1952 Westinghouse TV advertisement promoting access to presidential coverage. Source:vintage.es.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated the 34th president on January 20, 1953. I was eleven and in the fifth grade.

My school in Greer, SC, was 6 or 7 blocks from Tommy Hugh’s house where our teacher was taking us on a field trip to watch the inauguration on TV. Tommy was a classmate whose father was a doctor and they had one of the few TV’s in town. We walked even though it was cold. I guess the class would have numbered around thirty. We all packed into Tommy’s family den to view a TV that could not have been over 12” in a cabinet as large as a footlocker. I remember that much well, but not much else. I’m sure we must have hung on every word of his speech- – not! I think we were too young to appreciate any of it, but it was a field trip.

Even after several years, there were very few TV’s in Greer–probably about the same number as doctors. My dad had one, but it was displayed in his furniture store–for sale. Saturdays in small southern towns was when the farm and mill families came to town with a few extra dollars–to visit, shop or just people watch. Trade Street parking places were at a premium. People would just park to watch the car and walking traffic downtown. Radio was about the only entertainment in most homes, so spending a few hours in town was a treat.

Capehart Television 1950 ad. Source: vintage.es.

The stores on Trade St. all stayed open until seven on Saturday night. As soon as the furniture store’s front door was locked, out the back door went the TV and into my dad’s car. It was not a cabinet model, but TV’s were still very heavy in those days. I’m sure my dad had his hands full.

In the meantime, my brother and I were anxiously waiting at home. My mother was a stickler for the family eating supper together at the kitchen table. The exceptions were Saturday and Sunday nights when we had the TV set. A card table was set up in the living room where we gathered for supper and a night of TV.

The standard Saturday night meal was fried fish (usually ones my dad and I had caught,) hush puppies and cold slaw. Instead of tartar sauce (not sure we even knew about it,) there was a bowl of sliced red onions in vinegar. You took large or small pieces according to your taste along with the fish. I don’t know where that came from, but I still like it.

My dad arrived, and the TV was wrestled to the living room and onto a TV stand that sat empty the rest of the week. There were only three channels and they only operated from noon until eleven or so at night. There was no outside antenna at the time, just rabbit ears.

My mother was cooking away as dad was trying to get the best picture. He was also choosing what we watched. A couple of shows I remember were, “The Honeymooners” and “The Red Skelton Show.”

1953 Admiral Televison ad. Source: vintage.es.

We enjoyed the Saturday night supper and the shows. My mother always washed the dishes after every meal, even on Saturday TV night. So off to the kitchen while the males continued to enjoy another show. However, if something really good came on, my dad always howled, “Miriam you should see this.” I can still see her standing in the doorway, still drying her hands, to watch for a few minutes, then returning to finish the dishes. I guess she was a true “old south” mother and wife, and under-appreciated. I’ll tell you more about her later.

Our big meal on Sunday was after church and one of the few times we ate in the dining room. The TV was not turned on until after lunch. Pro football was just being televised, but there were other shows I remember–“Victory at Sea,” Bernstein Youth Concerts and, later on Sunday night, “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Sunday night was also a make-your-own leftovers meal, so ok to eat in front of the TV.

On Monday morning, the TV was returned to its place at the furniture store. Not sure how long this went on, or when we got our own set. It was much later before remote controls came along, so for years my brother and I were the remote control–“Bill, Ed, change the channel.”

Feature Image: Motorola television ad from Christmas 1952. Source: vintage.es.

One last memory that I’m not sure happened before or after we got our own TV. We still had not gotten an outside antenna, and rabbit ears were inadequate even when aluminum foil was added. Someone told my dad a long fluorescent light bulb could serve the same purpose as an antenna. The next thing I knew I was climbing a plum tree with a light bulb that he had attached to an antenna wire running to the TV. I don’t think it helped much, if at all, but he wanted to try it. “Bless his heart.”

It gave me joy over the years to give my parents their first remote control TV set, their first color set and cable hook up.


Bill Minus lives in Chestertown and can be found roaming Kent County.