I recently came across a clip of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. My mind flooded with memories of the Sunday night bath, and snuggling up on the sofa in pajamas, waiting for Marlin Perkins to finish up so Walt Disney could begin. That was a long time ago.
Patience and the Picture Tube
My earliest memory of watching television involves my paternal grandparents and visiting their farmhouse. I remember my grandmother checking her watch and looking over at my grandfather. “Harold,” she’d say, “time to switch it on. Our show starts in fifteen minutes.” My grandfather would lay down whatever he was doing, cross the room and turn on the set.
My grandparents took no notice of the speck of light that developed in the middle of the screen, but I was riveted. While they continued knitting or reading, but I sat on the edge of my chair for that fifteen minutes, legs swinging back and forth. I’d wait for the magic until finally, a sudden burst of light, then the fuzzy black and white image spread slowly across the screen.
The picture was seldom well defined, even with the help of “rabbit ears”. We’d squint until we saw something identifiable we could enjoy. Sometimes we watched Lawrence Welk, The Pig and Whistle, or maybe Hockey Night in Canada. When my grandfather turned the channel, the dial made a heavy thunk sound, like he’d just moved a ten pound mechanism inside the cabinet. On nights when too many wavy lines traveled across the screen, he turned the set off. “Must be storming somewhere,” he’d say.
Turning the Tower
Years later, my maternal grandparents invested in a newer technology in the hopes of improved reception — a television antenna tower. My grandfather, Melvin, attached a screwdriver handle to this towering structure that stood next to the house. When we changed the channel, my grandfather would put on his jacket, and walk outside. He’d hold the homemade handle and turn the tower, then he’d tap on the dining room window. “Erie, how’s the picture?” he’d ask my grandmother. She’d wave him in when it was good enough and they’d settle in. During the week I spent at their house each summer, we’d watch The Big Valley with Barbara Stanwick, The Match Game with Gene Rayburn, and Hollywood Squares with Paul Lynde, and To Tell The Truth with Kitty Carlisle.
They’ll Never Know
As I write this piece, I laugh and disrupt my husband’s newspaper reading (on his tablet) with anecdotes and things I’m recalling. It feels good to remember.
My thoughts turn to our children, young adults now, all over twenty years of age. They’ve never imagined the colour of an actress’ dress while watching a black and white television, nor have they endured an hour of snowy reception to keep with a story. Our children don’t need to cross a room to manually change a television channel by turning a dial. They’ve probably never seen a tv station sign off for the day, or sign on again with the national anthem and a waving flag. Nor have they turned an antenna with a converter box or missed a program because inclement weather ruined the reception. Like many young people today, they do their viewing on a laptop.
I suppose that’s evolution.