Monday, October 19, 2009

The Sentinel

Glowing in the corner of the front living room like a temple sentinel, my grandmother’s television watched all that went on in her home. The magic of the images that somehow appeared from the air into a large veneer box of wires, tubes, speakers and small glass screen seemed innocent to all the family. What a marvel of technology this new invention named television was that my Grammy had purchased, not everyone could afford to own one. Those that could were envied by some, while others questioned the need for such a device. What was wrong with the radio? Why was the television so special? The naysayers were possibly correct. This new technology was the object of our attention, but at what cost to the family and not monetary cost.
Instead of gathering around the kitchen table, elbow to elbow, knee to knee, with laughter circling around the perimeter while voices bubbled up from the edges like water in a tea kettle beginning to boil, we clustered in front of this object. Gathered before it like an alter, sitting in a loosely in a semi-circle of stuffed furniture, the conversation was disjointed as the lure of the image became our focus. Even the advertisements bought our attention. Sentence structure became stilted as the bombardment of images continued long into the night. The eerie glow lit the darkened room and sent odd shadows against the walls. Even during the bustle of goodnight hugs, kisses and collecting of personal belongings, the television blared out from its corner beckoning us back to its flickering images.
Eventually most of the family purchased their own TV’s. The design, size and quality changed and improved. We spent less and less time visiting with Grammy during the week or weekends. School activities increased as well as homework amounts as the grandchildren progressed through the various grade levels. Family life evolved and there was less time for family get-togethers. Favorite family stories were heard less and less as the tribe broke apart slowly. When visiting at Grammys, the familiar orb glowed and blared from its corner, playing its same old programs to less of an audience.
For a long time the summer cottage was the only respite from the challenge of television. A radio sang out the Red Sox games on Sunday afternoons, while family sat in a wide assortment of cast off chairs to listen. The younger folk were shushed out the door to play so the grown-ups could catch the play by play action. Visions from TV games fuelling their imaginations as the sport casters’ voice described the baseball game.
When I was a freshman in college, the first TV was brought in the bumpy dirt road that leads to the lake site. Carefully down two flights of stairs, the magic box was reverently carried by my uncle and my dad. The radio was moved to a place of less honor as the TV took center stage. The ladder clanged against the chimney as the antennae was hoisted into place. Directions yelled up from the main room encouraged the adjustment of the life line for the God awaiting its eager audience. Now between swims, we could watch cartoons or a movie. Instead of the sunset, we could watch flickering images of sunsets elsewhere. The grass began to fill in the bare spots in the yard as we spent more time inside. Eyes filled with unnatural light, reflections of time’s changes.

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