Thursday, April 24, 2008

My earliest, scariest television moment — a Sunday in November

Cheryl of “Nordic Blue” has started an intriguing meme that asks the question, “What was your earliest, scariest TV moment?” For Cheryl, who like me is a member of the Baby Boom Generation — the first generation to grow up with television — her answer was the very first episode of “The Outer Limits.”

I've been sitting here pondering what my own answer to the question would be. I have a hunch if I could remember back that far, my answer would be seeing Clarabell the Clown, on “The Howdy Doody Show.” I've never liked clowns and to this day just seeing a picture of Clarabell makes my stomach hurt. But I was too young, and the actual memory has long since dissipated.

I know for years that the annual showing of “The Wizard of Oz” would necessitate my hiding behind the couch when the Wicked Witch of the West appeared calling Dorothy “my pretty.” Really, I hated that show — even though I watched it year after year. The sight of those beautiful ruby red slippers kept me coming back.

But if I were to nominate the scariest moment of all, it would have to be what I witnessed on TV at the age of 10. To this day, I don't know if I witnessed the actual event as it happened, or if I just saw one of the many replays that flooded the television later. All I can say for sure is that when I saw it that very first time, I didn't realize what was actually happening until it was over. At 10, before I had become hardened to the violence that the magic living room box could bring nightly into our home, I was inconsolably horrified.

As I watched unsuspectingly, the Dallas police brought Lee Harvey Oswald, arrested for the assassination of President Kennedy, out through the basement door of the police station. Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner, stepped up and shot Oswald in the abdomen, on television, in front of a shocked nation.

Those three days in November, almost 45 years ago, with the shooting of an American President, and the subsequent shooting of his accused killer two days later, shook the very core of my emotional being. It stripped from me that gentle cloak of childhood innocence, and I remember quite clearly thinking if no one could keep a President from being shot and a group of policemen could not keep his killer from being shot, then how safe could anyone, like, say, my father be?

Before those three days, I did not run out into traffic, not because I really thought a car would hit me, but because I knew if my parents found out there would be lectures and some sort of punishment. I didn't accept candy from strangers, not because I feared poison or some pedophilic lure, but because again, I knew my mother would know and again there would be a lecture and punishment.

The world became a darker place for me after those three days in November, and I adjusted my life and my thinking accordingly. Did this in some fundamental way change the person I became? I don't know — maybe, probably. But the sight of a real living, breathing man being shot on television certainly was my earliest, scariest TV moment.

So, what was it for you? What was your earliest, scariest TV moment?

Note this post first published online, April 24, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online http://www.thenews-messenger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=BLOGS02

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