“It’s Howdy Doody time!”
Shouting that storied response from the Golden Age of early television was the happy chore of a few dozen Boomer kids watching the popular live show from the bleacher seats known as “The Peanut Gallery.” Those lucky devils—who among us didn’t want to be one? — also provided the spontaneous live laugh track for the long-running show featuring America’s favorite, freckled puppet and his pals.
Legend has it that the term “Peanut Gallery” originated in vaudeville, where attendees in the cheapest seats took a freestyle approach to their feedback, shouting insults and hurling peanuts at performers who failed to deliver the goods on stage. This tradition, along with the Howdy Doody version, spawned a common parenting phrase, heard many times in our rowdy house of four children. When too many of us were talking at once (i.e., most of the time), my father sometimes interjected sternly, ‘Hey! That’s enough from the Peanut Gallery.’ Or, when back-talk wandered into the danger zone, he often shut it down with a firm, “No more comment from the Peanut Gallery.”
I heard echoes of the Peanut Gallery the other day when a duologue version emerged in the back seat of my car. Late summer brought a great chance to spend some extra time with Buddy and Sis (now ages 7 and 5) while helping their working parents cover some gaps in the summer camp schedule. As we tooled around town in the car or hung out at home, I soaked up a constant stream of commentary, spontaneous debate, and the occasional shockingly precocious projection about something weighing on their minds or seen out the window. The snippets below are offered as evidence that kids do indeed—to use more Boomer vernacular—say the darndest things. They are re-created as accurately as possible, though I swore off actually recording these chats. (G-ma maintains a rather strict viewpoint on the use of devices for anything other than quick snapshots when the children are around.)
(Scene: En route to produce market; kids buckled into back seat.)
G-ma: Hey, guys, you want to get a watermelon?
Both (shouting): YEAH!!!!
Sis: I know! I know how to tell if it is ripe! You touch it and cut it open and see if the seeds are the right color. You can eat the white seeds but not the black ones.
Buddy: You can eat the black ones, but you don’t have to eat any seeds. You can dig them out and leave them on the table.
Sis (top of lungs): NO! BECAUSE I’M THE ONE WHO WILL HAVE TO CLEAN IT UP! (This an apparent reference to her recent acquisition, at her own request, of a child-sized cleaning set.). And the seeds get squished. And if they get squished something might come out of the inside of them and MAKE A MESS!! AND I’M THE ONE WHO HAS TO CLEAN!!
Buddy (with patient condescension): Seeds don’t get squished. They might fall out, but they don’t get squished. And I’ll help you clean it up.
(Scene: Back porch, dusk falling, kids finishing after-dinner popsicles.)
G-ma: Look, guys, the lightning bugs are out!
Buddy: Evie, are lightning bugs nocturnal?
G-ma: (Stunned, very slow to stutter an answer.) Yes. That’s correct.
Sis: What’s not, not-turnal mean?
G-ma: NOC-turnal means something that comes out at night.
Sis (waving popsicle-free hand for scornful emphasis): Then you can just say, ‘lightning bugs come out at night.’ You don’t have to say not-turnal. Right?
It is a wise woman who remembers, even with grandchildren of her own, to listen to her mother. Chatting with mine on the phone a couple of days later, I shared some excerpts from the Peanut-Gallery-of-two improv act, as Mom loves to hear what the children are up to. “You better write these things down,” she directed, rather ominously. “You’re going to want to remember them later, and you’ll be sorry if you don’t.” So, I continued giving that my best when they returned the following day.
(SCENE: Children snarfing through dripping peaches while seated side-by-side on the porch, where their grandmother has been nurturing a small garden of blooming plants in pots. G-ma arrives to catch the tail end of a conversation already in progress.)
Buddy: …..Spit doesn’t do anything for plants. Plants need dirt and sun, and that’s what makes them grow. Spit does not help.
G-ma: (Pausing briefly to achieve nonchalance, glancing at the thriving red salvia in the large pot in front of their seat): Did you spit in the plant?
Both (solemn, wide-eyed). No, ma’am.
Buddy (in effortless diversion): Spit has DNA in it.
Sis (shouting assent): YEAH! LIKE HAIR!
Buddy: Yeah, DNA is in hair and spit and everything in the body.
Sis (with expression of distaste): Like BLOOD?
Buddy (diversion achieved, still determined to make point): Yes, blood and hair and spit and skin and everything. But spit doesn’t help plants.
(Scene: Kids in back seat again. We have just left a local market where I’ve given each a dollar to insert in a donation box supporting a local rescue mission for the homeless. The proprietor matches the donations.)
G-ma: Hey, guys, remember the other day when you asked me if we should give some money to that man you saw standing on the corner with the sign saying he was homeless? Well, that box where you put the money, that money goes to help lots of people like that guy. So, you can give to an organization that helps him and lots of people or you can give to the individual. There’s more than one way to help.
Sis: Yeah! Let’s give to that organization, like you said, because they need clothes and maybe they give clothes to lots of people.
Buddy: They have clothes! He was wearing clothes!
Sis: But he only has one pair!
Buddy (shaking head in disagreement): They need money to get a job, so they can work and get more money and get a house. It costs money to get a job. Maybe he would have taken the money and used it to get a job.
Sis: What if he took it and spent it all on candy bars?
G-ma: (Silence, biting tongue severely.)
Buddy (with firm finality): He wouldn’t do that. No one who needs a job would do that.
And that, for the moment, was that.