My ten-month-old granddaughter has never watched television. I hadn’t either, at her age, and waited four more years until my parents could afford to purchase one. Even then, my father placed his large fishtank on the top of the imposing piece of furniture that pre-dated the flatscreen, and I spent lots of time watching the hundreds of guppies come and go and occasionally jump out, which was, for a time, much more interesting to me than anything on the screen.
Thinking about the absence of television in Winnie’s life, I realize how television became so important in mine. John Gnagy’s soothing, instructional voice drew me to the set on Sunday mornings when he taught viewers to draw an entire picture; I was mesmerized. That same evening the four of us, my whole family, would watch the Ed Sullivan Show and be entertained together.
Daytime television was only viewed if I were home from school and ailing, when the living room couch became my bed and I started the morning with “My Little Margie,” progressed to “The Gale Storm Show,” continued with Arthur Godfrey or “The Real McCoys,” and then “Our Miss Brooks” in the early afternoon. Six o’clock on weeknights I’d watch “The Mickey Mouse Club” and end with “Terrytoon Circus.” Saturday mornings were all consumed by “The Howdy Doody Show,” “Andy’s Gang,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Sky King.”
The casts of all these shows played with my imagination and stayed with me. And so I can’t help but wonder how Winnie’s inner life will compare. If she continues living the active life she was born into, she’ll be running, swinging, swimming, biking, hiking, and practicing yoga on Saturday mornings. Will weeknights be spent helping to cook the evening meal with her food-enthusiast parents? Perhaps books (on screens?) will be her go-to favorites on a day home from school. Will she begin where I did, watching guppies, but proceed to surf-casting or a day on the water instead of in front of a screen?
As computer, television, and phone screens loom large in the world around her, I am curious to see how our newest family member spends her leisure time. Her grandmother logged many hours watching screens. Will Winnie go to screens to relax? And I wonder how different this grandmother’s life would be had my father put the fishtank on a table and taken us all, with the money not spent on a television, on a fishing trip.