Sending a kid to college is overwhelming. You have to figure out where to go and how to pay for tuition. There are textbooks and dorm room furniture to buy. But thankfully, instead of being completely lost, we can all turn to Green Acres for advice, insight and inspiration.
OK, maybe I’m overstating things a little, but as a parent of a college sophomore and another daughter who is a high school senior, I can honestly say that in the episode, “Send a Boy to College,” Green Acres actually offers up a pretty good to-do list for parents and their college students.
So no need to feel overwhelmed. We can get keep our stress levels lowered by following the Green Acres "send your kid to college" plan. I’ll show you what I mean.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
Step One: Discuss who is paying for college
Arnold the pig isn’t feeling well, but fortunately, Eb Dawson (Tom Lester) quickly helps restore him back to his old pig self. That becomes the catalyst for the episode's plot: sending Eb to college.
You see, after Arnold's quick recovery, Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) and Oliver Douglas (Eddie Albert) wind up at Sam Drucker’s store – talking about how the young farmhand would have made an excellent veterinarian.
The problem? Eb never went to college. Lisa wonders why he didn’t go.
“I don’t think he could afford to,” Drucker says.
On the drive home, Lisa suggests to Oliver that they pay for Eb to go to college. Then they have this exchange about the high cost of higher education:
Oliver: Well, it can be pretty expensive.
Lisa: How expensive? Mink coat expensive or sable coat expensive?
Lisa: Well, then why don't we send Eb to college instead?
Oliver: Instead of what?
Lisa: You buying me a mink coat.
Oliver: I wasn't going to buy you a mink coat.
Lisa: Well, then -- you certainly can afford to send Eb to college.
Oliver actually ends up agreeing with Lisa that they should send him to college – and tells Eb that he’d like to pay for him to go to college to become a veterinarian. Eb is beyond excited and grateful – and promises to pay back every penny.
Green Acres is a silly show (though far more subversive and shrewd than it may seem at first glance), but at this moment, Tom Lester's performance creates an entire backstory to his character. Offering to pay for Eb’s college is an extremely generous gesture on Oliver and Lisa’s parts, and the farmhand has reason to be elated and appreciative.
Still, Eb is so over-the-top overjoyed and grateful that you suddenly get the sense that he hasn’t been helped out much. The subtext is definitely there that Eb's parents didn't have much of a role in his life, or if they did, it wasn't a good one. Eb looks like he's in his mid-20s, and Lester was around 27 when Green Acres began filming. So you kind of get the sense that maybe Eb's life, before meeting up with Oliver and Lisa, wasn't so hot either.
Oliver, to his credit, says that Eb paying them back isn’t necessary. Eb insists on reimbursing them, but once Lisa gets involved, it’s clear – Oliver and Lisa will be paying for this.
Whatever you and your college-bound kid decide, the how to pay for college – and who is paying for it -- is a good conversation to have at the outset.
Step Two: Pick a College
That’s the next thing on the agenda for Eb and the Douglases. Eb asks, “How do I get to Harvard?”
Oliver, a Harvard grad himself, is a bit aghast at the idea of paying for ivy league education. He is happy to pay for Eb to go to college, but Harvard’s a bit much (and, of course, there’s the whole question of getting into Harvard, which the series doesn’t address). Eb is fine with not going to Harvard. Lisa is not.
“Mrs. Douglas, I don’t care where I go,” Eb says.
“You stay out of this,” Lisa says. “This is between your father and me.”
“I’m not his father,” bellows Oliver.
“You sure know how to hurt a guy,” Eb says.
“No, no, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m trying to help you,” Oliver says. “I mean, surely there must be some local college around here where you can study veterinary medicine.”
Eb isn’t sure, but he figures Hank Kimball would know.
Hank Kimball, if you’re not familiar with the show, was this good-natured, knowledgeable and yet kind dense county agent, and Oliver goes to talk to him.
“Oh, Eb would make a fine vet,” Mr. Kimball says, when Oliver explains why he’s there to see him. “He’s kind, intelligent, and… Eb who?”
“The boy who works for me,” Oliver says.
“Oh, he’d make a fine vet, too,” Mr. Kimball says.
In any case, Mr. Kimball suggests that Eb attend County College. Of course, you kind of think, “Why didn’t Oliver think of County College? Yes, he’s somewhat new to the area, having only lived in Hooterville for about a year, but, still…”
Of course, if you’re overthinking Green Acres, you probably aren’t watching it correctly.
Step Three: Apply to a College
Green Acres lightly addresses this later, but we’d be remiss to not mention this as an important step in the applying for college process. I guess watching Green Acres for tips on sending a kid to college only gets you so far.
Step Four: Start Shopping for College
At some point, this is a step you’ll definitely want to take. Oliver Douglas is actually all over this one, informing Eb that he will need a new suit.
“Darling, should we send him to New York to your tailor, or should we fly your tailor here?” Lisa asks.
Oliver shoots down that idea, but he does tell Eb that he can go to Pixley (a nearby and bigger town) and buy whatever he needs. Oliver seems to me especially accommodating and pleasant to Eb in this episode. Maybe it’s because of how grateful Eb was earlier to be sent to college, and Oliver feels bad that he may have had a lousy childhood.
It's in this “step” that Green Acres makes a solid argument that not everything marketed to college students is something you necessarily need to purchase.
They make that point when the scriptwriters (Dick Chevillat and Jay Sommers) bring in Mr. Haney. For those not familiar with the show, Mr. Haney is a peddler, a guy who will try to sell you the shirt off your own back. He’s very likeable but kind of shifty.
Mr. Haney tries to interest Oliver and Lisa in Eb’s very own “complete college kit,” which looks like something that would have been perfect for any college student during the 1920s.
“A generous man like you, [you] must’ve already bought him his college kit,” Mr. Haney says, when trying to butter up Oliver, to close a sale.
“No, I haven’t,” Oliver says.
“Then this is my lucky day,” Mr. Haney says.
“No, it isn’t,” Oliver says.
As for this college kit, I would totally buy it from Mr. Haney. It’s pretty amazing and stuffed with so much early American history that I’ve decided that I’ll write about it next week as its own stand-alone post.
Step Five: Start Packing for College
We don’t see Eb packing, but they mention a few times that he’s either packing or finished packing, and, yes, this is an important component of sending a kid to college.
Step Six: Have “The Talk.”
If your kid is going off to college, you’ll want to impart some of your hard-earned wisdom before they set off. Sure, hopefully you’ve been doing this for your kid’s entire life, but still the occasion probably does demand some sort of discussion.
Eb says to Oliver, “I suppose you want to talk to me.”
“What about?” Oliver wonders.
“Whatever an older man talks to a younger man about, at a time like this.”
Oliver doesn’t have any great speech planned, but he does suggest that Eb “take care of yourself. You know, work hard, get good marks.”
Good advice, if a bit generic. If you're sending a kid to college, I’m sure you can do better.
“You don’t want to touch on girls, huh?” Eb asks Oliver.
That’s when Lisa tries to give Eb some advice on dating, and Oliver makes the attempt as well. The conversation then devolves into Lisa accusing Oliver of being a ladies’ man. Oliver does offer a bit more practical advice that all college students should remember:
“Eb, if you’ve got any problems, discuss them with your counselor,” Oliver advises.
Eb thinks that’s just a swell idea. “Gosh, Mr. Douglas. I always knew there were facts of life, but this is the first time anybody ever explained them to me.”
Geez, I’m picturing Eb’s parents completely ignoring him. Just how dark was his childhood?
Step Seven: Be ready for empty nest syndrome.
It hits Lisa rather hard. She wanders around the barn the day that Eb has left for college. He’s been gone for much of the day, and she is feeling a little blue. Oliver admits that it’s a little lonely around the place without Eb.
Empty nest syndrome is something that all parents of college students, or guardians or whatever Lisa and Oliver are to Eb need to be prepared to deal with. Suddenly, your calendar is going to be more empty, and the house, strangely quiet.
Lisa suggests that they go visit Eb.
“It’s his first day,” Oliver protests.
Fortunately, for Oliver and Lisa they don’t have to deal with empty nest syndrome for long. After Lisa asks Oliver when they will go visit Eb, they turn around to see him there in the barn, wearing his new suit, grinning. He is as cheerful as ever and holding a college pennant.
“Hello, folks. I’m home from college,” Eb says.
Oliver is surprised. “You just got there this morning,” he says.
“Boy, that’s a tough school,” Eb says. “I flunked one question on the entrance exam, and they threw me out.”
And that question would be…?
Eb explains: “What high school did you graduate from?”
Yes, folks. Before you send a kid to college, make sure they’ve finished high school. Very important. You’re welcome.
It could be construed as a pretty sad ending for a Green Acres ending if you overthink it, which, as noted, you really shouldn’t do. There’s no talk of Eb getting his high school diploma. Instead, Eb is going to go back to his old job and apparently give up any thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. Meanwhile, Lisa reminds Oliver that he never did buy her a mink coat.
Still, not everything is dire. After all, Eb is happy to be back – “Gosh, it’s good to be home, watching Mom and Dad fight,” he says -- and when he offers to return his suit and other clothes, Oliver declines and tells his farmhand to keep the new wardrobe. Whatever Eb’s stormy and tragic childhood was like, which led to him never finishing high school, with the Oliver and Lisa Douglas to watch out for him, at least his adulthood isn’t looking so bad.
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