The Night Orson Welles Came To Town
Now, I’ve never been known to defend the elderly or infirm, but Grandpa White had a pretty good excuse for his outspoken hatred of science fiction and “the old talkin’ box”—what Grandpa calls the radio.
The year was 1938 and Grandpa was eight. His Dad turned on the talkin’ box one chilly October night and heard what he thought was a news bulletin announcing an alien invasion, but was actually just a young Orson Welles reading the science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. At the time, it was considered one the most infamous readings of the War of the Worlds in radio history.
So Grandpa’s Dad got really frightened. Which wasn’t surprising because everyone was frightened and because, as he told Grandpa when he was a kid, “Always remember, son: I am scared shitless of aliens.”
The droning of the voice on the radio was drowned out when Grandpa’s Dad began sobbing uncontrollably and wailing “Oh god, we’re all doomed” a lot. He collected himself enough to grab the old shotgun the family kept in the closet, pulled the hammer back and handed it to Grandpa.
“Good luck with the alien invasion and in any future endeavors, son,” Grandpa’s Dad said, still crying in terror.
Grandpa’s Dad shook his son’s hand, walked out the door and hanged himself in the barn, convinced he’d suffer a far more ignominious death at the hands (or claws, or pincers or whatever they have) of the aliens. It was an ugly scene in that barn. A foul-smelling scene too, because as it turned out, Grandpa’s Dad was being literal when he said that “scared shitless of aliens” thing.
Grandpa became the man of the house that day, which must’ve been tough since he was eight and had polio. And, as Grandpa tells me, “The Depression weren’t helpin’.” Sad story, but when Orson Welles heard about it, he immediately picked up the phone and ordered two large hams—one for himself and one a condolence ham, for the bereaved family. That made them feel a little better, even though Depression Era hams were actually just ham-shaped chunks of golden retriever meat.
“Nobody ever eats golden retriever meat anymore, and that’s why your generation is soft as minced golden retriever meat!” Grandpa told me the other day, waving a ham sandwich (we had told him it was made with golden retriever meat) at me. Then Grandpa looked at me lovingly and said, “Who are you, anyway?”