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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

OLD BUDDY GEORGE

by George Lester
George Lester
I have tried to avoid bringing my domestic life into these stories but I felt at this time it is necessary in order to explain events that occurred later. Shortly after I arrived in El Dorado, Arkansas I received word that the divorce was final and my marriage had ended. It was not something that I wanted and I had done absolutely nothing to bring it about. It was completely beyond my control and I reluctantly let it happen without putting up a fight. I felt as if I had fallen into a bottomless pit of gloom. Back in those days the wife always got custody of the children regardless of the circumstances. Now I was alone and encumbered with child support for my two sons that took a huge chunk out of my modest salary. These are the things I had to contend with as I started a new phase in my career.

Upon reporting for work I learned that we were still weeks away from opening up for business at the television station. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja-vou all over again". I was back to the same situation I faced in De Soto Parish except the waiting period was a lot longer this time. We were all put to work building sets and doing other menial jobs. This didn't bother me that much because I had performed manual labor for years before I got in to broadcasting. Regardless, we were all champing at the bits to get the party started.

Back in Texarkana I had taken notice that the most popular program on the television station there was the cowboy hosted kiddie show. I wanted to produce and host a similar show myself in El Dorado. The manager was all for it and told me to start working on a format and a name for the show.

I drove down to Monroe, Louisiana, about 50 miles south, and observed their version of the program I had in mind. They had the kids sitting in stadium type seats surrounding the stage. Before the program got underway the host stood in the center and gave a long list of rules and regulations the kids had to abide by. His tone of voice was not much different than a Marine drill instructor. By the time the show went on the air the poor kids looked like zombies. I also took note of the fact that the camera stayed on the host most of the time with very few shots of the kids. I vowed then and there that my show would be different.

When we finally got on the air I had worked out a format that I hoped would breath life into the program. I named the production "TV Corral" and I was the host, Old Buddy George. I was clad in western get up topped by a big cowboy hat. Before the program got underway I chatted with them and told stories to relax them. A sponsor had provided tasty treats for the kids. There were no preshow instructions. I wanted them to be relaxed and natural on camera. I had also requested that the studio monitors not to be turned on until the movie started. I had noticed that in Monroe the kids were all looking at the TV screen every time the camera caught them. That seemed to make them even more self conscious.

When the program got underway the opening announcement was made off camera and the first thing the viewers saw was Old Buddy George sitting on the floor with a bunch of happy and noisy kids. It didn't matter if one of them interrupted my opening dialog. It just added more charm to the show. I asked that the camera stay on me only for a few seconds and then to start slowly panning the kids as I talked about the cowboy movie we were going to see. I had brought several toys for them to play with and they were taking advantage of them. Very few of them even realized we were on the air. The proud parents got to see what they wanted, their kids.

When we took a break for a commercial the opening shot was of a kid playing with a toy or doing something else amusing and being perfectly natural. I came on camera only briefly to make an announcement that we would be right back after the commercial. The same thing happened after the commercial before we went back to the movie. I had promoted a club the kids could join in order to get on the show. At the end of each episode a list of the kids invited to be on the next show would scroll across the screen. The program was sold out and there was a waiting list for new sponsors.

Things couldn't have been better, except for one thing. I would put on a happy face all day for the public but I went back to my one room apartment each night and cried myself to sleep. I missed my family more than anyone knew. Some of the parents were amazed at my patients with a house full of wild, energetic kids. It was easy. They made up, in a small way, for the absence of my two boys.

Many years later a dear friend of mine was going through the same thing. He was taking it very hard and I feared for his well being. I hurt right along with him because I knew what he was going through. Just recently I wrote a poem reflecting some of the things I said to help him get through this seemingly impossible situation.
The hurt will just not go away
It clings to you like skin
Oh, for one small respite
You pray for just one win
There seems to be no way out
No escape plan comes to mind
You've played it over a thousand times
No answer could you find
Dear heart, please listen
Before you close that door
There's so much left to live for
I've tread that path before

How could you be so betrayed
By someone held so dear
And it seemed so easy to believe
You would keep forever near
Now that dream is shattered
It simply can't be true
That person shares with someone else
what once belonged to you
You say life just isn't fair
There's no forever more
But a brighter day is coming
I've tread that path before

It happened many years ago
Before you saw the light of day
I steeped in my depression
And spoke the words you say
I thought my life was over
No reason to face tomorrow
I could not endure another hour
drowning in my sorrow
It seemed to take forever
But I shed this gloom I wore
You can do the same my friend
I've tread that path before

One day without warning
You'll hear the birdies sing
And smell the fragrant blossoms
With all the joy they bring
Then you'll realize I speak the truth
You must keep hanging on
No matter how you feel today
Not everything is gone
Just keep your faith long enough
You'll see your spirits soar
I know this will happen
I've tread that path before
That friend later found a wonderful mate. They were married and their union has rewarded them with much more than either had before. Life does sometimes have a happy ending.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

March 28, 2007 column
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This page last modified: March 28, 2007