In 1958, Dad brought home our little family's first television set. Three channels were available, if you moved the rabbit ears in the right direction. Not long after my early bedtime, the station "signed off" playing the national anthem, just before the "test pattern" appeared on the screen. There was nothing in "living color" to watch, including the Saturday morning cartoons and Howdy Doody.
But the big, bulky blinking box was still fascinating for those of us who spent previous years "watching the radio," allowing our imagination to paint pictures of the dramas, comedies and musicals broadcast there.
A ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen entertained us with the antics of his dummy, "Charlie McCarthy." We couldn't see if Bergen's lips were moving (though apparently they were), but in our minds, Charley was cracking jokes as surely as any living, breathing human being.
No matter the season, we didn't spend a lot of time in front of the tube, our parents suspicious of the technology's impact on our young minds. Our gang of pre-pubescents was much too busy outside to become black- and-white couch potatoes. Like children everywhere, we could organize a well-known game, or put together one of our own at the drop of a hat. Our bikes were our horses for a game of cowboys and Indians, cars when we so deemed them to be, and even airplanes as we descended hills, often without benefit of brakes.
We survived without the help of television, or even radio, and certainly minus the numerous electronic devices deemed essential to children today. The closest we came to a cellphone was a plastic "two-way-wrist radio" copied from comics hero Dick Tracy.
I don't know if kids are happier these days with their electronic games and instant communication via cellular hookups. I wonder, too, if adults with the need for constant connection via Facebook and Twitter are better connected than their grandparents were, sitting on the front porch on warm summer evenings with neighbors.
If you are close to my age, or even a bit younger, you can recall "Red Rover," "Kick the Can," and "Hide and Go Seek." Maybe you made kites out of old newspapers and played a risky game of "Spin the Bottle." Kids across the nation played these games and many they made up. Imagination was essential and the key to having fun. For the most part, our fun was cheap. It did not require expensive updating and delving into sorcery or "mass killing" of electronic aliens.
These past few days, Grandma and I have been enjoying the company of three of our five grandchildren. The twin boys are 11 and their little sister is 6. While they are as electronically astute as their neighborhood playmates, they are being taught to appreciate simple games and pastimes that do not border on addiction.
All are being home-schooled, with their mom making sure the opportunities available to them meet and exceed those available in conventional classrooms. They have learning and social interaction through a cooperative called "Learning Tree."
Their school year ended last week. Bad weather caused them to delay an end-of-the-year field day until this week. I thought Grandma and I were going to be casual observers. I got wet, probably because I couldn't resist a discarded supersoaker. Taking no pity on an old grandfather with a bad knee and slow reaction time, they retaliated with water balloons, a hose and enough laughter to last a lifetime.
I quickly began to act my age, despite a strong desire to be a kid again. Instead, I found a chair and watched them move a cup along a string line with a water pistol, transfer M&Ms with a straw, and race against time while the boys dragged their little sister across the lawn on an old bedsheet. I don't believe there is an electronic game that could bring about as much joy as these homemade field day games. Some were the product of their mother's imagination. All were devoid of the hazards of electronic isolation and addiction.
Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seems to me they were having the kind of fun that was the delight of my childhood.
In fact, I'm quite certain they were.
Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.