Monday, October 31, 2011

The Pumpkin Stays in the Picture

I grew up on television. (Shocking, I know.)

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.

Keep ringing those doorbells, Charlie Brown, I think. Maybe next year.

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.

18 comments:

Laraine Eddington said...

I found no comfort in Charlie Brown's rock, but I liked him anyway.

When Pigs Fly said...

I too remember this ritual along with once a year watching the Wizard of Oz and those animated Christmas specials that were more claymation than animation. My husband and I will recite dialogue from some of them. Even though we were separated by 3 thousand miles as kids we have that as part of our collective consciousness.

fishducky said...

Before the days of remote controls, I was sitting in the den one evning with my husband & kids watching TV. My husband told our youngest son to get up & change the channel. He did, but muttered, "Who changed the channel for you before you had kids?" My husband very honestly replied, "Your mother."

Crystal Pistol said...

If TV had no remote these days we would all just stare at the screen in wonderment. What ever shall we do??

Fireblossom said...

We used to have one of those big tube tvs in a wood cabinet. I used to sit close enough to scooch forward and change the channel if I wanted, but someone was always sure to come in and tell me I would "wreck my eyes". (I never wrecked my eyes.)

I never got into the Charlie Brown Halloween special, but i still love the Christmas special. I cry when Linus gives his little speech. I do.

For Halloween every year, I do have an annual thing I watch, though. I MUST see "Dark Night Of The Scarecrow" every year.

Ann Imig said...

Anna, I just loved this.

ESPECIALLY because I've been looking for that CBS 5 seconds for YEARS.

I always describe it to people and they never remember. Of course you do. Of course.

Ann Imig said...

Love reading a personal essay over here. ((hug))

The Empress said...

Love this, because it helps me see you.

And I see you, all snuggled up with your kids now.

What a good, good mama.

xo

sharanjayendra.com said...

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Happy Halloween :)

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sharan's thoughts

Cheryl said...

I have them all on VCR tape. Same for the December holiday shows. At some point we'll need to DVR them unless some new technology comes along making that obsolete too.

(What the hell is wrong with The Rifleman?)

Fragrant Liar said...

Who doesn't love Charlie Brown? I still watch it too, and there aren't even any kids in the house! I miss the pumpkin patch.

HermanTurnip said...

Let's not forget that if you stopped the dial between channels 11 and 12, you'd be able to watch the Playboy channel....or so I've been told...

Nick Thomas said...

This post was a nice trip down memory lane for me too. And of course, I remember the days when we only had 5 min of commercials in a half hour block, or so it seems when you compare today's mega slice of ad time. And I love the way cable stations time their ads to be on at the same time, so we can't escape - except to the bathroom.

Nick Thomas said...

This post was a nice trip down memory lane for me too. And of course, I remember the days when we only had 5 min of commercials in a half hour block, or so it seems when you compare today's mega slice of ad time. And I love the way cable stations time their ads to be on at the same time, so we can't escape - except to the bathroom.

laughingmom said...

The yearly ritual was the "Grinch" and heaven help us if we were busy the ONE night that it aired. My kids have never known the utter disappointment of missing a tv show!

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

I've always hated Lucy. She's such a rag. The original Bully. Poor Charlie Brown. Somebody needed to teach that kid to grow a back bone.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

My brother and I often lament the loss of those "specials" that you knew every kid in your class was watching at the exact same time (even that awful Christmas one about Nester the Donkey whose mother dies trying to shield him from a snow storm). The spinning rainbow "SPECIAL" was a big part of the viewing experience (like gift wrap on a present).

K A B L O O E Y said...

I also watched waaaaaay too much TV as a kid and loved the ritual of those specials. Now we have them on DVD, but it's not the same. Thank you for describing the feel and sound of the TV dial -- a sense memory I'd completely forgotten. Now I have to ask you: did you ever run a magnet over the TV screen to watch the image contort? Remember the little blue dot that appeared then shrank to nothing when you turned off the set?