When I was a child, my parents split bedtime duties, although for a few years, when my mom was in college, my dad took on the tucking-in chore a bit more. I tended to prefer my father’s routine, as my mother sang proper bedtime songs and told lovely stories, while my father knew no child-centered fare. Instead, he would sing songs from his childhood–“Cruising Down the River” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky“–and for stories, he’d recite the plots of episodes of Twilight Zone. To this day there are episodes of the show that I’ve never seen but can picture so clearly in my mind (“Room for one more, honey!”) When I have come across episodes he told me, I have a feeling of deja vu the first time I watch them.
For a few years of my life, my family lived in Colorado. We went from Miami to Boulder, Colorado, back to Miami, so like some short-lived jobs, the location has fallen from my resume. The Boulder years were challenging for me, and that’s a post for another time, but one thing that was amazing about Boulder was the public library. We went every Saturday to the library, and upstairs, way in the back, was a room filled with records that could be checked out. And in this treasure trove were a selection of radio shows from not just my father’s youth, but before his youth. We checked out every Baby Snooks record multiple times. My family still quotes lines from the “Daddy’s Old Flame” episode (episode 86), hands-down the family favorite. We listened to some variety shows as well, and there was one fabulous recording which to this day my father and I can’t find. Clearly it was Depression era as it involved two farmers talking. One said, “What do grow on your farm?” The other replies, “I don’t grow corn.” Much confusion ensues until the second farmer explains that government subsidies pay more for him to not grow corn than to actually grow it. He says, “I used to not grow cotton, but it doesn’t pay as much so now I don’t grow corn. I also don’t raise pigs.”
I’m thinking about this now, as I’m in research mode for my next novel, and one of the things I always do is listen to old radio shows and watch movies from the era about which I’m writing. The radio shows are excellent for getting dialogue down pat (no visuals to distract) and the movies are perfect for nailing clothing, mannerisms, and social mores. The only problem is I often fall down rabbit holes. For instance, I recently started out trying to find radio programs from the 1920s (archive.org is a font of oldie goodness), and I tumbled, tumbled, tumbled my way into watching Burns and Allen shows, which are about 25 years too late for me. But nothing like a little Gracie to make a day brighter. Even after all these years, she’s still funny, evidenced by the fact that when I showed this clip to my 12-year-old, he laughed.
Maybe part of what I love about Burns and Allen is that it reminds me of my own family, more specifically, there are definite resemblances between my boy and Gracie Allen. This exchange happened just a couple of weeks ago:
Me: Boy, can you bring in the recycling cans? I got my hair done and I don’t want it to get wet.
Me: “Hey, Mom, your hair looks great!”
Boy: Uh, thanks?
In October, we checked out the middle school parent portal together.
Me: What is UP with your algebra grade? This is not good.
Boy: Huh? What is it?
Me: HOLY COW! How in the hell did you get a D- in “discussion”? All your other grades are just fine, but this is pulling you down!
Boy: Oh, yeah. I really wasn’t paying attention that day. I was just off in my head doing my own thing.
Me: But a D-? That’s crazy? You must have been doing worse than not paying attention to get a D-!! Who gets a D- in discussion?
Boy: Sorry! It happens! I’ll try to do better!
Me: I don’t even understand how a D- is possible!
Boy: You do know we grade ourselves in discussion.
Boy: We grade ourselves. I wasn’t paying attention so I gave myself a D-.
Me: You WHAT? You gave YOURSELF the D- that’s totally pulling down your grade?
Boy: Yeah. Did you want me to lie?
Me: NO! I want you to pay attention!
So I share these programs with you, as the thing that’s captured my interest the most on this bitter cold Thursday.
*”Goodnight, Gracie” falls under the same category as “Play it again, Sam.” It’s one of the most well-known lines that was never said. In all the shows, it never happened, although folks will swear it had.