Mrs. Krabapple was a hit.
Marcia Wallace, the voice of Bart Simpson’s fourth-grade teacher Edna Krabapple, spoke at the Luzerne County Community College Commencement in 2008 and held the thousand graduates and twice that many family and friends at the then-Wachovia Arena in the palm of her hand.
The grads knew her from the TV show “The Simpsons,” but many older folks recognized her, with her trademark red hair, wide dazzling smile and over-the-top personality, as receptionist Carol Kester from the 1970s sitcom “The Bob Newhart Show.” That part actually was written just for her.
Wallace’s enthusiasm, wit, and youthful looks belied her age. Few believed she was 65.
Wallace shared a little about her own story, growing up in a small town in Iowa and after college heading for New York City with just $148 to her name. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985 and spent the rest of her life educating people about the disease and inspiring those battling it. Her efforts won her the Gilda Radnor Courage Award in 2007, the year before her LCCC appearance.
Much of her talk was drawn from the messages in her autobiography “Don’t Look Back, We’re Not Going That Way,” especially her six-year marriage to Dennis Hawley, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1992.
Goodreads.com says Wallace’s book is a must “for anyone who has felt unloved and unattractive, been broke, experienced failure, been fat and thin and fat again, had a fire, had cancer and/or a nervous breakdown, or been widowed … for anyone who has found love in midlife, experienced success, adopted a child, had a spiritual awakening, flourished from the love of family and friends, or started all over again after losing a spouse.”
She told the audience she had waited and waited to find the love of her life and finally did at 44 years old, only to lose him after a very short time together.
What enabled her to handle that devastating loss, she said, was knowing that she and her husband had lived their life together with no regrets. “We used the good china,” she said, quoting her husband on his deathbed.
“Using the good china” is both a reality and a metaphor, Wallace said. Yes, they ate their meals off their best china and with their best silverware. They drank from their best crystal. But the concept applies to so much more.
At the time of Marcia Wallace’s own death in 2013, Frances Locke, author of the blog “Mommy-ish,” referred to her speech at the LCCC commencement and also to an interview she had read in which Wallace brought up the same topic. Locke recalled Wallace relating the exact words of her husband as he lay dying: “Oh, honey, this is horrible. But I’m so glad we used our good china. We didn’t wait to do the things we wanted to do or say the things we wanted to say. You don’t want to die with a lot of regrets.”
That was Marcia Wallace’s primary message to the LCCC grads.
It reminds me of a quote from author Robert Heinlein: “Formal courtesy is even more important between a husband and wife than it is between total strangers.”
It also reminds me of a friend who invites us for coffee and pours it into delicate cups resting on delicate saucers laid out on her dining room table with a lace tablecloth. When she serves a dessert that calls for whipped topping, the Cool Whip awaits in a cut-glass bowl with a silver serving spoon. And of another friend who although she sits down alone to breakfast, serves it to herself on a brightly decorated plate with a cloth napkin folded just so and a fresh flower in a bud vase nearby. And of a third who when offering me a beer, pulls a frosted mug from his freezer. “We’re not barbarians,” he’ll say when I tell him I don’t mind drinking it out of the can.
Marcia Wallace has been on my mind since I read that in an episode aired last Sunday, the producers of “The Simpsons” decided to pay tribute to her. They admitted they weren’t quite sure what to do when Wallace died unexpectedly in 2013 at age 70, so they allowed her character on the show to also pass away. But they always felt she deserved better. So, in an episode they titled “Diary Queen,” they had Bart Simpson discover Mrs. Krabappel’s diary and find out, to his surprise, that she really did believe in him. Bart is touched and inspired by his late teacher’s words.
Thanks to modern technology, they were able to use Wallace’s actual voice taken from previous shows.
They even listed her name in the credits.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.