Native Writes: Open the closet and find the truth


When I was a kid, my dad would say, “T’ain’t funny, McGee,” when the spirit of a joke or trick escaped him. He was apparently referring to a radio show, “Fibber McGee and Molly.”

It may have been on the air when I was small, but I honestly don’t remember it. I Googled it, and learned it was on the air in some form until the mid-1960s. I never heard it. I don’t think I would have deserted KOMA for it.

My dad may have — he deserted just about everything I listened to or watched. “You’re on your own,” he would say. “Don’t call me if you get in trouble.”

What intrigued me the most was Fibber McGee’s closet, a place filled with so much stuff one wouldn’t know what would fall out next. It sounds sort of like today’s political news.

The only difference was only birds tweeted.

Living in the fictional Midwestern city of Wistful Vista, Fibber was a teller of tall tales and a braggart, usually to the exasperation of his long suffering wife Molly. Life in Wistful Vista followed a well- developed formula, but apparently was always fresh.

The program used a series of running gags that would become part of the common language, many treasures can be found in the closet at 79 Wistful Vista.

 The show began as a comic reflection of Depression Era America, a time both my parents blamed for idioms, comments and recipes coloring our home life. “Sometimes, we only had creamed peas and dry bread to eat…”

“We got five meals out of that big jackrabbit…”

The most loved and remembered of the running gags is Fibber McGee’s Closet. According to Google, the closet first appeared in the March 5, 1940 broadcast, “Cleaning the Closet.” I wasn’t a twinkle in my father’s eye, but the folks likened my bedroom to that room in the house. Fibber needed his dictionary, which was in the hall closet. When Molly opened the door she found herself buried in a mountain of stuff stashed in there over the years.

Cleaning the closet was the plot of one episode, but the closet’s reputation managed to hang on for years. Whenever the closet door was opened, it wasn’t only a treat for the audience, but a creative outlet for the sound effects crew. A couple of those episodes were aired on Google and I listened.

Part of the charm of Fibber McGee and Molly was its loyalty to middle class sensibilities. Early in the development of the show, while network executives were trying to drive the show toward more fanciful directions, Molly put her foot down. If it couldn’t happen in Peoria, there was no room for it on their show. Once this “policy” was implemented, the show blossomed.

Several of my mom’s friends would declare, “That wouldn’t play in Peoria” when something even slightly questionable emerged.

Today the ladies at the kitchen table try to have the whole thing stricken from all books, public display and open discussion. If they don’t like an element of history, it should disappear.

That’s impossible, so opening the political closet is done in fear. Who knows what will fall out and into the tweet stream?

If my dad were alive, he would spend hours wondering if history had fibbed to us. He often talked of the Wright Brothers and their flying machines, but the July 4 speech by the president had airports captured during the Revolutionary War.

He pretty much believed whatever he heard on the radio and, later, on television. “They can’t lie, can they?”

No more than Fibber McGee.

When my grandson was younger, he expected the president to be accurate. The first time he noticed a problem, he asked, “Didn’t that man take civics classes?”

Open the closet and see.

Advertisement