Monday, March 15, 2010

TV Can't Love You Back!

My dad's little brother quickly grew older after his retirement in his own comfy recliner of affliction. It became a self imposed comfort zone, a prison of his own making. He let whatever was on TV wash over him day in, day out. In his prime he had been a great lawn rancher, a pretty fair carpenter/handyman and the spotless keeper of a gleaming basement. The painted and polished floor just shone!

He and his wife (one of my favorite aunts) drove quite a distance to see a play I was in: I was the wizard in "Once Upon a Mattress" directed by Scott S. Anderson in SLCC's Grand Theater. (Scott and I were in the musical Camelot together. He was King Pellinore to Craig Clyde's Arthur. I was squire to Lancelot. Scott went on to direct several fine LDS Films including an excellent autobiographical look at his LDS Mission to Holland entitled, "The Best Two Years")

Still in my flowing costume and comedy makeup, I went out to meet the family in the lobby with my parents and our whole family in Salt Lake City. As we visited, I couldn't help but notice how figity my uncle was; I remember how he kept beggin' my aunt to go home to his TV; back to his comfort zone and his recliner of affliction.

We've coined a phrase that should be etched into a brass plaque or stitched on a colorful sampler: "Television is almost a good substitute for real life." lol My sad little uncle disintegrated into a habitual dependent on the plug in drug. So do so many others.

Sesame street taught the alphabet and numbers to little children it baby sat. Teachers of the early grades came to hate the public TV show that was supposedly doing such good work. Why? The fast pace and bright colors shortened ever tighter attention spans--and bright children especially would get bored when teacher didn't move on to something else within 60, 45, 30, and 10 seconds.

Early on we taught our kids that boredom is your own fault. If you're bored find something fun to do. Dani crochets beautiful creations. Sally knit andi cooks with TV often keeping her company in the background. Both of them have found productive pleasure in studying for advanced degrees. I write with TV running nearby, but most of the time I mute the sound and glance at the pictures and closed captioning. Jeff is careful to avoid TV, almost at all costs. He makes a conscious effort to tinker with his computers in the winter and tinker with his "fleet" (an old green truck and a newer sports car) in the warmer months.)

By the time Sally left home her mother and I were so proud that she had a dozen turkey dinners, "Under her belt!" from the time she could get up to the stove, she was helping mom with meals. She graduated to larger more complex fare. She and her little family will never starve. In contrast I know a young woman currently going through a divorce. She is the oldest of more than several younger sisters. Her mom and dad work, and you'd think she would have learned how to do the cooking and cleaning that our mothers and grandmothers mastered to keep their chappie happy!

Nope! Our sweet young lady friend can make a pretty fair green bean casserole and chicken noodle soup. That's it! Buffalo wings and pizza are her favorite fruits. In her case and so many others, TV was NOT an acceptable substitute for real life.

Gramma Delma, my own sweet mom, turned out to be a terrific cook. She took an ag extension course and wowed people with her beautifully decorated cakes. It wasn't always that way. When she was coming up through the great depression, Great Gramma Lilly (her mother) wouldn't let her cook anything in the kitchen. Their thought was that food was so dear and, frankly, so scarce that little kids like my willing mother couldn't afford to waste that food experimenting. Delma was almost in high school when she was invited next door to play with a new easy bake oven. Her first "dish" was a little cake baked under the light bulb inside the little toy when she was in her late teens. She married Handsome Milo and began her experimenting at the stove, making up for lost time in the prosperous forties and fifties.

Oh, Take me back to the rusic life of pioneers, up in the mountains with no running water, except a spring; no electricity except the kind you manufactured between each other; no contact with the outside world except for a traveling peddler to bring you the news. Neighbors didn't have time to hang out every morning with a cuppa joe. They were scratching out their living on the land.

On the special occasions when neighbors came to visit, you treasured the rare experience. Love on the frontier seemed to be a little easier than today when high tech substitutes for human relationships.

No, it may keep you company; it may become the background sound track for so much of your life but TV can't love you back. It's a lesson Grampa can help their more addicted gramchillins learn early. Good grampas can help their families find other fun things to do.

Loving magic, props they can keep (just their size), big muscle games will all help, but a loving Grampa (and Gramma) being there just enough to be missed when they're gone--that's the ticket!

Long after we were poor college students we were members of the working poor, struggling to keep our rented roof over our heads and a little wholesome food coming in. Vacation? Disneyland? Not even dreamed about! Not even saved for! As parents, neither one of us could work up the courage to get away from our low paying jobs.

Family members helped out. My brothers offered little trips to the ocean or Cheyenne frontier days. My great relatives provided transport, bed and board and mostly fun and most imporant LOVE! We seemed so poor we couldn't pay attention, let alone give them a little spending money.

Our great kids told me they didn't feel like charity cases, but they were. My bad!! Then Gramma and Grampa Howe (Milo and Delma) showed up in their gleaming 1957 Cadillac with a trunk full of fun!

My dad was an engineer on the Union Pacific railroad from Laramie to Cheyenne East and Rawlins West. During most all those years he kept busy and brought in some extra money fixing and selling bicycles in the three garages behind our house. (He even rented tandem bikes to the college students!) He knew bikes!

When these two great gramparents came that day, Jeff and Sally were 11 and 9 years old. Grampa brought bikes for each of them, bikes that he had freshly painted and lovingly pinstriped. They were "previously owned" but polished, cleaned and lubricated into excellent condition. Nothing gave Grampa Milo more pleasure than seeing his two favorite gramkids in Salt Lake City cruising around the big empty medical center parking lot across the street from our little duplex--racing and cruising on the bikes he had built, tweaked and polished just for them.

That same trip, Gramma brought a homemade rope machine and a big roll of bright yellow-orange twine. It smelled like a hay field. We all gathered in the backyard and made a bunch of jump ropes. (I used to think my dad had a high metabolism, but there was more. That day we learned that jumping his own ropes was one of Grampa Howe's secrets to staying lean and.....well.....loving!

TV can't love you back but you can, Gramps! Make some simple plans and then help them find something else to do with you! JRH

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