by Judith Allen
Getting the first television and enjoying the wonders of the wonderful new invention.
|I Fell In Love With Ingmar Johansson
My grandfather bought a television because I came home from school one day, or many days in fact, with a long face and pleading eyes lamenting that I was the only one in my class who didn't have one, and "Poppy, could we please get one, now!!" Of course that wasn't true. Only a couple of little rich girls who wore skirts and crinolines and sweater sets that weren't from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue could brag about what they saw on television the night before. They read fashion magazines and secretly smoked cigarettes outside the gym door, and they were so cool. And all I wanted was a television so I would know what they were talking about.
My grandfather wasn't wild about the idea of this thing invading his home and taking over a spot in the living room, but he had put up with my listening to the soaps, or the serials as they were called, on the radio, even though he considered it just so much noise. He gave me money to buy 45s at the record shop because I had to know the top 10 songs. I was his 'Little Pooch' and he would get me anything he could. So it came to pass that one day I came home from school to find a large thing of metal and wires being installed on our roof, with quite a gathering in the yard watching the proceedings. My grandmother had made iced tea and was visiting with the women who were secretly watching the men crawling around on the roof and wondering who would fall off first. My grandfather was in the house yelling that he couldn't see anything but snow and lines jumping around on this blasted thing. What was this "reception" you were supposed to get?
I ran into the house and there before my eyes was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a big box made of wood to look like a piece of furniture. My grandmother could put a lacy doily on top and maybe a candy dish too. At the bottom were all kinds of knobs that controlled volume, which my grandfather always complained was too loud, and station selection, and horizontal hold. We became familiar with that one quickly, because for some reason it never seemed to hold. But the most miraculous thing was a little square window in the center that could bring a whole new world into your very own home. And as I watched, the snow went away and the horizontal held and a grainy, but lovely black and white picture appeared. I saw our very first picture on our very first television and it was beyond words. I was hooked.
We only got three channels. And one of them was usually snowy, except on the rare occasion when the wind blew a certain way, and the clouds cleared over the hill behind the barn and the planets were in the right alignment. And then the picture was bright and clear and we delighted in comedies and canned laughter and cowboys wrangling cattle and protecting the homestead. The nightly news was a half hour and when we got special bulletins we all held our breath and listened because we knew it was something really important. Saturday morning was a delight with Howdy Doody and My Friend Flicka and Sky King. I really wanted to fly above the clouds in the Songbird. There were real soap operas with doctors and intense illnesses and romance. Who could imagine a kiss on television! My grandfather didn't like those at all, but my grandmother was transported into the stories and in her own quiet way she prevailed. He could never say no to her either.
The stations actually signed off at night to give us all a rest. And if you made it that far you could brag about seeing the test pattern. It signed on in the morning, coming to life and beginning another day. It was amazing that it was so smart that it knew what to do and got the time just right. We always flipped the knob to see if we could get three stations that day or just the two.
Our house became a neighborhood gathering place. After we children had our fill of the earlier shows we were ushered outside to play in the growing darkness, catching fireflies in the summer and bundled up against the cold as the seasons passed into fall and winter. Springtime was magical with the aroma of new flowers in the garden and the girls getting secret bouquets from various want-to-be boyfriends. My grandmother was not pleased with their amorous efforts. The grown ups took over the wonderful television, watched the news, argued politics, and finally agreed on shows that became their favorites and settled in for a social evening. Someone was usually sent up on the roof to adjust the antenna before the night was over.
Much to my delight I discovered the world of sports. I had to know every baseball score for the Cincinnati Reds and the first thing I did when I came home from school was turn on the game. Football and basketball soon followed. There was a game for every season. And somewhere along the way I discovered Friday Night Fights and fell in love with Ingmar Johansson.
While my grandfather was a very cerebral man and preferred his books and study to anything as frivolous as the drivel on television, for some reason he loved boxing. I loved sports of any kind and was a dedicated fan of any competition. I believe it happened one night when I sat glued to the broadcast of the Friday Night Fights coming from Madison Square Garden, which I thought sounded like a wonderful, exciting place, when my grandfather put his book down in his lap and took a quick look at what was going on. This became our routine. I would turn it on, he would pretend he wasn't interested and then we would both be pulled into the power and sheer brutality of two modern gladiators having at each other. I might not have watched as ardently if it hadn't been for the Swede with the fist of Inge, the hammer of Thor. His name was wonderful, his athleticism was far above everybody and he was from Sweden. What could be more mysterious than that?
In our house our first love was books. So Sweden was quickly researched. My grandfather pulled a geography book from the shelf and Ingmar's home was probably never so thoroughly researched that by the two of us in an old farm house in southern Ohio. I was transported there and understood his pride in country. My grandfather took the side of whoever his opponent was, with a great love for Floyd Patterson . We compared statistics and argued the pros and cons of each boxer and through it all my heart belonged to Ingmar.
I don't know when I stopped watching Friday Night Fights. Perhaps when Ingmar's fights weren't broadcast anymore. Most likely when my grandfather was no longer there to argue the finer points of boxing, and also open my eyes and heart to the wonder of another world.
Everybody in the neighborhood got televisions, our social gathering drifted away. At least my grandmother's flowers were safe, and she still had her soaps. News expanded to take up more time, even when there was nothing to report, color came into being, the horizontal hold, held and we didn't have to wonder if we could only get two channels or three. Stations never signed off and we couldn't watch the test pattern anymore. It was all lovely while it lasted.