In the early 1970’s, we moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where my dad was attending the Naval War College. We lived in a historic house on Thames Street (known to be haunted) with a basement straight out of a horror film. In his spare time, my dad decided to build a color TV from a Bell & Howell kit.
His three daughters were not that interested in the mechanics of the TV itself or helping with the project. I had books to read and the candy store “Butchies” was at the end of our block. My sisters had their own hobbies—one hung out near the Liberty Tree and used the slang “no sir” a lot (pictured at right holding the flowers). My other sister was perfecting her baton twirling skills and continually earning the prize money for the cleanest room. (My dad would tuck the $5 bill under the afghan blanket at the end of the winning bed.)
The next year we moved south to Fairfax, Virginia, when dad was assigned to the Pentagon. I was now in 3rd grade and the TV project was getting more interesting as he neared completion. In our rental house, we had a designated den, and the new console TV soon took center stage. We all loved it….in my dad’s eyes we loved it a little too much. He wasn’t happy with how much we used his TV, especially that we could see it from the table in the kitchen. In 1975, was there anything better than having your morning cereal (Trix) with a large TV nearby? (Note: picture below is what I remember it looked like.)
A family meeting was scheduled, and looking back it seems like we were attending a seminar on how selling Amway would be great for us. We were each issued three “TV tickets” for the week. Each ticket was worth 30 minutes of TV time. We were stunned. My middle sister was best at math and soon added up that it was only 1-1/2 hours per week. We protested loudly, but he was unmoved. Shows that we watched as a family would not count—Wild Kingdom, PBS Masterpiece Theater (like Upstairs Downstairs), etc. Everything else had a price.
We retreated to our bedrooms to ponder this new development. I had to decide if The Bionic Woman or Wonder Woman was a higher priority. Was a ticket necessary if dad wasn’t home? Risky because I knew I couldn’t trust one sister who would sell me out for additional tickets herself.
One area of contention was using a ticket and then noticing another watcher in the room. This soon led to “I paid for this show now get out.” But as time wore on, we started to negotiate with each other on who would use what ticket for which show. My dad soon caught on to the backroom negotiations and tried to put a stop to it. Can you ever stop a black market from operating successfully under these conditions? No, so he finally put an end to the ticketing system. It is interesting how you want something more as soon as you know it’s limited.
We did learn a valuable lesson, but probably not the one he intended. Knowing what another party values, their currency, and how to negotiate successfully outside the “system”. We also watched a little less TV, especially when my dad was around. I think of his lesson as I look around and notice all of the toddlers fixated on their glowing iPads.
Disclaimer: Due to our range of ages, all of us remember this a little differently.