We got our first set in the early 1950’s when I was eleven years old. Until then we played outside, read books and comics, played board games or cards, went to the movies and listened to the radio. When my dad brought home our first black and white TV, he deposited it with great ceremony in the living room of our home in Mar Vista (West Los Angeles) and our lives changed forever.
My cousin, Jack, had a TV in his apartment for a year or so before we got ours. I’d visit Jack and we’d stay up late watching professional wrestling. We especially liked “Gorgeous George”, one of the eccentric characters who wrestled on the tiny screen.
The image on Jack’s TV was so small that my uncle installed a magnifying glass over it. It did make the picture seem larger, but it was also distorted. We didn’t care.
The other place I’d watch TV was at the home of a neighbor. On Saturday nights, Mary Jane, a girl in my class at Mar Vista Elementary, would invite my brother, Peter, and me over to watch with her family. Folding chairs were placed in rows in the living room and Mary Jane’s large, extended clan solemnly filed in to take their seats. We kids would sit on the rug in front of the seated adults. Mostly we’d watch The Spade Cooley Show and Frosty Frolics.
Before long, my folks moved the television from the living room to the “family room.” My mom bought a TV cart and now, instead of going to Mary Jane’s on Saturdays, Mother would wheel our dinner into the family room and we would watch more “sophisticated” fare such as Your Show of Shows or the Texaco Star Theater. Some shows my brother and I were not allowed to watch . . . shows like The Adventures of Superman (glorification of the ubermensch) or Our Gang (might lead us down unsavory paths).
Fortunately, I still loved to read. Sometimes, after a little TV and “lights out,” I’d take my flashlight and my book and dive under the covers of my bed in the room I shared with my brother. The flashlight under the blankets worked fine. Mother and Dad would stay up watching TV, the sound filtering through the two doors that separated our bedroom from the family room. It was a cozy, warm and secret way to read. I’d fall asleep quickly and would often wake in the middle of the night to find my flashlight pressing painfully into my hip or back.
Fast forward 60 years. I still enjoy TV and I still love to read. And now, equipped with my Kindle Paperwhite with its own backlit screen, I can turn off the lights and read until my hands grow numb and a delicious, warm drowsiness takes over.
By the way, sleeping on a Kindle beats sleeping on a flashlight hands down!
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