I grew up watching TV back when it consisted of a mere handful of channels. I watched on a medium-sized black-and-white screen that teetered on a rolling metal stand and atop which was perched a pair of wilted rabbit ears. One of the rabbit ears always had a tin foil appendage springing out from it at an impossible angle, giving the whole set-up the air of a feeble, irritable robot, doing its best to flip off our family with its lone, Reynolds-Wrap digit.
Of course, this TV had no remote. I had heard of TVs with remotes, but had never seen one. Certainly no one in my neighborhood had such a fancy rig. If you wanted to change the channel, you heaved yourself off the sofa, fought your way through a couple yards of shag carpeting and flipped the dial with an audible thunk. Of course, if the other channel was at commercial, you stood there and waited to find out what showing. As a result, one of the biggest factors that determined my young viewing habits was laziness. A show had to be really awful for me to go to the trouble of getting up and changing the channel, which explains why I still can quote large passages of dialogue from “The Rifleman.”
Once every so often, though, something magical would happen on that little screen in the family room. It always began with the urgent pounding of kettle drums, followed by a clarion crescendo of French horns. This fanfare heralded one thing and one thing only: A CBS Special Presentation. Everyone in the house would run to the family room like travelers responding to a airport gate change announcement.
Regular programming has been interrupted! Something is about to happen!
And, if it were about this time in October, the CBS Special Presentation was “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
From the downbeat of Vince Guaraldi’s signature score to the last “Good Grief,” it was the perfectly satisfying Halloween treat. It was for me, anyway. I sat each year on the floor in front of the TV, arms wrapped around my knees, absorbing every moment and nuance of the show until it became imprinted on me like a farmer on a duckling. Keep in mind, this was decades before the DVR. I got to see the show once a year. Period.
It sure stuck, though.
I watched it through elementary school’s jumpers and knee socks. I watched it through junior high’s breakouts and retainers.
“All I got was a rock,” Charlie Brown moans. I know how you feel, I think.
I watched it through two cross-country moves, during which we bought a new TV set and the Peanuts gang blossomed from shades of gray into color. I watched it through the heartbreaks and discoveries of high school, never failing to find comfort in Charlie Brown’s enlightened acceptance of the rock in the bottom of his trick-or-treat bag and his relentless refusal to believe that that was all he would ever find there.
In my adult, pre-mommy years, the show became Halloween for me. If I got any trick-or-treaters at my West Los Angeles apartment, they were long-gone by the time I got home from work and dropped by briefcase inside the door. I could curl up on the sofa, though, and, through the miracle of my VCR, spend Halloween crouching among the vines with Linus and sharing his zealous hope that this was the year his pumpkin patch would be recognized as the most sincere.
Life has changed quite a bit since then, just as television has changed. We have hundreds of channels available and the technology to record multiple programs automatically then view them later at our leisure. Already my children have watched a number of Halloween programs – animated and otherwise – that they’ve harvested from the DVR.
The kettle drum and French horn fanfare that electrified my household in the 70s would be lost among the thumps and shouts of today’s crowded kid-show marketplace. That’s all right, though, because my children know that each year there will be one evening, very close to Halloween, when I will reach into the back of the closet and pull out the same, single DVD as the year before. Then, feeling very much like a kid myself, I will light a spooky candle, turn down the lamps and pull my children close to me on the sofa, so happy that my dear, old friends have become theirs as well.