And now – here’s the exciting conclusion
On the drive over, Dad wondered aloud about what make of car Uncle John had bought, but when we arrived, the old black Austin was in its usual place on the driveway. Its shiny black colour and stubby body reminded me of a lump of coal. Dad still wasn’t convinced. Mom and I waited, shivering by the back door, while he checked behind the house and peered into the garage. He came back and shrugged.
Mom knocked, opened the door, and yelled in, “Hello, we’re here.”
Laddie, the cocker spaniel barked a welcome and came galumphing down the hall with his funny, sideways gait. His pink tongue dangled from the side of his mouth and his long brown ears flapped as he ran. A stub of a tail stood straight up, vibrating with excitement.
“Come on in,” my aunt called from the end of the hall. “We’re all in the living room.”
I was surprised to see several pairs of boots by the door and coats on hooks along the wall. Quite a gathering. It must be some surprise, I thought, my curiosity growing.
My aunt’s living room was much like ours. One wall held family photos – the “rogue’s gallery” as Dad called it – while another had a variety of pictures and paintings. The biggest painting was of a stone house with a straw roof. My aunt had told me that it was Burn’s cottage. Robert Burns was Scotland’s favourite poet. The fireplace mantle held more family photos and small ornaments, but Burn’s portrait hung above the fireplace. Wherever you were in that room, Burns seemed to be watching. At almost every gathering, usually after a scotch or two, somebody would recite one of his poems. “Ode to a Field Mouse” was a favorite. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would write a poem to a mouse.
The big couch and matching chair were in their usual places along the far wall. The chair was Uncle John’s throne, and he was sitting in it. The other living room chairs usually faced Uncle John, but today they faced the other way. Other family members and friends were already here, and kitchen chairs gave extra seating. Everyone was talking about Uncle John’s surprise. It was in the centre of the wall at the far end of the room.
“Wow! A television,” I gasped. This was better than a new car. Until today, I’d only seen televisions in Eaton’s department store, but this modern thing looked out of place in my Aunt’s living room with its old furniture and chairs. But there it was; a shiny brown box with a dark grey glass front sitting on four skinny outwardly slanted legs. Two thin rods arranged in a V-shape with tiny balls on their ends rose from the top of the box.
“They’re called rabbit ears,” Uncle John said, following my gaze. “They catch signals travelling through the air and turn them into moving pictures.”
I’d heard this before but I wasn’t sure. Adults lied about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. This sounded even more far-fetched. The adults occupied all of the chairs, and so I sat on the rug in front of the television. Laddie the dog joined me and nosed my hand. I petted him while I waited for Uncle John to turn on the television. The adults kept talking.
Finally, my Aunt said, “John, it’s almost time.”
Uncle John hauled himself out of his chair. The chatter stopped as he made his way to the television. A loud “click” sounded when he turned a knob. “It takes a few minutes to warm up,” he said in a church voice. We all leaned forward, waiting. The screen got brighter and a bunch of wavy lines appeared. A loud hissing sound made us all jump. Laddie the dog ran from the room. “It just needs to be adjusted,” Uncle John said, as he fiddled with knobs and moved the rabbit ears. Half a minute later, the wavy lines stopped and an image appeared on the screen. The adults gasped and nodded at each other at witnessing this miracle.
At the top, there was a big circle with an Indian chief in full headdress. The number thirty was inside a small circle in the center of the screen. Identical smaller images were in each corner.
“That’s the test pattern,” Uncle John proclaimed. The adults all chimed in about how neat it was and went back to talking.
It seemed like I stared at the Indian chief for a long time. Finally, I blurted, “Is that all that it does?”
My uncle laughed and checked his watch. “Be patient, John.”
A few minutes later, the test pattern went away. There were more wavy lines and then a man appeared on the screen. “That’s Hugh Buchanan. He’s the president of Lethbridge Television,” my uncle said. That was another thing about Uncle Big John. He seemed to know everybody. Mr. Buchanan made a short speech saying what an important day this was and promising that they would do their best to provide excellent service. When he’d finished, the adults clapped as if he was right there in the room – and in a way, he was. “We’re now part of the modern world,” Uncle Big John said. We all cheered.
We’d been waiting for months while they built the tower, and television was finally here. We all sat back to watch the first program; an episode of “Father Knows Best.” Laddie crept back into the room and lay down beside me.
I kinda remember the test pattern. Good story, John!
Vivid – and brought back some memories of my own