Thursday, August 27, 2009


One of the good things my parents did for their family of four small children was to withhold getting a TV even when it was readily available. They wanted us to learn to read for recreation.

Now, withholding a television does not in itself create good readers. The real blessing in what they did was sitting with us lined up on the sofa every evening before bed, reading to us. Long before we were school age and could read for ourselves, we knew all about Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner, Junket, Dr. Doolittle (the real one, not the movie versions) and we knew how Mary Poppins dusted the stars at night.

The chapter books had some pictures but not a lot, yet we saw with our minds and imaginations. We knew when Dad and Mom laughed and looked at each other that there was more to it than what met the eye. “What's so funny?”, we would ask, and set them off again. Jip the dog and the Push-Me-Pull-You became our friends. “It's a blustery day”, we would say like Pooh. “Oh, bother.”

Besides books, we listened to the radio on Saturday mornings. There was "The Howdy Doody Show", and "Les Paul and Mary Ford". One children's story had a line that was oft repeated at our house, “Woe betide you, Molly Woppy”. I still say every once in a while going up the stairs, “Fee, fie, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread,” from Jack and the Beanstalk. The chant fits perfectly with the stair climb and is very useful for getting little children into bed and under the covers!

We played records and had most of The Court Jester (Danny Kaye) memorized. We laughed and laughed over his vessel with the pestle and the palace with the chalice and the brew that is true. We also inadvertently memorized the sound track from the Broadway play, Music Man. “Oh, we've got trouble, big, big trouble. Right here in River City.” Marian set the standard for a well-behaved young woman who wouldn't fall for “a common masher. Now, really, Mama, I have my standards where men are concerned.” “I know all about your standards”, says Mama, “and if you don't mind me sayin' so, there's not a man alive who can hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat, and Noah Webster and with your Irish imagination you are as stubborn as any library full of books!” One of us could start a line and the rest of us would pick it up and go with it indefinitely, even before we knew what some of it meant.

From our Childcraft series (14 volumes, published by the Quarrie Corporation, Chicago, 1947) Mom and Dad read a wide variety of literature: The Pied Piper (rather frightening, really), Hiawatha (my little brother could recite it), Paul Revere's Ride, and of course nature stories, animal stories, and tales from other lands. My elder sister was given the Childcraft books but when she moved across country recently she gave them to me. Opening them, the strangely familiar borders and drawings whisks me back in time.

These books on our shelves were the staple, but every week or two we went to our neighborhood library to load up on our bedtime story books. I remember one Saturday morning when the books were due back and we hadn't finished the chapter book we all piled on Mom and Dad's bed and read until it was done. I remember when my sister was deemed old enough to read Caddie Woodlawn; it became a rite of passage to me.

I believe my world view was partly formed at an early age by hearing stories of other lands and customs, children who lived in sampans in China or huts in India. Along with the Bible stories we knew we learned, “Red and yellow, black and white: all are precious in His sight.”

It's not that we never saw TV. It was not verboten; we just didn't have one. At our friends' homes we could watch The Lone Ranger and learned to love Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Nellie Belle. One night our whole family drove to a friends' to see the Billy Graham Crusade on TV. And, when we visited at our grandparents in the summertime we could see “Art Linkletter” with Grandma or “Perry Mason” with Mom.

But none of us can win at Trivial Pursuit if it asks about television in the 50's or 60's.

My parents got a TV for themselves the Christmas I was 21.

I have a tendency to be addicted to TV nowdays. (I wish I weren't: I do try to be disciplined.)

I have heard that you don't want what you grow up without, that going without something makes one disciplined later in its use. I have also heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder, that we crave what we "missed". I don't know which is true or how the absence of TV in our childhood affects us now as adults, if we would be more or less interested in TV viewing. All I am saying is that I think the family time it gave us together reading, learning to love words and cadence and expression and good humor was a lifelong blessing.


Connie said...

Yes! You are so correct!

My parents did not want TV in the home, either. However, I missed the world of books because my parents thought reading was lazy. They wanted us working!

Once married, we had TV in the home, but it was rarely on - no cartoons or programs just to set and be 'numb'. We encouraged books and now see a wonderful balance with our children as parents. The TV's are very controlled and reading is enjoyed and encouraged.

You are right - there is nothing like books.

Gilly said...

No TV when I grew u! Eventually my parents got one as they grew older, but I had let home by then. I have always loved books and have read since I was 4. Funnily enough I can't remember my parents reading to me, though I suppose they must have done that. But I lvoed the Little Grey Rabbit stories, and Winnie the Pooh, and later the Swallows and Amazons books, and school stories (I was obsessed by those at one time - all about well-brought up girls at boarding schools that I would never ever have gone to!) My sister loved the "Twins" books, - the French Twins, the Swedish Twins and so on all round the world. I remember reading those to her when she was younger! Secretly I loved them too.

What I would do now without books I dare not think!

Hollace said...

Connie and Gilly, your comments are so interesting to me! Our reading experience and family life is so fascinating to me. I guess balance is the key, whether or not you have a TV, and teaching kids a work ethic is to be valued too, Connie. (I came out a little short on that).

Now I want to read the Little Grey Rabbit books and the Twins books...

I forgot to mention how we loved Beatrix Potter's little books with the BIG words.

So fun to hear your comments!

prof en retraite said...

We had TV, but I don't think it was on that often. We grew up reading and being read to and listening to classical music and show tunes. (I can sing most of "South Pacific" and "My Fair Lady"!) But honestly, most of my time was spent outdoors playing with my friends! My dad had a special way he whistled to call us in at night. Too bad you must be concerned about the children's safety and really keep close tabs on them today! Thanks for reminding me of some nice memories!...Debbie

Steven said...

You have a remarkable memory, sis. It is lots of fun for me! Steven

Rowan said...

We didn't have TV until I was nine years old and even then I rarely watched it because in UK the programmes didn't start until evening when I was going to bed. Books always figured in my life and my mother told me bedtime stories. My children did watch TV but were limited when they were young and they always had bedtime stories read to them and were surrounded by books. All three are great readers as adults. If you've never read Little Grey Rabbit you are in for a treat - Little Grey Rabbit's Washing Day is the first book I really remember owning and the illustrations are a delight.
You asked what medieval meant in a recent comment - strictly speaking it means the period which lasted from about 500AD, just after the Romans left Britain, until around the mid 15th century. I think most people visualize medieval times as being between about 1200 and 1500 though, that's certainly what I'm thinking of when I use the word medieval.