I’d like to start this post out by noting that while many people on the internet were bagging on Marilyn Hagerty for her Olive Garden review in the Grand Forks Herald last week, I was calling her a national treasure and threatening beatdowns to anyone who dared to mess with her. Since then many who write on the internet, some of them writers more eloquent than me, have written moving tributes and effectively jumped aboard the Marilyn Hagerty bandwagon for the same reasons I happily did: her innocence, small town politeness, and straightforward approach — one completely devoid of irony — was quite refreshing. Besides, those breadsticks are warm and tasty — it’s easy to forget that.
Today brought another tribute to Marilyn, and this one may be the best one I’ve read yet: it was written by her son, James Hagerty, who just so happens to be a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. His piece, titled “When Mom Goes Viral,” was a delight to read.
On Thursday, bloggers happened on her review of the Olive Garden, where she found the portions generous and the décor “impressive.” Some wrote clever notes suggesting there might be some sort of irony in writing an unironic review about a chain restaurant like Olive Garden. Others, including media and news websites Gawker and Huffington Post, chimed in. Soon news hounds from Minneapolis, New York and even Fargo were calling Mom and demanding interviews. Basically, they wanted to know whether she was for real and how she felt about being mocked all over the Internet.
She felt fine about it. But she didn’t care to scroll through the thousands of Twitter and Facebook comments on her writing style. “I’m working on my Sunday column and I’m going to play bridge this afternoon,” she explained, “so I don’t have time to read all this crap.” She didn’t apologize for writing about a restaurant where many people like to eat. Her poise under fire endeared her to people who do read all that. Strangers started sending me emails about how much they loved my mom.
Her phone line was tied up, so I emailed her: “You’ve gone viral!”
She replied: “Could you tell me what viral means?”
Adorable! I’m sure many of you reading this can imagine having a similar convo with your own mom or grandma if this sort of thing were to happen to her.
Additionally, there’s another passage in Hagerty’s piece that I particularly enjoyed, one that made me believe that Marilyn and the bloggers who mocked her may secretly be kindred spirits.
Despite having secured her reputation for posterity, Mom retains her work ethic. When she takes a vacation, it is only after writing enough articles in advance to fill her daily space. She pays her own way at restaurants, rather than submitting expenses, so no one can say she does reviews just to get free meals. When she was successfully treated for breast cancer two years ago, she used the occasion to write a review of the hospital’s food. It was right up there with the cuisine at Olive Garden.
If you’ve ever known anyone who writes on the internet, that description probably fits like a glove. Marilyn Hagerty is basically an elderly blogger. How’s that for irony?