The power is off in our community and my regular Friday blog is locked in the memory of my iMac desktop computer. I’m writing this substitute post on my iPad mini with the battery running low. So here I sit. In the dark save for a couple of candles and the glow from my mini screen. NO TV! Next to Dave and our dogs, one TV or another has been my most constant daily (and late night) companion.
I remember the first time I saw a TV. The year must have been 1947. I was four years old. Our neighbors up Market Street in Lykens, Pennsylvania shocked the whole little town by wasting money on buying one of the new fangled, impractical contraptions. Nonetheless, my mother was pleased, no actually honored, that our family was the first to be invited to watch a show. The Saturday Night Fights. I didn’t like the sound of that.
My mother, being a Pennsylvania Dutch woman, reacted the only way she knew how. We had a cherry tree in our backyard and Saturday afternoon, she baked fresh picked cherries into a pie to take to our host and hostess. She then put my big sister Sheila and me into the bathtub and scrubbed us until our skins glowed. We both had curly hair and I can still feel the hairbrush being dragged through my mop to get out every last tangle. Even though we weren”t twins, she put Sheila and me into starched and ironed dresses that were exactly alike. Next came black patten leather Mary Jane shoes and white anklets. She insisted that my father wear his suit. She wore her best wool dress and her most beautiful set of matching ear rings, necklace, and bracelet. Nylons with perfectly straight seams and black high heels.
We walked up the street with our heads held high. My mother carried her purse, although my father tried to tell her she’d have no need of it. He carried the pie under an immaculate dish towel. Neighbors peeked out from living room curtains slightly pushed aside. Looking back on it now, except maybe for the pie, we may as well been on our way to visit the Pope.
The TV screen was tiny. Thanks to the surrounding mountains, the picture was fuzzy. I hated watching the two men punch each other. Blood running down their faces. I was grateful when our hostess served the pie. After that, I fell asleep on my father’s lap.
As we took our leave our host asked me, “How’d you like watching TV?”
Barely awake. I said the first thing that came to mind, “I hope I never have to look at one again.”
I clearly remember the uproar that followed. My mother shouted, “Jean! You say you’re sorry right this minute. And thank you for inviting us.” I was too terrified to utter another word and took cover behind Sheila. That’s what big sisters are for, right? My father, not having the pie to carry home, carried me. I cried all the way down the street, using the shoulder of his suit as a handkerchief. My mother would have paddled me had she known! As we walked along he tried to calm her down and assured we wouldn’t have to move just because the gossip the next day would be all about how I had insulted the richest people in town.
Things happened pretty fast after that. My father received a job offer and we moved to Lincoln Park, Michigan. It was a community filled with women who stayed home and took care of kids and houses. The men worked on the “line” at Ford’s, Chevrolet, or GM. Or in one of the machine shops that supplied them. Thanks to labor unions the men earned good wages. Most families had a TV. Sheila and I went with our parents when they went out to buy one. Average screen size was 12-15 inches. My mother insisted on one that came in at 27 inches. It seemed like a theater screen in our tiny living room.
It was Saturday night. Lots of neighbors crowded into our front room to see our monster big TV. (Nary a suit in sight.) My mother served pop corn. Beer for the adults. Vernor’s ginger ale for the kids. The program we watched was Saturday Night at the Movies. Kirk Douglas in THE BIG TREES. By then, I’d come to love TV, but I didn’t like boxing until Mohamad Ali.
The power has just come back on. My TV has flickered back to life. Just in time for Project Runway. All is well. But it was nice to have had a TV free, quiet moment.