Annette was teenage dream

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When I was the age of my two oldest granddaughters, 14, I thought the coolest thing in the whole world was partying on the beach. Oh I wanted to party on the beach wearing some cute swimsuit and sporting either hair that flipped up perfectly on the ends or a bouncy, slightly curly ponytail.

Of course, a bonfire and a boyfriend were part of the fantasy, along with music and dancing. I wanted to live in that endless summer place filled with days of sand and tans.

On many Saturdays, I sat in a dark movie theater watching my dream come true on the big screen. In fact, those movies are what gave birth to my ideas about the perfection of being a teenager at the beach.

There was one person who, for me, embodied everything I thought I wanted to be at that time in my life. Annette Funicello was that perfect person, living the perfect teenage dream.

I watched Annette when she was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and even though she was 10 years older than I was, I felt like we grew up together. Now, I saw her moving from childhood to become a young woman. I related to what she experienced and I so wanted to be like her.

She was pretty, but modest in her one-piece swimsuit instead of the bikinis the other girls wore. She could attract the boys in a way that seemed somewhat seductive but at the same time innocent. She was the best friend every girl wanted and the girlfriend every boy desired.

I fell in love with Frankie as he and Annette danced and flirted and became the ideal couple. It was a wonderful romantic fairytale suited to kids my age who were just beginning to figure out what being attracted to the opposite sex was all about.

There was always a sweetness underlying the attraction in those beach party movies. Holding hands and first kisses were big events and about as far as it went in the romance department.

Yes those movies were silly, fun, romantic and, by today’s standards, probably kind of sappy. Still, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, kids thrived on a diet of rock and roll music and Annette and Frankie beach movies.

However, all things change in time and the beach movies gave way to other things. Annette grew up, got married, became a mother, got divorced, remarried and then shared with the world that she was not at all well.

I remember when she finally talked about her battle with M.S. She sat in a wheelchair instead of on a blanket at the beach, but she was still beautiful and optimistic, smiling that incredible smile that captured so many hearts. As an adult, who grew up and went through her own share of challenges, I admired Annette as much, if not more than I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, when I read that Annette Funicello died at the age of 70, it felt like something very special passed from this world. For a generation of kids, one of the icons of their teenage years was gone, perhaps reminding us that we are now senior citizens looking back at our youth.

I think about my granddaughters and wonder whom they look to at this time in their lives. Is there an Annette they hold as an ideal? When they are my age, who will be the person whose passing reminds them of their youth?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the world is a little less bright without Annette Funicello. And I am so glad that she was part of those years of innocence before I became a “grownup“– that time when watching her sing and dance on the beach made me smile and dream and want to be just like the girl in that one-piece swimsuit.