Letters and Diary Fiction posted January 26, 2021

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Growing up with television

Memories of this World ch.3

by estory

We were the first generation to grow up with TV. Our first glimpse of the world beyond our house and home came through this marvel of engineered tubes and wiring and that antenna snatching those programs out of waves and signals in the open air. Script writers, cartoonists, actors and actresses, directors from Hollywood would concoct all sorts of entertainment for us to enjoy while sitting on our couches, holding us spellbound for hours. There were mysteries and dramas, vaudeville slapstick, silly cartoons and that evolution of the comic skit, the TV sitcom. And there was news. For the first time in history, a weatherman would stand in front of a map explaining cold fronts and the nuances of high and low pressure, predicting the weather for the week ahead. Walter Cronkite, sitting at his desk in the clicking newsroom, would tell us of Vietnam, the civil rights movement, hippies and the space program. Eric Severeid would read an editorial. Charles Kouralt, in his down home 'On the road' segment, would take you to small towns and nooks and crannies of neighborhoods all across America.

After school, we would watch the wise cracking antics of Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones and the Jetsons. We would follow the madcap adventures of the castaways on Gilligan's Island and Lost in Space. There was the wonderfully creepy Adams Family and the homely Munsters. After supper we'd gather around the coffee table, sitting in bean bag chairs and on sofas, eschewing books and board games for nightly episodes on the continuing sagas of Archie Bunker, Oscar and Felix, Mary Tyler Moore, Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce, The Flying Nun, Maxwell Smart and the Sweathogs from Brooklyn. We would become part of the extended families of the Partridge's and the Brady's. Over the years we watched Laura Ingalls and John Boy Walton grow up as if they were our distant cousins.

Of course there were those maddening commercials that became such an iconic part of American life. The Italian lady leaning out of the window yelling "Anthony! Anthony!" in all those Prince Spaghetti spots, the warm refrain of "Mmm Mmm good, Mmm Mmm good, that's what Campbell soups are, Mmm Mmm good!" the soothing tones of the suave Jamaican proclaiming "Seven up, the uncola!" and Tony the Tiger yelling "They're great!" about his frosted flakes or the crazy bird going "Coco for coco puffs, coco for coco puffs."

The old baseball broadcasts on WPIX brought me closer to my grandmother, and her lifetime of long support for the New York Yankees. Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Mercer would continue on the traditions of Mel Allen and the radio broadcasts she listened to in the glory days of Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, those legendary figures that seemed to stand like monuments in the world of our day. A corner of her living room, behind the old oak table with the clawed feet, next to the window overlooking the fire escape in her apartment, became our Yankee Stadium seats. We would sit next to each other, sipping Tahitian Treat sodas and eating Cracker Jacks, cheering on Thurmon Munson, Bobby Murcer, Roy White and Fritz Petersen, whether they won or lost.

Night after night, year after year, the television would bring us news of Martin Luther King's assassination, the fall of Saigon, Woodstock, and Watergate. We saw Mark Spitz swim off with all those gold medals at the Munich Olympics, Nadia Comaneci perform her perfect 10 at Montreal, the US hockey team beat the Soviets in the Miracle on ice. We watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon, and the summer of love unfolding in San Francisco. We saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show, Colombo and Rockford solve all those mysteries, Sonny and Cher sing 'I got you babe' with baby Chastity, and Karen Carpenter perform 'Merry Christmas darling' on that Christmas special before the eating disorder claimed her life.

The old black and white movies and the old movie stars from the world my mother grew up in, came back to life. Every year, it seemed, we watched Shirley Temple in the Little Princess, Clark Gable and Olivia DeHavilland in Gone With the Wind, Erol Flynn flash his saber as Robin Hood, Judy Garland walk the yellow brick road, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tap dancing through The Barklays of Broadway, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds reprising Singin In the Rain, Humphrey Bogart sitting in the smoky cafe of Casablanca. Like old friends, they visited us every year.

In the dim, flickering, black and white light, we were transported around the world, back in time, into fantasy and a perfection of experience that we thought must be almost like heaven.


Television, for good and bad, has become such a fabric of our lives and I wanted to articulate that sense of it as a background, an undercurrent, and a powerful connection in our society. I hope that these little memories will not only serve to conjure nostalgic feelings, but also make you think of how much these episodes shaped our growing up. In many ways, television became a shaper of morality, a vehicle of emotion, a replacement for family relationships. Instead of interacting with each other, we became part of the interactions of the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family and the Waltons. Another part of this chapter is the illustration of how we all shared many common events together, as a society, through TV. We experienced the Vietnam War and the protests over it, the civil rights movement, and Watergate together. We watched together as the men landed on the moon, as the US hockey team won that improbable gold medal, in all these little rooms all over the country, all over the world, in some cases, in all kinds of different situations. It is our shared experience as a society, as a country. Then there is this aspect of connecting to the past, through TV. Sharing in the experiences of our parents and even grandparents. By using TV as the common denominator, I hope to connect us all to these memories and experiences. I await your comments, which should be quite interesting, and I look forward to hearing you share your own perspectives on some of those commonly shared moments. estory
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© Copyright 2021. estory All rights reserved.
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