Saturday, November 14, 2020

Meet the McDraggals

Although the quality of this photo is poor, it remains one of my favorite family pictures. For years I kept it on my desk in corporate America as a way of announcing that yes, I had a family, but details would stay compartmentalized. Of course, the photo always prompted sideways glances or outright questions. And I would answer: Yes, I am the tallest one in the photo, and, Yes, the other four are my offspring. See a family resemblance? Meet the McDraggals.

The McDraggals came about in 1977 to help a friend and volunteer mom who was in charge of the annual grade school talent show where three of my children were pupils. That year, The Gong Show was a huge TV hit, and that gave my friend an idea. She wanted to model the talent show that year on it. Her thought was that instead of the usual polite applause for the multiple degrees of talent and non-talent the audience usually endured, audience members would instead be encouraged to boo so the gong would ring! But, so as not to hurt children's feelings, she had a plan (one that needed and received approval of the principal of the school). She would privately arrange to have kids from each grade (with full disclosure to their parents) intentionally create awful acts that would be booed instantaneously, thus getting the gong within a half-minute. (She even planted several relatives in the audience to assure that happen). The judges presiding over the gong would be PTA moms, full of compassion and would manage outcomes so no one would be sad or insulted. She approached me and asked if a member of my family would like to invent an awful talent act. With kids in third, fifth, and sixth grades in the school, she was fairly certain one of them would rise to the challenge.

Like most families, we watched The Gong Show every week, and the idea was immediately appealing. It didn’t take long to think up the perfect act. The whole family would be needed, however, to make it work. We would play our fake bagpipes! Dad had a tech rehearsal the very same night as the talent show, however, so he couldn't (sadly . . . wink wink) participate.

And what are 'fake bagpipes'? you might be thinking. The six of us together loved to replicate the sound of bagpipes by pinching our noses and humming the classic tune, Scotland the Brave, with a deliberately nasal tone while concurrently striking the outside edge of the other hand across our Adams apples. This is not a healthy action in terms of the vocal cords and no one should do this for very long, but the sound eerily resembles bagpipes and is still hilarious to whomever hears it. 

And as the kids became more inspired about developing an instantly gong-able act, we came up with the idea of everyone wearing mixed tartans and plaids, the more clashing the better! There were plenty of hats on the closet shelf (some having belonged to two deceased grandfathers), and a quick trip to the local variety store would provide more Groucho Marx glasses with mustachioed noses like the one already in the dress up box. Voila! The McDraggals were born.

The third grader was eager to take part, but not sure he wanted to be a bagpiper. Instead, he happily conducted the group with a plumber's friend as his baton, adding another dimension of silliness. The eighth grader was tickled to return to her alma mater for this silly event, and my participation gave everyone the scapegoat they needed, in case people later made fun of them (Mom MADE us do it).

Of course, nothing ever turns out quite the way one imagines it. Instead being booed and gonged within seconds, as we expected to be, the audience began to giggle and laugh and roar and applaud and call out "more, more," as we struggled to make it through repeated choruses of the tune. No one gonged us! Eventually the Master of Ceremonies urged the audience to boo, and the gong finally sounded. 

In my memory, at least, The McDraggals was one of the most original and fun acts of the evening for the audience, but the immediate reactions by four of the five of the McDraggals, however, was mortification. If you've agreed to make a fool out of yourself for a few seconds, it's not fun to be kept onstage for what was probably two minutes (and, indeed, those two minutes felt like fifteen). It took a few years before we, as a family, could laugh about the experience. Now it’s always fun to remember. And we've been known to hum/play Scotland the Brave on our fake bagpipes as recently as a few years ago.