“I have to keep watching this show. I can’t pause Grandma’s TV.”
Those words came floating up the stairs and through the laundry room to the kitchen after my husband called down that supper was ready and waiting on Grandma’s table on a recent Sunday evening.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
We don’t have cable. Being gifted a Roku TV last fall on which we installed apps like Disney+ and PBS kids, my 3- and 4-year-old daughters watch shows that can be paused for such things as bathroom breaks or when we say TV time is up. They know they can pick up right where the show left off whenever TV is allowed again.
But not at Grandma’s house.
Spending various Sunday evenings there this winter my oldest in particular has learned this thing called “cable” is different. Shows change after so many minutes. You can’t pause those shows. And those shows have things called “commercials” that break them up.
I still wanted to laugh despite the sad look on her face when she came to the supper table.
“Back when I was little, Grandma’s kind of TV is all we had,” I said. “First it was just a few channels. Then we had a lot of channels. But if we wanted to watch something without commercials it had to be a movie or a show on tape.”
The look on her face told me that didn’t sound like fun, but then Grandpa chimed in.
“Well, back when I was kid, some TV shows were still in black and white.”
Fun fact: Although limited programming became available in color starting in 1953, it was not until the early 1970s that color television in North America outsold black-and-white or monochrome units. (Grandpa can remember that far back because he turned 55 on April 4. Happy birthday, Dad!)
“I remember Grandpa saying he had to get up and change the channel on the TV; there were times he didn’t have a remote.”
The conversation did not deter her. I haven’t seen her eat pizza that fast in a long time. Someone was determined to get back to her show she realized was still playing somehow despite the TV being off.
I resonate with that feeling.
Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around not wanting to miss TV programming known as TGIF — the name of the prime-time television block that aired on ABC. The name came from the initials of the popular phrase “Thank goodness it’s Friday” (the version of that phrase I was allowed to say, anyway).
Wikipedia tells me this block dates back to 1989 — perfect for this 1987 child to grow up with the memories of gathering around the TV as a family on Friday nights for two whole hours watching shows like “Boy Meets World,” “Two of a Kind,” “Sister, Sister,” “Dinosaurs,” “Step by Step,” “Family Matters,” “Full House” and my all-time favorite “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
I can’t recall how much of those shows my parents actually watched while being in the room with my brother and me, but I do remember sometimes getting to eat our supper on the couch if chores went late so we didn’t miss the start of the first show that evening.
Commercials were for making popcorn or getting a drink or bathroom breaks — one bathroom for a family of four meant we always had to take turns anyway — or even for singing along: “I want my baby back, baby back, baby back. Chili’s baby back ribs,” “It’s a zany action, a crazy contraption! The fun is catchin’! It’s Mouse Trap,” “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup,” “I wonder, wonder what’s in my wonder ball,” “Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean,” “Frosted Flakes are more than good … they’re great!” “We are Flintstones Kids, Ten Million Strong and Growing” and so on.
Nowadays there are so many options between cable, DirecTV, DISH Network, YouTube and other streaming services it’s a bit overwhelming and has created less of a discussion value and more of an entertainment only focus on TV that I miss.
Growing up, the shows and commercials were the hot topic of discussion during Monday bus rides to school and that day’s recess because those were the same things everyone else was watching, too. Come Friday, we’d turn to predictions of the night’s shows or lament it being near a holiday with only repeats on that evening, or (gasp) no TGIF at all. There was a camaraderie of sorts.
Perhaps those who grew up in the ’90s know what I mean, especially if you can sing with me: “Gimme a break, gimme a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar!”
Renee Wielenga is a staff writer for the Sioux Center News. She may be reached at email@example.com.