When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to settle into a comfy chair in the living room and watch a movie on TV with my dad.
The movies were always in black and white because my parents didn’t see any compelling reason to buy a color TV. As long as Walter Cronkite and Ed Sullivan and Sunday football games found their way into our home through the antennae of our Zenith, not even the invention of the remote control could prompt my dad to buy a new TV set.
My sister enjoys telling the story of going off to college and sitting down one evening in a dorm room with friends to watch The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, only to jump up in amazement when Dorothy landed in munchkin land and everything turned to color.
"I had no idea," she said.
Of course, these were the days before VCRs and personal computers. The only cell phone we’d ever seen was in the shoe of Maxwell Smart. So in those years—the early 1970s—my family did things such as go to the library on Thursday evenings, drive out every so often on a Sunday after church to watch planes take off and land at the airport, and gather on occasion in our living room to listen to my dad read a poem by Longfellow or Poe.
I know this sounds nostalgic, but it really was like that.
And then there were those Saturday afternoon movies.
I’m sure my brother and sister occasionally came downstairs or from outside to watch TV with us, but what I mostly remember is just me and my dad watching films where the hero was always fighting some adversary or injustice, films like the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts or the 1940 Henry Fonda classic, The Grapes of Wrath.
Born in 1930, my dad, whose name is Bill, spent his childhood in a rough and blue-collar neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. His mother died when he was three, and his father worked in a steel mill.
After high school, my dad enlisted in the Air Force and then went to college. He became a high school history and English teacher, and later a guidance counselor at a community college.
Not unlike the characters in those movies, my dad emerged a hero for our family, a role model whose choices in life were as instructive as his words.
As a teenager, I remember feeling fortunate that my dad liked watching those movies, as it gave me an excuse to spend time with him.
These memories came back on a recent Saturday afternoon as I sat with my 15-year-old daughter in our living room watching a movie we’d picked up at the video store: the black and white 1962 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
My daughter, a voracious reader, read the book on her own last year, and will read it again next year as a sophomore. But she hadn’t seen the movie, and I hadn’t seen it in many years.
As we watched Gregory Peck play the father of Scout and Jem, the hero who stands up to social injustice, I thought of my dad, the depression-era boy who finally did buy a new TV with a remote control and now, at 77, watches movies in color with my mom in the same living room in Los Gatos where we all grew up.
I thought of him as I sat with my daughter on that Saturday, our faces turned toward the television on an afternoon that has already begun to fade into a black and white past to which I hope she’ll look back, one day, and remember.