Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Everybody raves about grandkids…and I'm sure they are wonderful. Hope to have some of my own someday, but I'll tell you something that's just as wonderful. That would be Grandparents.

Interesting word when you think about it. The word, when separated, describes them perfectly. Grand Parents. That is what they were and in my mind, always will be…and brothers and sisters, I loved mine.

My Granddaddy was a good man. He married my Granny some time after my father's biological dad was killed, so he was my step-grandfather, I suppose, but I loved him dearly. Any man that can step in for the real father, in any situation, and take care of somebody else's kids…that's a real man. He didn't have to do that, but he did and I will always love him for it.

But if I'm honest I must admit I loved my Granny more than anyone. She was quite a character. A bit salty and independent long before that became fashionable, she told fascinating stories of coming in a wagon from Tennessee in the late 1800's. We sat at her feet as she spun tales of riding a horse on the journey with wolves sometimes chasing along side, nipping at her heels. She was something. Perhaps my fondest memories of life involve the many summer days I spent under the protection of her loving care. I was eight years old in 1955 and in those days, all was right with the world. Let me tell you about some of them.
I was raised, in great part, by my "Nanny," as we called her. My Dad worked and cowboyed and my Momma operated a little "beauty shop" as they were referred to in those days, and I spent a great deal of time with my bestes' bud, my Granny.

God's got one stamp for Mommas and Grandmas and he just turns them out the same. Why try to improve on perfection? I have often noticed they are exactly alike in so many ways. For example, I bet your Granny was just like mine. Can you finish this sentence? Didn't your Granny say, "Dumplin', you didn't eat all the food on your plate. Don't you know kids in China are…?"

You can finish the sentence, can't you? Yep, all the time I was growing up, "kids in China were starving for a chicken bone."
At an early age, I knew if I ate all my food, somehow kids in China would be better off. My Granny had such a loving spirit, she was not only worried about me eating, but was also concerned for millions of Chinese kids on the other side of the planet! I would feel so guilty.

One time, when I was about eight years old, I said, "Nanny, could we just pack all this fried liver up and mail it over there to them?" That was a mistake. She reached for my most dreaded enemy… "Mr. Marquis De Fly-Swat"… the monster who hung on the little wooden icebox in my Granny's kitchen. Always an evil grin on his face, he hung there just waiting for one of us little ones to cross my Granny's invisible line between good behavior and bad. Many times I can remember slipping in that old kitchen when no one was there and I would stick my tongue out at him and then just run like the dickens, suddenly terrified he might swoop down under his own power and "wear me out."

Most of our days were rarely like that however, 'cause being around my Granny just wanted to make you do good. Besides,
I didn't want to get on her bad side because she was so much fun and always doin' the things a kid truly loved.

In the spring and summer, we fished constantly. She had a small lake down behind her house and in her little johnboat, we explored the many mysteries and wonders held in that clear, deep pool. She would give me lectures on the ecology of bream beds and how to catch "Old Monroe," the big bass who lived way out in the middle, where every eight-year old knows "the big ones" are. My Granny always said, "Monroe's on borrowed time, the Lord is just giving him a few more days before He calls him home." We watched redwing black birds sway on cattails as they sang sweet little tunes and it all smelled like alfalfa hay.

In the fall and winter, we hunted squirrels in pin oak flats and slipped along quietly among the yellow hickory trees that release all that stored up summer sunshine from those bright yellow leaves. My Granny was a crack shot with her Iver-Johnson .410 and we always had fried squirrel for breakfast most every morning.

On Saturday afternoons however, we did something far more important than hunting or fishing…or even eating. We watched our show and I'm betting a good many of you watched that same show. My Granny would fix us a big banana-pudding and with desert waiting in the icebox, we would begin our weekend ritual.

We would enter her little light green bedroom, complete with ceiling fan and wainscot about halfway up the wall. Above that wooden border, wallpaper showed tiny angels playing harps with little berries and flowers coming out of everything.

On opposite walls, there were two pictures and I'm betting you know who was in both. (Don't say Elvis, he was just getting started.) Think about a woman in the South in the fifties…who was in the picture hanging on her wall?

Yep, you got it. There it was…an actual 8x10 photograph of our Lord and Savior right over there. At least at eight years old, I thought it was a real photograph of Jesus, and I told my Nanny, "You know, I didn't even know they had cameras back then." She said, "The Lord can do anything he wants to."

On the opposite wall, there was a picture of the Lord's Supper and someone had painted the tablecloth with an iridescent white. When a car would come by late at night, the lights would sometimes shine on that picture and the tablecloth would glow in the dark for about seven minutes. It was the most beautiful and holy thing I had ever seen.

At five minutes 'til five we would turn on my Nanny's TV to let it "warm up." Televisions in those days had a 'smell' to them…something like burned electronic bread. This TV was about four feet wide and about four feet high. Whenever I perform for elementary kids, at this point they always say, "Wow, your Granny had a wide-screen TV in 1955?" Not exactly.

While the TV was 4x4, the screen was about 13…inches, that is. And you couldn't see thunder on it, unless you had that high-tech reception device called? Right again, RABBIT EARS!

Now rabbit ears were glorious things. By positioning them in just the right place, you could actually see something that resembled people moving on the screen. However, you had to be careful…

What was the one thing you never did with rabbit ears? Right, you NEVER touched them at the same time. Why not? Right again, because of course, you would be electrocuted in a heartbeat. We all knew that. Everybody knew that in 1955. Now naturally, we didn't know anybody personally that had died such a hideous death, but we knew thousands of Americans had been killed 'cause my Granny said they had.

When the commercials would come on, my Granny would slap her hands over her eyes and visitors would say, "What's wrong, Lina?" I was only eight years old but I knew perfectly well what my Granny was doing… 'cause everybody knew in 1955, if you watched too much TV, what would happen to you?

Yep, you would go blind as a bat overnight. Too much TV and you just woke up one morning and it was it…"lights out… permanently! It was you and Mr. Tin Cup on a street corner, bound forevermore. Now, of course we didn't know anyone personally who had lost their precious sight, but we knew thousands of Americans had 'cause my Granny said they did.

At precisely five o'clock, our show would begin. Through the magic of television, my Granny and I could witness an event live that was taking place 400 miles to the South in Waco. The show was called Texas 'Rasslin and buddy, we didn't miss it.

The announcer would come on and introduce a man that my Granny and me thought was the greatest living American at the time…our hero, GORGEOUS GEORGE! Some people thought George was a villain but not my Granny and me, no sir.

Seems like he was driving through our home town one night and he stopped for gas. The man at the filling station told him my Nanny was a big fan and he just reached in the back of that big old Cadillac and withdrew a black and white 8x10 photo of himself in full wrestlin' regalia, mind you, and said, "Here, then give her this." That did for my Granny and me…we were fans forever.

The announcer would come on and introduce George and everyone in that auditorium in Waco would stand up and applaud…and me and my Nanny would stand up in that little bedroom. She would let me throw tissues and crinkled up coke cups at the screen, and we would leave them on the floor, like we were really in the arena. Then, the announcer would introduce a man she said was going to burn in eternal hell, sleepin' on a small scratchy cot, right next to Judas Iscariot. His name was the Masked Marauder and we hated him.

Reason we despised him so was ' cause he was DIRTY! My Nanny said it was supposed to be a fair fight and a contest of honor, and that there was no place for cheatin' or doin' something illegal. But oh, was that Marauder dirty. (You may not want to read this next part 'cause it gets pretty gory.)

"Mr. Fancy Striped Shirt," as my Nanny called the referee, was always over there talking to some stranger outside the ring, with his back completely turned to the action…even though we were both screaming at him to turn around and KEEP YOUR EYES ON THAT DEVIL (as my Granny would shout), but he never would.

With us both yellin' at the top of our lungs, the Marauder would just whip the fool out of George for about the first forty-five minutes. Then after the last commercial break, with just seconds left in the telecast, somehow George would get this superhuman strength and my Granny would scream, "HE'S MAKING HIS COMEBACK!"
(We lived for the 'comeback'…George did it every week.)

And George would miraculously get out from under the Marauder's 'Death Lock,' and with the referee finally looking, thank goodness, George would flip that Marauder and pin him, and the referee would say ONE, TWO, THREE! And the championship belt would be safe for one more week…and me and my Granny would eat our banana puddin' and all would be right with the world in 1955.

One week something awful happened. George just didn't look good for the entire match. My Nanny said he looked "kinda' peaked." Remember that word? It means wan and washed out. Her theory was George had gotten hold of some bad fish a day or two before and she said she thought it "kinda' backed up on him."

Anyway, things didn't look good and after the last commercial break when George was about to make his comeback…disaster struck! Mr. Fancy Shirt wasn't looking (of course) when the Marauder went into his trunks and withdrew his brass knucks.

He hit our beloved hero upside the head and blood went everywhere and George collapsed in a heap on the canvass. Me and my Nanny both started cryin' and I said, "Is he dead, Nanny?" And she said, "Hush, we don't know yet. We can bear whatever the Lord gives us but all we can do now is wait."
(We were both real concerned 'cause 'rasslin' wasn't fake then like it is now.)

They took George out on a stretcher and loaded him up in the ambulance. (Actually, it was his Cadillac with two big old red pieces of tape for a cross.) The announcer leaned down and said, "George, can you say anything at this time?" With a head full of bandages and just one eye pokin' out, George raised up on one elbow and said, "You tell my fans if I'm still alive next Saturday, I'll be back to avenge my defeat to the Marauder…same time, same station on Texas 'Rasslin, brought to you by Channel Six, Station of the Stars." Then, he just fell back on that stretcher and passed out.

Brother, let me tell you…me and my Granny were some upset.
She was so shook up she couldn't even eat her banana puddin'. Somehow, I choked down mine and hers too. (I figured one of us needed to keep our strength up.) Then I looked up at her and said, "You know, Nanny, I'm so torn up by what happened here today, I don't see no way in the world I can go to school Monday."

She wiped her eyes and said, "When the teachers find out what happened, they won't be there either."

I got to stay home two days.

We had a rough week. Nothing at all about George's condition on the national news. Couldn't hardly keep anything on my stomach, 'cept some more of that puddin'…three or four times a day.

Finally, we made it to Saturday and my Nanny had us a desert fixed. Cherry cobbler it was, (I was 'bout foundered on banana) and we turned on that little black and white 13" screen with trembling hands. We didn't know if George was even alive, much less if he could avenge his defeat.

We finally got the rabbit ears just right as the announcer was introducing the Marauder, who was prancin' around like that belt was rightfully his. (My Granny called him a "pagan heathen.") But sadly, there was no George.

We thought they were going to cancel the telecast 'cause the announcer was frowning and shakin' his head and looking around for…when all of a sudden, the doors at the back of the auditorium slung open and light came floodin' in.

And there he was. Old George had come back again.

Everybody was on their feet in that auditorium and me and my Granny were too. Goosebumps were everywhere, but we were worried sick 'cause George didn't look too good. His head was all bandaged up with just one eye pokin' out, and he was limpin' real bad, but he was draped in an American flag and as he came down the aisle with people all around him cheering, you could tell…he was lookin' for that Marauder.

My little Granny stood up and raised her fists full of tissue that she had been using to wipe her eyes and at the top of her lungs, she screamed, "There's gon' be Hell to pay now!"

And it is with a soaring heart, I tell you that George just whipped the fool out of that Marauder for the whole telecast that day and me and my Nanny ate our desert… and all was right with the world in that little bedroom, on a late Saturday afternoon in 1955.

Before the show, my Granny told me not to worry and she said, "Everything will be fine, dumplin', George will win today, I know it in my heart.

As we sat and ate our cherry cobbler, doing what I like to think was the original post game show, I looked up at my Granny and asked, "How did you know George would win, Nanny? What made you so sure?"

She looked down at me and said, "When people come back from a terrible defeat in life, and try again, darlin', those are the people who always win."

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

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