.Going through life with blinders on, it's tough to see.I had to get up, get out from under and look for me.. . . Things are great when you stand on your own two feet."
The theme song from "Alice" captured the mixed emotions of its lead character, who didn't chose to be a single, widowed mom, but, once she got that taste of self-determination, she wanted to give it a try. And, despite societal pressures, she was unwilling to settle.
Episodes of "Alice" can be seen for free on AOL's In2TV  web site.