In living color

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 5:00pm

These days when I walk into my living room half-listening to voices, I glance reflexively at the space where the television used to be.

It has moved all of a few feet, from a space between two west-facing windows — where a television has been most of my memory — to a different wall. I am of an age where I am able to remember our first set, which wasn’t even ours, rather a winter “loaner” from the then owner of the High View, who did not want to leave it in the unheated building. My dad had done roofing for him, and I remember going up there with my mother, walking around the off-season empty bar now occupied by Club Soda.

The wide open landscapes that are so striking in the murals on the walls did not seem at all alien back then, the painting might have been little more than a decade old. They were bright and colorful, like the drawings in my favorite books. I recognized the silos of the Heinz Farm, the stone tower on Beacon Hill was clearly visible from multiple locales, multiple steamers docked at Payne’s in the summertime, not the ones shown but I was a little girl and such details did not matter. There was, however, only one house I did not recognize, a funky cottage my mother told me was out on the bank, tucked in beyond the Southeast Lighthouse.

Then there was the Philco television, a box of faux wood, likely with a small screen, set on an old table, located so it was an easy reach through a hole drilled in the wall behind it to the aerial antenna outside, a system of straight wires perched on the metal pole. My older brother would be sent out to turn it manually to catch a signal of one of the two Providence stations we received.

Pieces blew off it and it, or perhaps a replacement, was eventually put in the attic, where it remains, now abandoned. That hole in the wall later accommodated the islandwide cable installed with the Department Of Energy wind turbine — but that’s later.

For two years in the fifties, we had a black and white, or a various shades of snowy gray, television during the winter months. There is not a great deal I remember, the news, of course, Romper Room, and some of those shows that float around in the collective memory, without time placing anchors. There was Saturday morning programming, and one show I recall for the gimmick of a mail-away-for a sheet that stuck to the glass. It could be written upon with a crayon, and anyone who traced the series of partial letters on the screen would have a whole word.

I was too little to reach the screen, too little to know what word the letters formed, and, worst of all, my older brother, taller and able to read, kept it a secret.

(Google is amazing, “Winky Dink and You,” called by Bill Gates the “first interactive TV show.”)

But it was the news, and the possibility of news, that seemed to make our parents splurge after two winters and buy televisions, one for us, another for my grandmother. They thought it would be good company for her but I think she tolerated it for them, going back to her radio as soon as they left her house.

Everything revolved around the evening news, and a Sunday morning news show, and the expectation of political coverage. Later, I was aware of the witness of historical events unfolding, the inauguration of a president and not even three years later, his funeral. There was a morning broadcast from Europe via Telstar, not without bumps, the launching of the first astronauts into space, and the horror of the civil rights marches across the South.

These days I am flipping back and forth between those long ingrained instincts to follow the news and a station in my very limited over-the-air choice which runs, among other shows, “Bonanza” as I never saw it, in “living color.” It is still the early seasons, the real “Bonanza,” with Adam and Hoss and Little Joe flanking their father, Ben Cartwright, as they ride across the open land toward the camera, that swelling music playing.

The map of the Ponderosa bursts into flames, something I do not understand any more today than I did then, but a nice visual, nonetheless. The backgrounds are probably even more obviously drawn in color, with the one-time magic of television long faded, and there is the oddity of that grand rustic-elegant house inhabited only by always freshly laundered men, but it is a fun respite nonetheless and the good guys always prevail, a welcome certainty.