Once upon a time, before the Internet, watch-on-demand, DVD players, VCRs, and cable world domination, people in the United States had regular television.
In Waco, Texas, we had three major networks to watch: ABC (Channel 8), CBS (Channel 4), and NBC (Channel 5). There was also a Public Television station that broadcast on Channel 13, which is where I watched Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and ZOOM. There were also a few non-network stations, like Channel 11 and Channel 39, that broadcast T.V. dramas and comedies that were now in syndication, old cartoons, and movies of the week. Most of the T.V. stations broadcast out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but we had a local channel in Waco where the grandmother of a fellow Cub Scout had her own talk show. When it was time for a commercial break, she would step to the side of her set and apprise her viewers of sale items at Piggly Wiggly.
Every Sunday, my older sister, Vicki, and I would scan the T.V. schedule that came with the newspaper, searching for any shows that intrigued us, and then schedule our lives so that we could be in front of the television on the appropriate day and at the correct time. If we weren’t there, we missed the T.V. show. There were no reruns late that day or week. Current T.V. series usually repeated episodes that premiered in the fall/winter in spring summer. Holidays specials were broadcast annually.
Later, after we had moved to Burleson, just outside of Fort Worth, and my little sister, Randi, was born, I used to tell her stories about my family’s days in Waco, a part of our lives that she did not share with us. I remember an evening where she was dressed an old-fashioned, red flannel nightgown with a matching cap, and we were watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on VHS that my mother had purchased at Wal-Mart. I described a December when I was in kindergarten and my parents had taken Vicki and I to K-Mart to shop for Christmas gifts for my extended family. (During the ‘70s, we didn’t have a lot retail stores in Waco. K-Mart was basically it. We had a shopping mall, but it was hardly anything like you’d see today.) My mother was comparing Corningware casserole dishes for my aunt, when Vicki said, “Oh, we’re going to miss the A Charlie Brown Christmas on Channel 4 tonight!”
I remember my world began spinning as I reached out with both hands to steady me. I grabbed my father’s pant’s leg. “Daddy, what time is it?”
My father glanced at his watch, the kind with hands–not digital. “It’s 6:35.”
“We’ve got to go home now, or we’ll miss A Charlie Brown Christmas!” I pleaded. “It comes on at seven o’clock!”
My pleas fell upon deaf ears, though. My parents explained that we had to finish our Christmas shopping, and that if we missed A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, it would be on again next year.
But that was a whole year–a sixth of my life at that time, an eternity. I remember bursting into tears, my tiny chest shaking, as I crumbled to the dirty linoleum tiles in my brown, faux fur hooded coat with matching mittens, and had a meltdown in the middle of the K-Mart Housewares Department. I don’t remember what happened next. (I’m probably blocking it out, due to the trauma of the spanking and stern talk I received as my father dragged me by the hand to our station wagon.) I imagine that I probably sat in the back seat, occasionally sniffing and surely going through the seven stages of grief, as all the other good children of Waco, Texas laughed as they watched A Charlie Brown Christmas while my mother heartlessly compared Corningware. It just wasn’t fair.
The worst part was always the day after. I’d go to school, morose as I sharpened my pencils, while the other children would discuss the details of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, or Frosty the Snowman, with great excitement. I could not join in the fun, because I had missed whatever holiday special had broadcast the night before. I couldn’t recite the tag lines. I couldn’t sing “One Foot in Front of the Other” from Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. I couldn’t recount the wonder of whatever new toy had been advertised during the commercial break. In short, I was an outsider. I was reduced to eating my peanut butter & jelly sandwich in silence, my only joy being my Hostess chocolate cupcake with cream filling, and tearing the white curlicue off the top of the frosting in the same way that my parents had torn out my heart.
And then I’d go home after school, and I’d watch whatever holiday special was broadcast on prime time that night, probably Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and I was fine … until I’d wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, a week later, as I realized that I had missed A Year Without a Santa Claus earlier that evening.