Summer, appointment TV and long days | Mark’s Remarks

Looking back, I’ve decided that I watched a lot of TV, especially in summer. I’m not sure if I watched too much TV, but I remember watching a lot. My parents weren’t neglectful and we certainly spent a great amount of time outside and being active.

But I remember getting up  early on summer mornings, probably around 7 a.m., and switching on KPLR. Channel 11 showed cartoons on weekday mornings, followed by classic TV programs.

Somewhere around 10 a.m., you could switch over to game shows. After lunch, it was usually soap operas, which nobody paid attention to back then.

If my memory serves me right, I’m pretty sure we were outside by mid-morning back then. So, I’m thinking we must have watched about two hours or so around breakfast. I’m sure we watched the same old reruns summer after summer. How many times did we start watching “The Brady Bunch” and think maybe it was an episode we hadn’t seen, only to find out we had indeed seen it? Somewhere, there must be a lost episode of that show.

After the breakfast TV hour, somebody would be the first one outside. We didn’t knock on doors, we just went outside and started making noise. Some of us would ride up and down the street on our bikes.  A few of us had a special “call” that was sort of a cross between a high-pitched scream and a whistle.  Soon, we’d have enough kids outside to form a quorum and off we’d go.

The neighborhood kids would gather on somebody’s front porch and talk over our options for the day. If we were all in good humor, the day went along smoothly. It seemed like we played for hours without taking a break. Somewhere along the line, we must have gone in to get a drink or make a pit stop. We even gathered in somebody’s garage on rainy days and came up with things to occupy our time.

WEHT in Evansville was Channel 4 back in those days.  Although TV stations still showed network programming, stations also had more freedom in those days. At 12:30 p.m. every day, they showed 30 minutes of “The Little Rascals.” It was appointment TV for us.  Everyone took a break, had lunch and probably cooled off in our air conditioned living rooms while watching Alfalfa and Spanky.

What followed was more porch sitting with each of us providing our own critique of episodes we just watched. We were big fans of those old shows. I doubt they will ever be shown again, in this day and age of political correctness.

Times were different when those shorts were filmed.  They were still hilarious. “Did you see the part where Spanky said…” We’d ask one another questions even though all of us had watched the same show.

You’d have thought all of us would have watched together, but an unwritten rule in those days was that we did not go in someone else’s house unless invited by our friends’ parents.  Mothers of the neighborhood must have had some type of alliance and we were forbidden to track in and out of anyone’s house. I’m pretty sure it was a way to make sure our mothers kept their houses relatively clean.

After our “Little Rascals” follow-up, we’d resume our morning activity, play a new game of one-on-one basketball or get a game of baseball, softball, kickball or wiffle ball going. If we were especially lucky, the kid down the street would get out his little mini-bike and we’d each get a turn jetting around his backyard track. Later, when we were older, we’d go fishing at the golf course or walk over to the school grounds and explore. Target practice (aluminum cans) with our BB guns was another option.

In between, we’d sometimes bike down to D & J Grocery for sustenance. The coin laundry on First Street was closer and you could even take your empties back over there and get candy money from the grumpy man who ran the place. Once, in one of those “you won’t believe this” moments of childhood, one of the gang actually bought a soda from the machine (bottles in those days) with 25 pennies. No joke. We have witnesses.

I think shows like “Sesame Street” and “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” were on later in the afternoon, maybe around 3 p.m. If we paused at that point, it was a good refresher, especially on hot afternoons. Some of us younger kids didn’t admit that we even watched those shows for fear of chastisement from the older kids. But we watched, and I think the older kids probably did, too.
Evenings seemed to be just about as long as the day, especially in summer. We would catch lightning bugs, star gaze, or sit around and talk. We must have been pretty tired after running around all day. And dirty.

Yes, our childhood was simpler and we certainly didn’t have as many choices as kids have today.

We weren’t bogged down with a million select sports teams, a bunch of camps and the like. There was church camp, 4-H and Vacation Bible School.

Select sports meant you played with your friends all day and then trudged over to the ball diamond after supper to play against another Little League team. We still had those crazy sports parents — it just wasn’t as expensive to be one.

Kids today might call those days “humdrum.” Still, I think we had a great time. And the days seemed to be longer back then. We spent a lot time making up things to do. We had time to watch plenty of TV and play for long hours. I don’t recall being bored.

I’m thrilled that my kids still like to watch some of the shows I watched. I get a little teary-eyed when Mira watches “Mister Rogers.” He was important to us, whether we wanted to admit it or not (go ahead, make fun if you want).

The big difference is, we can watch these old shows anytime we want. We just DVR them these days. Nobody uses “appointment TV” anymore to come in from a full day of playing outside. In fact, you don’t see a lot of kids running around neighborhoods anymore. We live in a different time.

And summers are definitely shorter than they used to be.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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