Friday, August 24, 2012

The Uncle Al Show and my first public humiliation

Appearing on “The Uncle Al Show” was a pretty big deal for a kid growing up in the Cincinnati area during the 1950’s. Every morning, I tuned in to one of the three channels we got on our black-and-white T.V. to spend time with my best friend, Uncle Al. He was always smiling, just so darn glad to see us out- there- in-T.V.-land, wearing a straw hat with a band around it that matched his striped blazer. The best thing about Uncle Al was that he played the accordion and sang wonderful songs that I now suspect he wrote himself. I can still sing them to this day. Songs like “Up, up, up! Climb up Mr. Sun!” and “Put your toys away, don’t delay. Help your mommy have a happy day.” Uncle Al was married to a woman named Captain Windy, who was on the show, too. She wore a shiny skirt and a cape. Every day she made a fabulous entrance by flying in. This, of course, explained the cape.

When I was five years old and my cousin Judy was six, we got to appear on the Uncle Al show. It was the first time that I can remember ever feeling disillusioned, as well as my first public humiliation. The disillusionment came when I actually met Uncle Al up close and personal. He was a cranky guy who didn’t really seem to like kids. Then, when the cameras started rolling, he was all smiles. Of course, his on-stage little friends played along, including me. The biggest disappointment to me, though, was Captain Windy. I was waiting to see her fly in, but it never happened. Uncle Al announced her entrance, and I heard the flying music, but then she just came walking over to us. Oh well.

The Uncle Al Show had sponsors like: Skippy peanut butter, Kahn’s wieners, Snyder’s pretzels, and Butternut bread. On the show, Uncle Al did all the commercials himself and he involved selected children in them. For example, Captain Windy would spread the Skippy peanut butter on a saltine cracker about five inches high and cram it into a kid’s mouth and then Uncle Al asked that kid a question, which of course the kid couldn’t answer because his mouth was full of sticky, gooey stuff. And we would all laugh at the kid. It was so funny. Every day it happened. And every day it was funny.

My cousin Judy was selected for the pretzel commercial. She got to swing on a giant pretzel, which I thought was way cool. That’s the commercial I wanted. But the one I appeared in was the Butternut bread commercial. I was well aware of how it went. A kid would stand and hold her arms out as Uncle Al piled loaves of bread in them so high that you couldn’t see her face any more. And, invariably, it was too much for the poor kid, and all the bread came tumbling to the floor. Well, I was bound and determined that wasn’t going to happen to me. I was going to be the first kid on Uncle Al to hold that bread in my arms no matter how high the stack got.

I stood with my arms out straight and steady while Uncle Al piled up the tower of bread. Higher and higher it went, and I didn’t move. When the last loaf was in place, I was so proud of myself. I did it! But my glory was short-lived. Uncle Al reached under my arms and punched up. The result of this unfair interference, which the cameras obviously didn’t capture, was an avalanche of bread loaves. Everyone laughed, and I was mortified!

This was certainly not the last time I experienced a public humiliation, but just a preview of coming attractions. I still get that same feeling sometimes after I’ve preached a sermon, in fact. I feel like I’ve put myself out there and made an ass of myself and I’ll never be able to show my face in public again. But then, of course, I do. It’s a lesson I first learned from Uncle Al. Along with the realization that: smiles are often deceptive, I should never trust a man wearing a straw hat, and I will never be able to fly, not even if I wear a really nice cape.

1 comment:

Sylvia said...

Oh, Nancy. I can so relate to those early childhood humiliations. And how they rise up to haunt us now. As a child, I was graceless and clumsy. It was really like I was never sure where my body was in space. And as I have grown, I have compensated by being really careful and aware of my surroundings. I also over analyze physical contact and then have mental jousts with myself as to appropriateness.
I sell cheese at farmer's markets here in Atlanta and today at the close, tripped and fell. It was epic. And as I was falling in slow motion, I distinctly remember not thinking how best to protect my 50 year old somewhat fragile body but how to avoid the immense embarrassment that was sure to come.
Both knees are scraped, sore and swollen. My glasses are scratched, my wrist hurts like you know what but what am I dithering about in my head? Having to go back next week and stand next to these same loving, compassionate folks when I have so humiliated myself.
But go I will and smile I must. Just as you must get up in that pulpit and say what you think regardless how how many things people think inappropriate.
Grace and peace to you.