I would like to report that after 1 month of supply chain delays I finally got my old ass car back! In case you missed it, it was in the shop for repairs. And after spiraling down several layers of hell and a bona fide Catch-22 with the RMV about needing a new title, it turns out the spiral was based on information that should have been deleted from the letter the insurance company sent to me because — get this — it didn’t apply to my car. Everyone is COVID tired, I get it, so I’m not going to waste time bitching about the misinformation in the letter. When I learned I didn’t need the title, I was more like that guy in Shawshank Redemption, bursting through the wall into freedom, sans the gross sewage pipe journey to the river.
But that’s not what I wanted to chat about today. Before getting my car back, my dear friend Mike read my post about not being able to hike and offered to take me to the Blue Hills. He is officially my knight in shining armor.
On that hike we chatted about all kinds of things, and I told him the story of the Saturday nights of my childhood. We agreed it would make a good blog, so thank you Mike for the hike and the blog inspiration.
My childhood wasn’t great and it wasn’t horrible. And despite the fact that I am often a glass-half-full person, there are a lot of parts to my childhood that are firmly settled in the empty half. But not this part. We are a family of 6 (4 kids, 2 parents) and working class. We had just enough, but very little extra. During the week we lived a very circumscribed existence around food and behaviors that revolved around not getting my dad mad; it kept us all (mostly) orderly and living within our means.
Oh, but those Saturday nights. It was like fairy dust was sprinkled on our house and changed us from Cinderella into the the mysterious princess in the pumpkin coach.
It was centered around the TV show lineup at the time. You know, before cable and streaming, we all survived watching just 3 channels and if you were lucky, maybe you were able to get the PBS station. Isn’t that cuckoo? My dad hated TV, and often called it the “Boob Tube.” If he caught you watching cartoons on Saturday morning, your ass would be out washing windows or doing some other chore. I will admit it encouraged me to read because he always left you alone if you were reading.
But he loved Archie Bunker in “All in the Family.” As a factory worker he identified with the outspoken character who worked hard for the little he had, and was often perplexed at why the other people in the house weren’t more grateful. For the record, my dad is a hard core liberal, so he did not have the prejudiced part. But he liked that Archie spoke his mind. And honestly, if you watch it now, it tackles a lot of meaty subjects of racism, women’s rights, politics. Sadly not much has changed, but thank you, Norman Lear.
“All in the Family” was the first show of the evening’s lineup that began at 8 pm. The set up began long before, however. We had a loveseat in that room and everyone else sat on foldable lawn chairs — you know the kind that have the wide plastic weave. I can’t remember how many people fit on the couch — maybe 3? I also don’t remember if there was a pecking order of any kind. We also had plastic folding side tables that we interspersed among the chairs to hold your plastic cup (washable) and food bowl, which was one of a bunch of brightly colored plastic bowls that had previously held margarine. You got to pick your favorite color.
After the chair set up, we started making popcorn. We went through several popcorn maker phases, My favorite was the one with the oil and big top that you would flip upside down after the popping stopped. That was good popcorn. Then the 80s brought us the much more inferior hot air popper. It was kind of cool to watch, but basically inedible unless you drowned it in butter. The machine had a little tray in the side that melted like 2 tablespoons of butter, which was not cutting it for a family of 6 raised on the real thing, so someone had to be on butter melting duty at the stove.
The popcorn was the main attraction, but there were plenty of sides — Smarties, Bugles, State Line potato chips, and sometimes Fritos, and once the nacho cheese flavor was invented, the occasional bag of Doritos. These delectables were paired with full on sugar soda (the only diet soda was Fresca, which was seen as a strange novelty). Black raspberry was my favorite, but I never said no to grape, and lemon lime. Hard no on the root beer, but there was always a variety. It was a thing to check out the cupboard after my mother shopped to see what was in store for Saturday and pick your drink ahead. I’m not sure if my mother bought whatever was on sale or saved room in her budget for it, but it strikes me now as a wild weekly extravagance.
If we were on our A game, we’d set up the Light Bright (yes, I’m starting to see how totally 70s this is becoming), with a sign that the snack shop was open. Otherwise we’d write up a paper menu and tape it to the wall. We had a counter between the kitchen and the TV room so people would order their snacks and soda. The kids who would complain bitterly (and quietly to each other, see note about easily angered father above) about having to do chores or things for each other were the picture of customer service excellence on Saturday nights.
And thus seated, we’d watch the whole lineup: “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and “The Carol Burnett Show,” which by the way I was not allowed to watch when I was younger because it was my bedtime. Having to go to bed while everyone else got to stay up and hearing them laugh? Screw you people, I earned my right to be the only one allowed to occasionally drive to high school. Payback is a bitch. But really, I’m only a little bitter about it.
The commercials were an opportunity to get seconds and thirds, which was another miraculous thing. We almost never had seconds, and if we did, it was the survival of the fittest. But Saturday nights there was no vying for food and drink, and all sibling and parental hostilities ceased.
At least that is how I remember it — being the youngest has it advantages. I invite my siblings to chime in. Was there some dark underbelly I was blissfully unaware of? Or did you buy me off with candy, which I have totally forgotten? Did I pull some youngest bullshit and tattle on people (OK, that means you, Mark)? The oldest has confessed to secretly filching the Smarties throughout the week via a tiny hole created for just that purpose.
It was one of those things that seemed completely normal, and now looking back seems so, well, unusual. At least for our family dynamics. I had such great memories that I wanted to create the same thing for the kid and then-husband. But the shows had changed, and while we weren’t big on junk food, it wasn’t quite the impossible food of my childhood, so it seemed less special. Some traditions are hard to recreate, but when the kid was young and started to get picky about food and we started to have food battles, I came up with Silly Dinner. Once a week we could put the battle aside, and we all were allowed to eat whatever the hell we wanted for dinner. Candy, junk food, breakfast, wine, cheese and crackers (for mom). No judging or rules. My hope was that it would make the other 6 days of battles easier and not make junk food taboo and more appealing. Or maybe it was just to give me a break from fighting. In any event, it didn’t quite work out that way — he is still pretty picky. But the kid found his own way to better food in the past few years. Eventually Silly Dinner evolved into takeout night, which I know he enjoys. And ultimately, for a few hours, we too had a cease fire. And that is all right with me.