LIFE CHAPTERS

Watching TV with my grandparents: Loved Fargo, not so much Liberace

Bill Stamps
Posted 8/12/17

In the late 1950s when I was a kid, had someone asked me what I thought Hell must be like, I would have said hands down ... having to watch Liberace on TV with my grandmother, Miz Lena.

She felt …

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LIFE CHAPTERS

Watching TV with my grandparents: Loved Fargo, not so much Liberace

Posted

In the late 1950s when I was a kid, had someone asked me what I thought Hell must be like, I would have said hands down ... having to watch Liberace on TV with my grandmother, Miz Lena.

She felt that, by me watching Liberace, it would somehow contribute to my overall refinement. Mandatory viewing. My registered complaints went nowhere.

Grandmom said, "Looka here, I don't say nothin' about all that wrestlin' mess you and Granddaddy watch. Grown men, with that long peroxided hair and wearin' them ‘too-toos.’ Paradin' around in their drawers. Hollerin' and carryin' on. And, you two believin' that all that ketchup is blood." Then, she'd start snickering and talking to herself about what a fool Granddad was, spending his time watching all that silliness.

She was referring to the Fargo Brothers — Jackie and Don or Sonny. They were on TV almost every weekend around noon. Right after cartoons. They shot the shows live, before sold-out crowds in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga.

The Fargo Brothers had longer-than-Elvis, platinum-blonde hair. Glittering gold sequined cape-like jackets and matching, stove-pipe, top hats. Painfully tight, red leotard shorts. Jackie had a gut.

He would hold his arms up as though he was getting ready to beat his chest, strut, bounce and swagger around the ring and yell threats to his hecklers in the audience. The Fargo Strut. I used to imitate Jackie's strut. All us guys did. Even did my very reserved grandfather.

Elizabeth, Miz Lena's longtime maid, came in for work for a half-day on Saturdays. She'd tidy up a bit. Help Grandmom get ready to go out and run her errands. And most importantly, prepare the snacks and sandwiches for Granddad and me to consume while we watched our wrestling. It was the one day of the week that Granddad and I could bond. Be men. He could have a beer or two without Grandmom around. When she left, he was in charge.

Elizabeth came into the den and announced that she was leaving. She told my grandfather, "Mr. Adrian, the sanwiches is in da' 'frigerator an' de' chips an' peanuts on da' drainboard. I got dem pickles you ask fo'. I see you dis Monday." She blew me a kiss and said, "Sweet child, I cut you some pie. It wrapped in dat wax paper." And, she was off. Officially, it was "Man Day!" At least, for a couple of hours till Miz Lena got back. Turn the TV up!

As the ring announcer introduces the Fargo Brothers and their opponents, Granddad returns from the kitchen. Fargo strutting into the den. Grinning from ear-to-ear. A stack of pimento cheese and ham sandwiches on a plate in one hand, and a bottle of Coca Cola and a PBR in the other. He was in "Hog Heaven."

Throughout the next couple of hours, sheer joy. I'd lay out on the floor. Granddad in his chair. We'd cheer on Jackie and his tag-team partner. Granddad would yell at the guy beating the other with a fold-up chair. We'd boo when the live audience booed. We ate. We feasted. We celebrated!

Miz Lena used to say to Granddad, "You just keep stuffin' yoreself with all that junk. They's gonna be a fire someday, and you won't be able to get yore fat rear-end up outta that chair."

Thank God Almighty for Saturdays and the Fargo Brothers!

About 15 minutes before the Liberace show came on, Miz Lena got things all set up. First, turn on the TV and let it "warm up." The TV was never just left on. Watch your program. Then, turn it back off. Grandmom would say, "I don't want my warranty runnin' out on me."

Next, make sure it's on the right channel. There were only three back then. Still, be sure. She didn't want to miss a single second of Mr. Liberace's opening number. Turn the volume dial up to 5. Minutes to go before the curtain goes up. Time for last-minute instructions and seating assignments.

Elizabeth rushed in and brought Miz Lena her afternoon coffee and Salems. Me, a glass of iced tea and a small bowl of potato chips. I wasn't allowed to eat them until commercial breaks. They made too much noise. Grandmom sat on her love seat and me, in front of her, on an ottoman. It got quiet.

Like it or not, here came Liberace. Sitting there, on his piano bench. A tailed tuxedo. Wavy hair. That candelabra. His fingers would hit the keys and then fly into the air above him. Liberace would look into the camera and wink and smile. Mothers and grandmothers across the nation would swoon. Miz Lena, too. He was pretty slick, that Liberace.

His show would wrap up with him at the piano. Camera shooting him dead on. He'd look into the camera. Wink. Smile. And, sing, "I'll Be Seeing You." To me, it was downright sickening. If I ever wanted to get under Grandmom's skin, I'd get up close, look her straight in the eyes, and sing, in my best sissy voice, "I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing yooooou." She would defend Liberace by telling me how much he loved his mother.

Now, all these years later, I admire all creative talents and entertainers. Diversity makes the world go 'round. I guess I'm split down the middle about Jackie Fargo and Liberace. Both of them provided some one-on-one time with me and Granddad and Miz Lena.

Still, when it comes to sheer entertainment, I kinda lean toward the Fargo Brothers. After all, Liberace didn't have his own strut. At least, not one that I noticed.

–––––

(About the writer: Bill Stamps may be reached by email at bill_stamps@aol.com or on Facebook.)

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