Southern Folks: Watching TV with my grandparents

Bill Stamps

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.

Grand Mom said, "Looka here, I don't say nothin' about all that wrestlin' mess you and Grand Daddy 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 Grand Dad was, spending his time watching all that silliness.

Southern Folks

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

Jackie would hold his arms up as though he was getting ready to beat his chest, start walking around the ring, bounce-stepping and yelling threats at his audience of hecklers. 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 housekeeper, came in for work for a half day on Saturdays. She'd tidy up a bit. Help Grand Mom get ready to go out to run her errands and, most importantly, prepare the snacks and sandwiches for Grand Dad and me to consume while we watched our wrestling.

It was the one day of the week that Grand Dad and I could bond. Be men. He could have a beer or two without Grand Mom around. Grand Dad didn't care how many Cokes I guzzled. He and I could engage in conversation without interruption.

Many times when my grandparents were together, they would both talk to me at the same time. Grand Dad would start off telling a story and Miz Lena would jump in. They'd tell the rest of the story together.

When Miz Lena left the house, Grand Dad 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. Finally and 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 introduced the Fargo Brothers and their opponents, Grand Dad returned 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. My grandfather was in hog heaven.

Throughout the next couple of hours, it was sheer joy. Miz Lena's impeccably appointed den was transformed into a perfect "man cave." Let the games begin!

I'd lay out on the floor, Grand Dad in his chair. We'd cheer on Jackie and his tag-team partner. Grand Dad would yell at the guy beating on one of the Fargos with a fold-up chair. We'd boo when the live audience booed. We ate all the sandwiches. Polished off a good-size bag of Lay's potato chips. No telling how many Cokes I drained. I'm pretty sure Grand Dad had a little buzz. We celebrated our manhood.

Ultimately, the Fargos pinned their opponents' shoulders to the mat. In jubilance and celebration, Grand Dad and I would jump up and Fargo Strut around the room. High fives! Thank God Almighty for Saturday and the Fargo Brothers!

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

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. Miz Lena didn't want to "wear out the warranty."

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. Grand Mom sat on her loveseat, with me in front of her on an ottoman. It got quiet.

Like it or not, here came Liberace - sitting there on his piano bench in 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 swooned in unison. 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 Grand Mom'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 you."

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 the Fargo Brothers and Liberace because both of them provided me some cherished one-on-one time with my grandparents. Still, when it comes to sheer entertainment, not refinement, I kinda lean toward the Fargo Brothers.

Sorry, Grand Mom.

Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tenn. Contact him at or through Facebook.