It's been awhile since I've posted. It was a busy summer and there wasn't much free time to write. I'm picking it back up again but, until there's something new to share, here's a little piece I wrote earlier this summer for a memoir writing class. The prompt was to write a story that describes a point in time in your childhood when you learned something that surprised you.
The television set sat on a flimsy gold metallic stand directly across from my bed in the room I shared with my sister. A meager 12 inches, it sat tucked inbetween the door to our room and a large gold-accented bureau typical of little girls’ rooms in the 1960s. Its location was somewhat inconvenient given that the antenna often had to be angled into the doorway to get a signal for some of the weaker channels.
Although it was a color TV, most of what we watched were black-and-white reruns of family favorites like I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver. My sister and I would plop ourselves down on the red shag carpet, sitting close enough for our mother to warn us about the imminent dangers of radiation and potential blindness (ironic given we now sit for hours on end with screens mere inches from our eyes). I was enthralled with the characters on those shows — Lucy, Ethel, Little Ricky, Wally, Beaver, Eddie Haskell — as they seemingly performed a variety of antics for mine and my sister’s enjoyment. I was sure Lucy and Ethel, failing to keep up with the conveyor belt in the chocolate factory, were stuffing bon bons in their mouths just to hear the peals of laughter from the two little girls, the tiny blond and chubby brunette, sitting transfixed at their performance. I felt a kinship with Wally and Beav whenever they retreated to their twin beds in their own shared bedroom. If not for the traditional colonial furnishings that draped their room in wood and plaids, the brothers were just like us, fighting over the shared space and the belongings within, our concerned apron-adorned mothers popping in from time to time to see what all the fuss was about.
I began to think of these people as my friends and was completely unaware of the technological marvel that brought these friends into my bedroom. To me, they were real people; Eddie and Wally were as familiar as the kids I played with on my street and Fred and Ethel’s constant bickering reminded me of my grandparents. I did recognize that the TV people were smaller than those I knew in real life, seemingly just a few inches high. I also couldn’t explain why they would disappear whenever I turned the TV off. Where did they go while I was out playing tag and hide and seek in the front and backyards of my neighbors? Since they were never in the same place that I left them in when I returned, I assumed they carried on without me. Sometimes it took hours, even days, before they would appear again. Perhaps, I thought, they lived inside the television.
“Where are they?” I asked my mother one afternoon when turning on the TV failed to summon the Cleavers.
“What do you mean?” my mother said, perplexed in that way adults often are when kids ask a question that makes total sense to a child but an adult never would have thought to ask.
“Where did Wally and Beaver go? Do you think they went to play with Little Ricky?” I whined, frustrated by her inability to understand me. “The little people in the TV. Where are they?”
“Ilene, those aren’t little people in your TV. Those are real people who were filmed in a studio far away from here. And then they appear on your TV.”
“How does it appear on my TV?” I asked, my four-year-old mind blown by her revelation.
“They send it through the airways,” my mother responded, somewhat exasperated by the fact that we were getting into a territory she didn’t quite understand herself.
“They’re in the air?” This was even more confusing to me than the thought of them living in the back of my small TV set. “Can I see them?”
“No. They’re broken up into little pieces and they’re reassembled in your TV. Your father will explain it,” she said assuredly even though she had no idea if my father understood this any more than she did. What she was really hoping was that I would forget the question by the time he came home and both the issue and I would be put to bed.
I was standing on top of the stairs looking over the entryway to the house when he came home. “Daddy, where do the people go when I turn off my TV?”
“Let’s discuss this after dinner,” he said, biding his time. Immediately after my mother had cleared our dessert plates, I reminded him that he had, as Ricky would say, some “’splaining to do.” His response, peppered with a few technical terms picked up from his uncle, an engineer for ABC Television, and embellished with a few of my father’s made-up details, either satisfied me or confused me enough that I never questioned it again. I did accept the fact that my TV friends were real people and lived somewhere far far away. To this day, I do not understand how the signal got from there to my television any more than I understand how wifi works. I just no longer care.
Now, can anyone dissuade me of my strong belief that there are little people living in bonsai trees?