Growing up in Aroostook County, being glued to a television set, eating whole pizzas in one sitting and spending hours and hours on a family couch did not happen.
For starters, in the 1960’s, before satelite television, before XM, before internet or movie rental places, the television early on was black and white. Don’t get me wrong we did have a set in the front living room intially. I can remember 1963…a cold November getting off the bus at the end of a long farm house driveway that is still lined with large maple trees. And in the farm home as I put books and lunch box down, hearing my mom ironing telling me to come here. On the black and white television, there was the developing, unfolding news of President John F Kennedy being shot, killed. Mom irons and watches and like 911, the instant enormity of the event hit even me, a little kid of almost seven years of age. Something far far away was very wrong and the world would never be the same.
Later I remember watching the “one small step for mankind” moon walk on another trusty television at my Aunt Ruth’s horse riding summer camp.The room jammed full of other sitting, standing, sitting boys and girls. Kids out of state cities who’s lawyer, doctor parents sent them away to Maine until the falll school session resumed. Vietnam death statistics each night televised by Walter reading with black rimmed glasses helping us keep track of lost GI’s halfway around the globe in rice paddies many many clicks down the road. Another loop in my head. But other than fuzzy recall of Bonanza, Batman, Bewitched and Walter’s nightly visit in my living room, being stuck, planted in front of, droaning out to and mesmorized by a cathode ray television did not happen. Watching the set other than evenings when it was raining or nothing else scheduled outside like a ball game on the lawn with neighbor kids. The set did not complete the family day to day picture in my head. Serial shows like westerns, cop shows, game shows and Art Linkletter, Mister Rogers or Sesame Street were watched but the set was not running, on all the time or in the background.
Kids were outside using their imaginations, working up a healthy appetite and eating regularly scheduled meals. Chores, working for spending money, mowing lawns first. Then taking on bigger jobs.
I was lucky in high school to be spnning records at 14, reading news from the AP teletype at a radio station owned by Howdy Doody, Buffallo Bob Smith. Howdy owned three Maine radio stations.
If television tube addiction had been a seed waiting to germinate and take off like Jack’s bean stock, there would have been one big obstacle to working on that passion, obsession. Signals, programs for the television set in the front living room. And lots of free downtime time to waste plugging in mentally, detaching in front of it. One set in the home meant family viewing, not going to your room and tuning in too.
But remember in rural Northern Maine’s Arootook County, one television station in Presque Isle ME was it for “local programming.” WAGM, Channel 8 was a cherry picker, one of four if I remember right in the entire country that could pick this, this and from the three networks at the time. Basically a CBS affiliate television station but able to select programming from ABC, NBC to round out the broadcasting day. Before the national anthem and test pattern toned out at midnight. Oh sure, we had an off air signal of a Canadian channel or two depending on the weather, the antennae on the farm house roof. And eventualy public broadcasting beamed channel ten into our living room. But that was it. No cable, no channel surfing when you have basically three channels. Did it hurt me, stunt my brain’s development? No.
But before you think that poor Northern Maine real estate broker was television deficient growing up, I did get to see the NBC peacock expand her plume in living color when I visited my Great Aunt Hettie on Franklin Avenue in Houlton Maine. She had cable and always the latest largest television model on the market at the time. New hows I never saw before. Thanksgiving movies of religious epics, or the Wizard of Oz. The television set more modern. You know, the ones with a record player, radio on one side of a lid that lift. Beautiful wood cabinet design that made it a real piece of living room furniture. The kind where the television went on the blink, wore out and died way way before the cabinet would fail or need replacement. Cable television to a kid from the Maine country in a small hustle bustle town was big stuff. But still it did not develop in to an addiction. Nor did it lead to scheming how to spend more time in front of it. Because with mini bikes, chores around the farm that were built in and expected from early on, our childhood day was pre-programmed with other more important, pressing activities.
Our front porch was used a lot. So was the home made ice cream maker. Picnics in woodlots, at Baxter State Park. Vacations to the Maine coast or over to neighboring Canada. Trips in the summer to Uncle Frank’s camp at Nickerson Lake. Helping hay, pick potatoes, and tinkering on an early make Snojet snowsled where you worked on it for two hours to use it for one. Nowadays, two television sets in my family home. Communication is open, free and apparent at 69 North Street with kids who grew up not glued to a set. Or spend in the lake at a summer camp that up until a few years ago had no dish hook up. Now you wonder how did we live without that many channel choices?