I remember my Christening. I was five years old. Historically, infant baptism was instituted in an era of high infant mortality. It is a response to a very fundamental, nagging, and highly emotional question concerning the fate of a dead child’s soul. Some cultures hold off even naming a child for the first week or eight days due to the extreme fragility of newborns. Currently babies are usually baptized at about six weeks of age. Not everyone is born on the same day, so, institutionally, churches baptize several children at the same time.
It is an exception for me to remember my own baptism. At the time I would have normally been baptized I was extremely ill. My baptism was therefore put off, probably rescheduled a number of times, and finally accomplished when I was just old enough to remember it.
I remember being held “like a baby” with my head hanging backward over the Baptismal Font. I remember the trickle of chill Holy Water poured over my head, I remember the priest intoning those mysterious (to me) Latin words:
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen
(My Godparents or sponsors were Victor and Dorothy Bialk, friends of my mother.)
The story, as it was given to me, as I was obviously too young to remember it, is this:
At about six weeks of age I contracted a very high fever, the cause of which, to this day, I do not know. Dr. Sylvester Coffey, (my birthing doctor and our family physician) warned my mother that, if the fever didn’t break, I would not last the night.
As the story goes, at one point, my brother, Robert, age 15, got down on his knees beside my sickbed, and prayed over me, his baby brother, to Almighty God for my safe recovery.
I find it unimaginable, in this modern era, for a typical teenager to get down on his knees in such an obsequious posture to address Almighty God for any reason, and moreover, I find it even more unimaginable for a teenager of today to plead with God for the sake of his brother.
My parents had nine children of which I am the youngest. There is a 17 year differential between the eldest, Ronald, and myself. When I was born, Ronald was 17 and Robert was 15; so at the time of my birth they were practically grown men. My other siblings were either pubescent or incrementally younger.
To my mind there is a clear line of demarcation between them and the rest of my siblings regarding their relations with me. Ronald and Robert never gave me any grief. Not in any way, shape, or form; neither in quantity nor quality did they grieve me in the way my other siblings too often did. In the parlance of today my brothers Ronald and Robert were “Old School”. They had humans to emulate as role models. The rest of us had television.
I do not know the exact date a television receiver was first introduced into our lives but I do recall steadying myself on it as I learned to stand and to walk. I have a distinct tactile memory of the warm spot in the center of the side of the dark faux mahogany cabinet and a visual one of a broad golden thread interwoven sparingly throughout the otherwise rough fabric of the speaker cover. I remember “Winky Dink And You” and his magic drawing screen from 1953; my sisters hanging the greenish vinyl sheet over the picture tube.
It is not fondly I recall the early days of my life with television. It gave rise to such expressions as “you make a better door than a window“. It silenced my parents. It hushed all the children. I was appalled at the sight of toddlers frequently being shoved aside, jerked by the arm, or even cuffed upside the head “for blocking the TV screen”. If I had something important to say to my parents it would have to wait (for a commercial break). Television took precedence over everything. Our daily schedules, even the taking of meals and the nominal hours of rest were reordered by it. We stopped visiting each other as families. Television impacted every aspect of our lives.
Among my family elders, when they had something adult to discuss, they would lapse into Polish because they knew the little ones standing at their elbow (by the expressions on our faces) understood none of it. They had an expression: “little jugs have big ears”. In still other households the adults would seek privacy behind closed doors or at least in another room for their deliberations. With television there was no discernible division between what was and what was not children’s fare. Do I exaggerate? I was eyewitness to the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald at the age of 12. (Of course, the number of fictional cowboys and Indians I’d seen killed before that softened the blow.) As a child I frequently saw raw footage of the carnage of World War II with it’s great heaps of naked, burned, dismembered, and rotting corpses. All on television.
Chronologically, my siblings and I spent more time, hour for hour, watching television than observing, speaking with, or in any way interacting with our natural parents. My brother once poked me directly in the eyes in imitation of his role model, Moe Howard. The Three Stooges were our foster parents.
Given all that I have ever learned of Human Psychology, Mass Communications, and animal behavior, I find it not the least bit far-fetched to state flatly that television is the ALPHA MALE in every mans household.
I make no attempt at humor in this: consider the millions of American women who have divorced their husbands and run away with the TV.