Mama and the new TV is probably my most requested story. I told it at the historical society once and the video ended up on YouTube and was used as part of a Smithsonian Exhibit. This is a chapter from my memoir and is all 100 percent true.
Mama and the new TV
I know it was late afternoon when the television salesman came because Daddy was at home and Mama was at work. Daddy worked days at the shoe factory and Mama worked evenings at the State Hospital. My best friend, Femi Adams, and I were playing in the road ditch making mud birthday cakes. We decorated them with orange trumpet flower candles picked off the vines that grew along the railroad track on the other side of the road. We were wearing our usual summer outfits of ragged white panties, but when the stranger in his starched white shirt stepped out of his truck, Sissy ran out of the house and dropped a cotton dress down over my head. I was already on my way to that panel truck and she chased me down the sidewalk trying to tie the sash. She didn’t get it tied until Daddy stopped my momentum with a hand dropped absently down to stroke my hair, as he asked the salesman, “Westerns? You can watch western movies?”
The salesman had thrown open the doors of his panel truck to reveal rows of television sets. And not just any televisions! These were huge, with beautiful dark wood cabinets and 25 inch glass screens. The pied-piper magic of this vision had drawn in every kid on the street and most of the adults.
The salesman’s pitch was simple. A free television for every house. Absolutely free! No obligation to buy anything. Ever! Free entertainment for one full week until the panel truck came back around. “We’ll talk about the details then, Sir, if you should happen to decide you want to keep it. If not, I’ll just load it back in the truck. No questions asked.”
Within the hour every television had been unloaded. The truck was gone and even though the late afternoon sun still lingered, the streets were empty. Mud pies, bicycles, marble games, and front porch swings were abandoned. Every family was inside watching television.
At our house the first show we watched was a cartoon called “Crusader Rabbit”. A little later Daddy was leaning forward in his chair, captivated by the adventures of the Cisco Kid. We didn’t mind that the picture was a little snowy. Even the commercials were new and exciting to us and we enjoyed everything the box had to offer. We were still gathered in front of the television when Mama came home at 10:30. That’s when all hell broke loose.
Her first questions, “Why are the kids still up?” and “Where did that come from?” led quickly into a loud, fast-paced argument with Daddy that seemed to have more to do with our icebox than it did with the television. My older brothers, at 8 and 10, were smart enough to quickly and quietly take themselves off to bed. I wanted to stay and see how the fight turned out, but my sister grabbed my hand and insisted I go to the outhouse with her. As she dragged me through the kitchen, I stopped in front of our big wooden icebox, with its many brass handled doors and asked Sissy what seemed to me to be an obvious question. “Why does Mama want a new icebox? We already have an icebox.”
“She means an electric icebox, silly! We’re about the only family left in Mokane that doesn’t already have one.”
As we headed down the path past the garden, the sound of the argument faded. But even after we were settled in the outhouse, me on the little hole, Sissy on the big one, with the door firmly closed, we could still catch an occasional outburst. We waited until it was completely quiet before we cleaned up with pages torn from the Montgomery Ward catalog and headed back to the house.
The next day after Daddy and Sissy had gone to work and the boys had taken their fishing poles and headed for the creek, I talked Mama into letting me turn the television on. I was hoping for Crusader Rabbit, but the first thing we saw was a picture of a lighthouse with its beam searching out across the darkness. Mama gasped as the house filled with the familiar theme music of the “Guiding Light,” her favorite radio soap opera.
She took in ironing to make a little extra money in the mornings and usually went through two or three baskets at a time, but that morning she barely finished one. Dr. Nichols’ shirts narrowly escaped scorching as Mama marveled at actually seeing the faces of people she had only imagined before.
When the television salesman came back the next week, both Mama and Daddy were at home. They both signed the finance papers and the television was ours to keep.
Mama said it was because ‘you can’t bring something like that in here and let the kids have a taste of it, and then just take it away from them.’
It was another full year before we got that electric icebox.