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It's 1950. I can Have a TV or a Kid!
Russo Family 1953: Rousting Dad on a Saturday Morning
Visiting Yesterday During a Cape Cod Winter
By Bill Russo
As the snow races by my window today and begins to craft a fluffy white quilt around my car, I am reminded of another January day more than sixty winters ago. It was a much warmer afternoon and not just in temperature.
Before I can tell you of that day, I must set the clock back several months earlier, to the Summer of 1950. The setting is a quiet seaside community called Beverly. Its more well known neigbors include the once great fishing port of Gloucester as well as one of Massachusetts most famous places - the Witch City of Salem.
This story is neither about fishes nor witches. And it is not about a place - but about a time. A time when wives were still getting used to their husbands being home instead of fighting for years in a bloody war across the sea.
About sixteen million young Americans served in World War Two, when our population was a little over 100 million. Projecting the number of men in uniform to today's terms (with our 300 mllion population) that would be an astonishing total of about 48 million combat soldiers.
To get an idea of how big a number 48 million warriors is, consider this. The entire country of Canada has a little over 30 million people.
A great many of the returning veterans had difficulties readjusting to civilian life. Some came home to find their bed occupied by another man. Many had wounds so severe that a normal life was impossible. Others found that combat had so changed them, that the job they had before the war...just wasn't right for them anymore.
Happily for me, my Dad was not affected. His re-entry into American life was like going from a nightmare into the sweetest dream of his life. Using his G.I. Bill he was able to buy a four-family house close to the beaches and Beverly Harbor.
His life with my Mom was pretty good too. And that's ultimately what drives this story.
Detroit didn't make cars during WWII-their factories were converted for combat machines. So people had to make their old car last-like this 1938 Oldsmobile
By 1950 TV was overtaking radio as the number one entertainment medium. Most families were planning to buy a TV as soon as they could afford it.
Then One Day Mom asked Me.......
Detroit re-opened for car business in 1946 and the GIs bought lots of vehicles. Most Moms didn't have driver's licenses back then so Dads pretty much could buy what they liked. My father opted for a used Ford. He was a pretty laid back guy.
The addition of a car and a new home made life almost complete for my parents. One thing was lacking as the 1940's drew to a close. Many of Mom's favorite radio shows were changing over to Television. Radio stars like Jack Benny, Ozzie and Harriet, George Burns and Gracie Allen, were all being wooed away from the audio side and onto small little ten inch black and white video screens.
At first TV seemed weak in comparison to radio, but by 1950 it was obvious to everyone that the TV camera would soon dwarf the radio microphone. As a seven year old boy, I loved to listen to The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Superman, and many more adventure shows. The idea of actually seeing my heroes instead of just hearing them, was enthralling.
Then one day Mom popped the question. "Billy. I am going to offer you a choice. You can have one or the other but not both. I want to know which you would rather have. You can have a new television or a new baby brother or sister. Which do you pick?"
Mom & Dad in the 1970s
What Could I Say?
How could I answer such a question? How could Mom ask me to make this kind of a decision? I was seven years old. My brother was nine. We both loved TV.
There was just one set in the whole neighborhood. Around five p.m. when Boston's WBZ TV signed on for the broadcast day, my brother and I would sneak over to the neighbor's house, climb up on the stone wall in front of their livingroom window, and try and to peek in to catch a glimpse of Howdy Doody. Sometimes the neighbors would take pity on us and turn up the sound on their set and open the window a crack so we could hear the show!
So, I ask again. How could I be expected to choose? And what would Mom say if I picked TV over baby - since the baby was already on the way? Mom was probably four or five months pregnant at the time...but what did I know, I was seven years old!
I don't know why, but I picked the kid! I really did. I told Mom that a new baby would be much better than a TV.
Amazingly, in a few months our family was expanded by a beautiful baby GIRL! My parents now had two boys, one girl, a house, and a car. The family was complete.
I still had my Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy on the radio and I still could see them in my mind - if not in the flesh. Life was pretty good. My baby sister was born in October and that brings us up to that warm January day that I wrote about in the opening paragraph.
On the radio, Hoppy and California (Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick) had just gotten back to the Bar 20 ranch after busting up a gang of bank robbers, when Dad came home from work and told my brother and me that he wanted to talk to us.
"Boys," he said, in a tone that got us a little scared, "Back in the Summer, your Mom asked you guys if you wanted a TV or a new brother or sister. You picked the baby and that made your Mom very happy and proud of you. Well I was proud of you too and still am. Sometimes in life you can have everything. It won't always be this way, but today it is. We are getting a television!"
Winters. Six decades worth of winters have come and gone for me since that day. None has been as warm or as joyful as that one.
We were the second family in the area to get a TV. It was huge.
I can't remember what I had for supper last night, but I can never forget that afternoon in January and the following week when three men in a delivery truck showed up to install the set.
Yes, getting a TV set up and running back then required three guys! What a production it was!
That's another story and if anyone would care to read it, I will tell it soon.