Entertainment is important for people of all economic classes, but it can serve the critical role of dealing with the depression that sometimes accompanies living in harsh environments. The possession of certain types of entertainment also provides a psychological status, as well. The following episode from my childhood illustrates this point.
Uncle Jack slid a chair to within a few inches of the footstool where Dad’s feet rested, crossed and sockless. Uncle Jack sat down and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I think Ester is depressed,” Uncle Jack whispered to Daddy. They both looked toward Momma, who sat alone in a corner, staring straight ahead and humming “Amazing Grace.”
“What does she have to be depressed about? She has everything a woman could ever want,” Daddy replied. He smiled at me when he said that, and I felt proud.
“I don’t know,” Uncle Jack whispered, “but she’s acting exactly the way my old lady did right before she left, and she didn’t have anything to be depressed about either. A word to the wise: My ex has told me several times since she left that she might still be here if we’d taken a trip, or went out to eat, or if we had a TV or something to get her mind off the kids and me once in a while.”
“I don’t want to go on a trip or out to eat, and I can’t afford a television. I have rent to pay,” Daddy said.
“You’ll have hell to pay if you don’t do something. And your life might be better in other ways, too, if you make her feel better.” Uncle Jack winked at Daddy as he made that last statement. “Don’t worry Buck. I think I can help, but it might take a few days,” he added.
Later that week Uncle Jack showed up with a TV antenna. “In a couple months I can get you the TV,” he told Daddy.
Uncle Jack is really smart, I said to myself. He knows where to find all kinds of things.
Josephine was really excited about the antenna. “We’ll have an antenna on our roof!” she sang, jumping up and down.
“What’s so special about an antenna on the roof?” I asked her.
“Don’t you remember? Momma said antennas on the roof means the family has a TV, and TVs are for rich people.”
She looked at me to see if I was following her train of thought, then she said, “Now when other people see our antenna, they’ll know we’re rich too.”
“Oh, yeah!” I finally understood and started jumping up and down with her.
Uncle Jack and Daddy climbed onto the roof of the house to install the antenna. I was scared for them to be up there and could hardly watch. I think Daddy was scared too, because he just sat in one spot. Uncle Jack ran around on the rooftop like a squirrel. Once he stopped to flap his arms and crow like a rooster. Everyone, even some of the neighbors, laughed.
When Daddy and Uncle Jack climbed down from the roof, Josephine stood in the front yard and looked at the antenna, beaming. “Now everybody around will look at our house and know we’re rich!” she sang out and danced across the yard. I followed her the best I could. Even Momma was smiling.
“That dadblamed thing will attract lightning. That’s what it’ll do,” Daddy frowned as he spoke. Daddy was scared of lightning because of the thunder that came with it. He said the thunder sounded like war, and he hated it. He always made us sit quietly behind the wood stove until thunderstorms passed over. I believe thunder scared him almost as much as bridges. I was afraid the antenna would make him even more afraid of storms, but it was too late for him to change his mind.
Uncle Jack brought the TV home a few weeks later in the middle of the night. He said he didn’t want the neighbors to see the box because they would be jealous of us. By morning he had it going. He was right about Momma too. She seemed happier after that.
Momma could get lost in the show Dragnet, and she learned a great deal about life beyond our little Dula Street while watching Ozzie and Harriett. I’m glad she had this source of entertainment that gave her short breaks from the hardships in our lives.