If a genie had appeared to me when I was ten and offered me anything my heart desired, the answer would have poured out of me.
Some girls want ponies. Some want Barbies. Some are generous enough to think of others first, asking for world peace or food for the hungry. Others go straight for a million dollars. I would not have asked for any of those.
The thing I longed for was magic. All the other kids seemed to have it. At the first recess of the day lots of conversations began with “Did you see. . . .?” And everyone else jumped in to share their impressions of what they saw the night before.
Lunch boxes, pencil cases, coloring books, cereal boxes, not to mention toy pistols, cowboy hats, holsters, dolls, and trucks–all these essential items of a child going to public school in the 1950’s–carried pictures of The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Annie Oakley, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy. The coolest kids always had a new item to show off or a new story to tell from last night’s broadcasts. They even acted out the Alpo commercials at recess! They all had television at home.
Television. I wanted one so much I dreamed we had one in the cellar. When I woke up, I bolted out of bed and down to flights of wooden stairs, hoping that the vivid picture of a square wooden box with a grey-glass screen in front and rabbit ears on top was real. I traveled through all three levels of the dark, damp cellar, from concrete floor to hand-dug one, each level proving less and less likely material for a dream-come-true. I slowly came back upstairs to the kitchen and joined the family for breakfast, never telling anyone about my burst bubble.
My grandpa was a widowerer who lived alone–with a television in the living room! My brother and I begged to go to his house. When my parents took the train to Madison Square Garden to hear Billy Graham, we got to go to Grandpa’s house and watched the Lone Ranger. Oh bliss! We may have watched the Graham crusade also, but if we did, I don’t remember it nearly as well as that opening sequence with the William Tell Overture.
Not having a tv set was so much of a social handicap that I temporarily turned into a female peeping Tom. We had four near-by neighbors. Two were Mennonite and, like us, had no television. Two were not. I found myself looking for excuses to go to their houses. I watched The Mouseketeers at the George household, and by a stroke of amazing luck, I was sitting in the Wideman livingroom when this show was broadcast, perhaps the most famous “I Love Lucy” episode of all time. Oh how we laughed.
Later in life, as I discovered friends who talked more about books, music, and film than about television, I looked back on my deprivation with something akin to gratitude. I spent long hours reading, enjoying the outdoors, playing with friends and family, and trying out my imagination.
All that longing found an object eventually. And even when I was a television-starved ten-year-old, God answered my prayers with the opportunity to see one really great show–Lucy stomping the grapes!
What role has television played in your life? Do you watch more or less than you did as a child?