I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic lately. Could be that I’m turning the big 4-0 this year, or that things often seem better in retrospect than when you’re experiencing them the first time. In any event, I used to love watching Hee Haw when I was a little lad. Every Saturday night around 6 p.m. (I believe Lawrence Welk was scheduled opposite it on another channel, and he was good too, but Hee Haw was always more fun), my mom, dad, and I would tune in to watch Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, and the rest of the gang. For a (mostly) family-friendly hour we were guaranteed some great music and knee-slappin’ laughs.
I know this probably sounds crazy to some of you. You may be wondering, What was a black family doing watching a hillbilly show like Hee Haw? I wonder the same thing sometimes, even as I reflect fondly on that old program. The easy answer is, there wasn’t as much to watch on TV back then; I believe we only had three channels during that era when Hee Haw was appointment television for us. But, frankly, it also was great entertainment. And things didn’t seem as complicated race-wise back then–at least not to my young, prepubescent mind. In fact, Hee Haw was one of those ways that my family and I actually felt a kinship with the white community.
Ironically, programs like Hee Haw, The Andy Griffith Show, The Waltons, and The Dukes of Hazzard–shows that endearingly played on the redneck/good-ole-boy theme and rarely acknowledged the existence of black folk–were often the shows that helped me feel closest to white people. Without the experience of having grown up on some of those shows, I believe I might’ve been less patient (and probably more cynical) in my real-life relationships with white friends and acquaintances.
Conversely, I must confess, those shows in some ways misled me into believing that relations between blacks and whites were warmer and more honest than reality allowed. Thanks to television, I thought I knew white people better than I really did. But that’s another post.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade my Hee Haw memories. Seems strange to say that a cheesy TV show helped prepare me to embrace racial reconciliation, but it’s the truth. And, by golly, the music and jokes weren’t half bad either.