When we’re home on a Saturday evening, and everyone is scattered around the house doing their own thing, I like to slip over, grab the remote control and turn the TV to the PBS station and crank up The Lawrence Welk Show. You should see the teenagers come running out of their rooms, faces filled with horror and clamping their hands over their ears.
Cleverly hiding the clicker under the sleeping dog, no one is able to change the channel, so they are doomed to watch plaid-coated, bouffant coiffed, ruffled tuxedo clad performers warble and dance their way across the screen.
The eye rolling begins within seconds and the intense whining and griping ensues. “Mom! This is horrible! Why do you make us watch this? Why are they dressed like that? How long will it be before we can watch a movie?” Oh, the sheer agony of hearing old standards like “Singing in the Rain” while fake raindrops fall on girls in plastic polka-dot raincoats is too much for their young minds to handle.
When I would visit my Grandparents, we would sit together in the living room and either shell peas or play a card game while Lawrence Welk was on the television in the background. The popular show, which aired from 1951-1982, features wholesome, all-American classics that everyone should know. Even though the musical program has aired in continuous reruns since its cancellation, it has never been a favorite of the teen-scene from any generation.
When a young man wearing a mint green leisure suit swings a suitcase by his side and croons, “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the conversation gets pointed.
“Why doesn’t his suitcase have wheels?”
“What instrument is that in the background?”
“How does he get his hair to do that?”
School curriculum teaches our children classic American stories, poems and artwork, but not many schools provide an education on the rich history of American music. My wise and wonderful fifth grade teacher understood this need and helped us assemble song books we would use every Friday afternoon to belt out the likes of “Oh Susanna,” “Red River Valley,” and “Camptown Races.” Other than kickball, it was our favorite part of the week.
Once, on the playground, when two boys were racing to the oak tree, someone called out, “I bet my money on the bobtail nag,” and we all joined in by shouting “somebody bet on the bay!” We doubled over laughing at what clever 10 year olds we were for being able to quote Stephen Foster. (It also helped us understand what Foghorn Leghorn was singing in the barnyard on Saturday mornings . . . doo-dah, doo-dah).
Back in front of the TV, as the minutes tick by and chiffon draped dancers swirl across the stage, miraculously, no one leaves the room. Instead, my boy’s faux irritation turns to laughter, which evolves into more good-natured snippy comments, and then ends at the desired destination of good, old-fashioned, non-computerized conversation.
“I need to practice my guitar more.” says one boy. “I’ll help you put on the new strings.” says the other. They run get their instruments, then return and get to work without even realizing they are humming along to “Good Night Irene.”
My sinister plan of “Operation Lawrence Welk” has worked its magic once again. Everyone is together in one room, talking, cracking jokes and having a nice evening, and at the end of the show, when the cast gathers to sing the signature farewell song that ends with, “adios, au revior, aufweidersehn . . good night!” one of the boys always says, “Hey, didn’t you sing that to us when we were little?”
Who, me? Where would I have learned such a thing?
Wait a minute, you don’t think my Grandparents had their own sinister plan to make me watch . . .?