The Good Thing About Watching TV Is That It Keeps Me Away From The Oven by Kathy Giuffre

OE’s Hillbilly Studies columnist, Kathy Giuffre

The April edition of the Williams-Sonoma catalogue has arrived in the mail.  On page 94, I note that the Cedar Chicken Coop with Attached Planter ($1499.95) is still available.  I have had my eye on it for a while now.  It’s pricey, but in terms of cost, $1499.95 is nothing compared to the Marvel Professional Dual-Zone Wine Cellar ($2799.95) offered on page 9 or the French oak and cast iron baker’s rack ($3250.00) on page 78.  But still…

It is hard for me to imagine the same customer base for both dual-zone wine cellars and also chicken coops, even cedar ones with attached planters.  I try to imagine the chickens (there is apparently room to sleep six) wandering picturesquely by the pool in Beverly Hills.  But then I imagine chicken shit on the chaise lounge and the image goes all to hell.  Have you ever smelled lots of chickens up close?  Chanel No. 5 it is not.

In any case, I notice that the outdoor wood-fired oven ($4000 for the cheap one) is no longer on offer.  Apparently, like the last two people to get in on a Ponzi scheme, my husband Jonathan and I shelled out four thousand smackers for that sucker just moments before the hard, ugly truth about outdoor wood-fired ovens made its way into the public consciousness.

There is no reason to drag this out.  I will spare you the details and merely mention:

  • Smoke – voluminous, copious, even Vesuvial amounts of smoke, like the election of ten thousand popes.
  • Lumps of bread dough, charred black on the outside, raw and gooey on the inside.
  • Firemen.

Why are we talking about this?

It has become clear that my hillbilly skills are somewhat atrophied.  I spent $400 on the garden last summer and only harvested four cucumbers, eleven tomatoes, seven beets, and one green bean (it was delicious!).  I cannot hunt or shoot.  I am too feeble to make lye soap.  I cannot even feed my family with homemade bread cooked in the great outdoors.  As a now fully formed product of modern civilization, in fact, it seems that my only real skill may be watching TV and deconstructing the hegemonic subtexts through semiotic and/or structural analysis.

Say what you will, at least semiotic analysis doesn’t involve a visit from the fire department.

You can see anything on YouTube, especially cats and public humiliation.  Because I am not a frivolous person, but instead a serious scholar of homo hillbillicus, naturally I eschewed the cat videos (except for Henri the Existentialist Cat, who reminded me disturbingly of my college boyfriend, and also one video of a cat using the bathroom mirror to practice its jazz hands, which reminded me disturbingly of my high school boyfriend) and settled in for serious academic research.  This meant watching the first two episodes of the first season of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in their entirety.  Both of them.  I tell you this because I want you to know that I am taking this seriously.  (Can I get a research grant for this?  I hope so!)

From hints dropped in S1E1 (unraveled by my expert de-coding of pig nomenclature) it is clear that the Clampett family and their razorback pets are from Arkansas.  So I feel a natural (if somewhat shame-faced, mostly on account of Jethro) kinship for the Clampetts.  Great fondness, in fact, for Jed.  Buddy Ebsen, the actor who played him, would have been the tin man in “The Wizard of Oz” had it not been for an unfortunate allergic reaction to the silver paint.  For reasons that are vague to me, I somehow feel that this reflects well on everyone from Arkansas, despite the fact that Buddy Ebsen was from Belleville, Illinois.  It’s a stretch, I’ll admit, but given the paucity of other contenders to shed glory on our state (e.g., Glen Campbell), we take what we can get.

The plot of the second episode revolves around the Clampetts seeing their new Beverly Hills mansion for the first time.  Fish out of water hilarity ensues.  Granny wants to plow up the front lawn to plant crops.  Jethro mistakes a flamingo by the pool for a big, pink chicken.  (Don’t tell Williams-Sonoma or they’ll steal the idea – oops!  Too late – see page 64.)

And then it happens.

Mr. Drysdale escorts Granny and Elly May into the sleekly modern and spacious kitchen.  He shows them the oven. “The last word in food preparation,” he calls it before he departs.  Granny looks skeptical.  Elly May looks bewildered.

“Elly, you run out and fetch some wood,” Granny says, opening the oven door and disdainfully inspecting the oven rack. “I’ll get a fire goin’ in here and we’ll see.”

There is some more comic business with Jed and Jethro mistaking a croquet ball for the egg of the big pink chicken.  Quick cut to the next scene.

Jed comes running into the kitchen as Granny is engulfed in smoke while wood smolders inside the oven.  The smoke is copious, Vesuvial.  It is like the election of ten thousand popes.

Why does this all look so familiar?

It seems that you can take the girl out of the Ozarks, but if you do, she’ll just end up in a sitcom.  It is not every day that I find myself living out an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” playing the role of Granny and/or Elly May.  Or at least it is not every day that I will admit it.  I watched S1E2 over and over again, cringing in embarrassment for everyone involved, myself included. It’s like a train wreck that I can’t take my eyes off.  In fact, I never progressed to watching Episode 3.  No need – they’re all the same.  Every week, for years and years, the Clampetts were fish out of water.  Every week, they were bewildered.  Every week, they were immaculately innocent of the world of Beverly Hills.  Every week was the very first time they had ever heard of such things or seen such goings on.

In real life, though, there is only one first time.  Innocence is lost awfully fast.

Jonathan and I eventually figured out the wood-fired oven.  We can even make pies now.  It’s fun, but it’s not the same as that first time.  Then, everything was new and we were finding it all out together.  Then, we were immaculately innocent.

Now, we are proficient.  We go about our business calmly and with cool detachment.  The firemen never visit anymore.

The Beverly Hillbillies were on the air for nine seasons and through it all, they never became proficient.  It’s kind of painful to watch them.  It is painful to see people from my home portrayed as rubes, fools, ignoramuses, hillbillies.

But there’s another view, another way to see the Clampetts.

How wondrous it would have been the first time to run across the big pink chicken out by the cement pond! How grand the entrance hall to the mansion seemed.  How amazing was the wide green expanse of the lawn.  The process of losing your innocence is also the process of stumbling across miracles.

There was a time when I didn’t know and didn’t understand things – like how city buses work, how to dress and how to talk, how to eat (the lobster, no matter what you think now, is not an intuitively obvious thing to put into your mouth.)  There was a time when I was innocent of almost everything, proficient at almost nothing.  Like Elly May (who gets her first dress in S1E2), there was a first pretty cocktail dress.  A first taste of champagne.  First boy who was ever interested in my mind (too).  First sight of the ocean and first ride in a taxi.  First time ever inside a mansion in Beverly Hills.

It was completely worth $4000 for Williams-Sonoma to sell me one afternoon of innocence again.


Kathy Giuffre was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where her family goes back at least five generations.  She is the author of “An Afternoon in Summer: My Year in the South Seas” and lives in Colorado with her husband and two sons. Her NPR radio show is called “Off Topic” and can be heard every Saturday morning on KRCC 91.5 FM or anytime at