In the sixties, like every decade before and since, young girls who worried about a peeping-tom neighbor, fretted their parents' arguments would lead to divorce, or despaired of ever developing breasts could discuss their fears with a trusted adult. But what if the topic made both girl and adult tongue-tied? What if there were no trusted adults around? Where did that young girl turn for help?
Forget about advice-show television because it didn't exist. The Phil Donahue Show entered syndication in 1970. Sally Jesse Raphael made her TV debut in 1983, and The Oprah Winfrey Show aired in 1986.
Forget about Googling a question. The World Wide Web didn't come online until 1993.
Luckily, young girls in the sixties, me included, learned lessons in the school of life from the Friedman sisters: Eppie and Pauline, better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.
The sisters were in their thirties, married, and parents when they started their newspaper advice columns in the mid 1950's. In other words, they brought motherly instinct and experience to straight talk about subjects considered taboo in many families: sex, money, religion, and race.
They were conservative yet open-minded, tolerant but proper, compassionate but quick to pounce on the willfully clueless.
In most newspapers, advice columns ran in the same section as the comics, so generations of kids kept up with Archie and devoured letters from or about jilted brides, betrayed husbands, jealous co-workers, and nosy mothers-in-law.
Thanks to the Friedman sisters, a sheltered girl like me understood grown-up life could be complicated, unfair, and heart-breaking.
Last week, Dear Abby's Pauline Phillips died, a little more than a decade after her sister, Eppie Lederer/Ann Landers. Jeanne Phillips, Pauline's daughter, has written the Dear Abby columns since 2002 and will continue. Ann Landers' columns ended with Lederer's death in 2002.
One of my daughters claims Maury (Povich), Ricki Lake, and Montel Williams helped her develop street smarts. I thank Dear Abby and Ann Landers for mine.
Dear Abby's often repeated New Year's resolutions are here. In addition, readers of the New York Times share the most helpful advice they received from Dear Abby's columns.
Your turn: Who is your most reliable source of relationship advice?