Five contestants would tell their story. I forgot the announcer’s name, but he later appeared in several Hitchcock TV movies. Each woman’s story was sadder than the next one, until finally, they got someone who had truly been dealt a bad luck hand. It was usually the woman with 8 kids whose husband abandoned her after her boss fires her and the bank repossess her car. But all she really wanted was a new vacuum or something so she could at least keep a clean house. They would have some kind of audience voting system (way before internet and phone voting), and the sympathy factor was displayed on the screen with an arrow that looked like an old-fashioned scale.
The woman chosen would be whisked away by two beautiful bathing beauties, a crown placed on her head that always seemed to fall off. She was presented with a velvet robe lined in ermine. She had a staff, and was handed a bouquet of roses that usually fell too. She cried and cried, so grateful to be made Queen for A Day, sitting on her throne, with the announcer singing the theme song to organ music with lots of rips and trills. It was pure spectacle.
My grandmother liked to watch it when she came to visit. Being a minister’s wife, I would have thought her tastes would have gone to some other sort of escapism. My grandparents heard stories like these every day at the parsonage.
When my little brother and I visited grandma and grandpa, we’d sometimes be moved to the living room couch in the middle of the night when a woman and perhaps a couple of children would need a place to stay, and usually it was to get away from an abusive husband. I learned at an early age about these kinds of stories. I considered myself lucky my family didn’t look like any of that.
I also heard stories about traveling bands of homeless men during the depression always knowing whose house to stop by and ask for a meal at the back door. They used to leave a mark on my grandparent’s front yard or fence, that told others there was a kind-hearted family that lived there.
I often wonder what became of those women who appeared on the TV show. Did their lives change because of the generous sponsors who gave them new furniture, a new wardrobe, toys for the kids and sometimes a new washer dryer? I always wanted to know the whole story, not just what was on the TV.
I was a budding novelist way back then. I’ve learned since that not everything is real on TV, just like I learned they can’t see you when you’re naked. Those were the days I used to think crosswalks were made so if you got hit by a car and you were in that crossing zone, the state would pay for your funeral.
I’m glad to say as I grew up, I never lost my compassion for the human condition, or failed to see the humor and wonder of it all.
What about you?