Let the TV Rest

Dad considered TV a fad and refused to purchase one. One year, we received a television set as a gift from one of Dad’s clients. Of course, our mother had no intention of recognizing it as the property of the whole family, since she had her own ideas about television watching. It was all hers in her mind.

It was my most fervent hope that I would be able to view “American Bandstand” when I came home from school.

Family watching television, c. 1958

As long as Mother liked the music, I could watch. Once she was dissatisfied with the music or the group or the sponsors or anything else, I was done watching and the set was turned off. She said she believed in a concept called, “Letting the TV rest,” and she also claimed we had to “Warm up the set” prior to any program that you wished to watch. More than likely, this was another case of her exercising her life-long principle that if she didn’t like something, nobody else would get to enjoy it.

My sister Lindy and I both Phil Baker (comedian)enjoyed the Mickey Mouse Club, but we were also not allowed to view that. In the evening, Mother had her “special programs” which she could not miss under any circumstances. One of her favorites was the Gary Moore Show. She thought Gary Moore was a riot and would sit in her big green recliner, sipping on “something” from her aluminum glass, and laughing loudly.

No one else was allowed to suggest a program or a channel different from the one she had directed her gaze to. She watched game shows like “I’ve Got a Secret” every night, and she was positively ecstatic when they began to be broadcast every afternoon.

Sweet TeaWhile drinking and watching, she was (of course) also smoking. Generally a big blue cloud surrounded her head and sometimes engulfed the television. Watching TV with her was not that enjoyable since she controlled not only the programming (and the volume – usually quite high) but also the reactions. If you said, “I hate this program,” you were relegated to the basement where you could listen to music, but not watch anything.

We tried in vain to act as though we liked what she liked. We tried to enjoy shows like Gary Moore, Mannix, and The $64,000 Question. When you are a child, those are not the most exciting shows. So my sister and I turned to books. We read for hours since we could go to the public library or Bookmobile and check out whatever we wanted. No one was able to say, “I don’t care for that.”

Bookshelf full of booksWe made our own choices and learned to live with them (at least for the two weeks until we could once again visit the library).

I don’t know if Mother planned to teach us to love reading by the use of TV Torture any more than she planned to teach us to be independent by Parental Neglect. As in so many other instances, we inadvertently learned by observation of Mother leading her life in her own far from normal way. We learned, we adapted, and we recognized ways that we did not want to live our lives.

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