Family Firsts – Television

We had a black and white television that sat on a TV cart long before we had the handsome television encased in a wood veneer case. It had antenna wire twisted onto screws in the back (later, some had u-clips on the end). I have written before about our process of turning the antenna to tune in far away stations.

I do not remember when we got our first color television, but I remember when the first person in the Valley purchased theirs. It was a big deal and all of us wanted to go see the beginning of “The Wonderful World of Disney” or see the NBC peacock spread its plumage in glorious color. Of course there was a gimmick to turn your black and white TV into a color TV. You could buy an Instant Color TV screen with three colors to place in front of your television screen. They were hideous.

The antenna was not the only thing that controlled the image on the television set. Depending on the type of television you had, there were controls to adjust the width and height of the image on the screen, a vertical hold and a horizontal hold. Since these adjustments were on the back of the television, it was best to have someone in front telling you when to stop adjusting. This video might bring back some memories, although this is a color television set.

Eventually if you lived in a more urban area where signals were stronger, there were rabbit ears – antennas that were either built into the set or that sat on top and were attached to the back of the set. One might often see aluminum foil wrapped around the antenna to help boost the signal reception. Ahhh, the glory days!

There were two frequencies VHF and UHF, with early televisions not having a UHF receiver. Later televisions shipped with a circular antenna for UHF  but many people did not know its purpose. I found a great blog on the history of UHF if you are nerdy like me and want to read it. I found it very interesting.

The History of UHF-TV

Early televisions were not instant-on, nor were they instant off. I can still recall the screen disappearing into a tiny dot until it finally faded away. Television stations ‘signed-off the air’ at night with the familiar ‘test pattern’ appearing on screen until the station came back on air the following morning. And there were no remotes. Thankfully there were four children in our family and we took turns serving as the remotes for our parents. It was deemed the light from televisions was bad for children’s eyes, so we were made to sit away from the television instead of sprawled on the floor in front of the set. I can remember having TV lamps which were supposed to help with protecting our eyes.

Televisions got bigger and everyone had a color TV. Eventually there were remotes and more than one television in a house. Cable was introduced (remember when it was supposed to be commercial free because you paid for it? Ha!) We had one station growing up and it seemed there was always something to watch. Now cable offers so many channels and there seems to be nothing to watch.

Our television viewing of choice now has shifted to streaming. We do not subscribe to any cable television at all.

What do you remember about your early days of television? Perhaps, depending on your age, you have never known a time without cable. I’d love to hear!

Jack H. Kubanoff, Indian head test pattern labeled, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Five Retro Things I Am Pondering

The mind is a strange thing. I had an almost sleepless night as a lingering cough objected loudly any time I tried to lie down. I sat up in my bed for hours and so many thoughts crossed my mind. After a few hours of sleep, these are the thoughts that still linger.

  1. We had a Western Auto store in the small town 7 miles from the Valley. I don’t think they exist anymore, but this is where my parents bought our first (and only) bicycles. A red boy’s bike for my brother and a blue girl’s bike for me and my sisters to share. I thought Western Auto was a hardware store, but I think now they were an auto parts store.
  2. We had wire pant stretchers used to help stretch and put creases in pants after they were washed. I have not seen them in ages, but they are still available for purchase. Laundry was always hung on a clothesline to dry, so anything to help keep the shape intact was helpful I suppose.
  3. Speaking of laundry, after clothes came in off the line, they needed to be ironed as almost everything was cotton in those days. My grandmother put clothes that needed to be pressed into an ironing basket. She had a green 7-Up bottle with a laundry sprinkler top designed to allow small droplets of water to moisten the clothes before ironing. You can still buy those, too.
  4. We had a five and dime store in the same town as the Western Auto. Our five and dime was part of a local chain started by entrepreneur Pete Ramsey. His stores eventually spread from the original location in Tennessee to include stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida. My favorite part of the store was the candy counter where I bought coconut bonbons and the toy section where I bought a TomThumb toy cash register and an amber colored glass piggy bank.
  5. I was trying to remember the first movie I ever saw in an indoor movie theatre. I think it was Swiss Family Robinson released in 1960. Our movie theater may not have received new releases right away so I cannot tell you what year I may have actually seen it. I don’t think there was a snack bar in the theater. We might have stopped at the local drug store next door to enjoy a vanilla or cherry coke before seeing the movie.

Did we share any experiences? What was the first movie you ever saw at an indoor theater? Do you remember?


Mam-Maw’s Treasures and Fascinations

My paternal grandmother was always known to us as ‘Mam-Maw’ a fairly common southern term for grandmother. She was a prim and proper lady who always shouldered great burdens throughout her life. Her mother died when she was 16, and she married my grandfather (who was 17 years her senior) only 5 months later. She and my grandfather cared for her younger siblings until they married and moved out on their own. She gave birth to a stillborn child before my father was born and as a result, he was raised as an only child.

My grandmother as a young woman

I have always considered her home as the place where my foundation was established – much of that due to her influence. She was a wonderful cook and worked hard to keep a tidy house. She cared deeply for her belongings and took great care of them, considering everything as precious.

I was the youngest of four children and until I was old enough to venture out with my siblings, I spent a lot of time underfoot. I think she was a sentimentalist, always keeping letters and photos from friends and loved ones neatly tidied away in organized boxes. I loved looking though her things asking her questions. I remember the day I stumbled upon a photo of her as a young woman posed with cigarette in hand. When I asked her if she smoked she was mortified. She sat me down for a long chat explaining she and her friends were pretending to smoke while posing for the photo and how she was ashamed of it. I probably would not remember it at all except for her reaction.

Mam-Maw’s jewelry box was an old cardboard Whitman’s chocolate box. Inside the box were two black cardboard box dividers that fit so snugly against one another they did not appear removable. One day I did discover they lifted out of the box. Underneath was a black hand-sewn pouch containing 5 or 6 silver dollars. That same pouch and those same silver dollars sit in my safe deposit box today.

My grandmother did not have anything besides costume jewelry. Pins decorated with ornate flowers and strands of pale pink or ivory colored ‘pop beads’.  What a delight for a child to pop and un-pop those beads! I was often allowed to wear pop beads to church as long as I did not ‘pop’ them during the sermon.

In her wardrobe were boxes of nylons. When purchased from the store, the nylons were beautiful and in the perfect shape of a woman’s leg and foot. Hers often had seams down the back and when she wore them, they were rolled up just at the base of her knee.

Inside a cardboard shoe box was an old stereograph with two bunches of stereo cards. These double image cards produced a 3-D effect when viewed through the viewer. I would sit for hours amazed at the well dressed Victorian ladies bathing their cherub babies in porcelain wash tubs. There were images of highly decorative hotel lobbies in faraway cities and fields of tobacco in Panama. All images to inspire a child’s imagination. I still have this stereoscope and it still lives in the same shoebox that one day probably protected a new pair of my grandmother’s shoes.

In the room adjoining her bedroom was a box that contained all sorts of thermometers and glass hypodermic needles from her time as a home care nurse. I have two glass thermometers, but I am sure they are not the same ones. I would have loved to have one of the old glass hypodermic needles but somewhere through the years they disappeared.

My grandmother could be strict, although she had a soft spot for her grandchildren. She exercised a great deal pf patience with four small children underfoot day and night. But you would never know it.

My grandmother years later

When I think of her, three images of her come to mind. One of her sweeping away the snow under the forsythia bush to feed the birds, one of her singing hymns while she canned food in the kitchen, and third, sitting in my grandfather’s red recliner peeling apples into a metal pie tin – the peel in one long unbroken strip.