Friday, August 07, 2015

Aunt Addie, Brian and the 24" TV

This week's Sepia challenge: "Whilst I am away you might want to turn your minds to television, shops and furniture - or indeed anything else you can find in our weekly theme image. Just post your post on or around the 8th August 2015 and add a link to the list below."

This is my only photo featuring a TV set as part of a little tableau. My Aunt Addie is on the left, with a "proud aunt" hand on my cousin Brian's shoulder. The 24" TV set, encased in it's shiny blond wood cabinet, is hogging most of the scene. Atop the TV are miscellaneous items typical of the period: the tiered lamp (orange was involved), the package of Westinghouse flash cubes or magic cubes, and the stem of ivy struggling to escape from the planter box built into the wall on the right. The warmth of the TV set attracted the ivy that would regularly launch escapes from its roommate, the stern, sharp "mother's in-laws" tongue plant. For those who aren't familiar with it, it's those two leaves sticking straight up in the air. Addie's MIT was the Canadian indoor version of the plant seen below which is the California type with lush leaves jammed tightly together. When there's only one leaf, with sharp points and edges, you can see how the plant inspired the name. By the way, it's almost impossible to kill which also could have had something to do with the moniker. 

You couldn't pair up two more opposite plants - the curving, undulating ivy full surprises (where will it go next?) and the rigid, stiff tongue - stuck in place and content to stay there. During the summer months with more light, the ivy would curl around the rabbit ears and across the TV. Addie would wind it round and round the lamp to keep it neat. 

Behind the pleasant scene hang chic black drapes decorated with a bird of paradise motif. I'm guessing the date to be the mid-50's when Hawiian/Tropical themes dominated home design even in Winnipeg. Most of us had aluminum flamingo screen doors but had never seen a live flamingo or a real bird of paradise plant. Truer to geography, we should have had robins on our aluminum screen doors and pine trees or wheat sheaves on our wallpaper. 

The cast of characters: 
Aunt Addie
My aunt had a classic heart-shaped face with a broad forehead and a little chin. I cannot remember ever seeing her without a smile. She was petite and fluttery; we loved her visits because she didn't have children and spoiled us - not with things, but with her very desirable attention. She was the person closest to my mother, emotionally. They would giggle together, confide in each other, commiserate over my aging grandparents, complain about their husbands and on holidays, they'd cook together in our tiny kitchen, which was like a boat galley, pumping out a turkey dinner for 12 - 15 people. As I recall everything was served on warmed plates and when we sat down to the table there was no jumping up for the forgotten this or that. They would have considered "Jack-in-the Boxing" during dinner very poor form. Organization for these dinners was key and the meal was expected to be carried off without too much fuss. How the two of them managed to turn out the feasts they did is a wonder to me. I took their culinary accomplishments totally for granted. If I could spend just one more Thanksgiving with them in our kitchen on Dominion Street, I would present them with diamond tiaras befitting the experts they were. 

Cousin Brian
My cousin Brian, with the pipe, probably rarely looked at that television or any television. I'm sure he was studying most of the time. He became the youngest person in Canada (up to that time) to pass the Actuarial Exams - notoriously difficult. 

The TV
During this era, typical TV shows we would have enjoyed were The Ed Sullivan Show, The Honeymooners, American Bandstand and perhaps La Famille Plouffe, a teleroman series, like the telenovelas of Latin America. The show was about a Quebecois family during the end of the depression and through the forties. The characters, Theophile, his wife Josephine and their four adult children: Napoleon, Ovide, Cecile, Guillame were very popular with my French Canadian relatives. Aunt Addie, my mother and grandmother enjoyed them thoroughly and would compare notes about the programs the day after they aired. The show was probably subsidized by the Canadian government which feared Canadian culture would be over-run entirely by U.S. entertainment with the advent of wide spread broadcast TV.  They set up strict laws regarding the amount of Canadian content TV stations were required to air. I recall it was Canadian during the day or nothing at all. As a consequence, our TV's in the 50's mostly broadcast this: 

"RCA Indian Head test pattern" by RCA - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -  caption

Like many such regulations, the Cancon laws began with the best of intentions but they ended up in a tangled web so complicated and nullifying that in my guess they hurt the quantity and quality of Canadian output rather than nurtured it. I can see why Canadian-bred talent floods across the border to get work. 

I wonder why the Canadian government didn't require a Canadian Indian to be on our test pattern instead of the generic American Indian? How about this splendid photo of a Cree Indian? They could have used the designs on the blankets for the fine tuning.
"Cree" photograph by George Foley, Maple Creek Saskatchewan
 Grab your cool summer beverage of choice and visit Sepia Saturday for more TV inspired stories. 


  1. Ed Sullivan? American Bandstand? We are, as they say, "of an age." I, too, was glued to the tube for those programs (Dick Clark never changed, did he, over 50 years?). What about What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth and I've Got a Secret? They were great, too.

  2. So many things here to comment on - the TV in the blond cabinet so common in the '50s; TV test patterns; plants - love your description of the ivy trying to escape its pot & overtake the TV. And the photograph of the Cree Indian is beautiful. But it's the Mother's-in-laws tongue plant that captures my attention. I'm relieved to see the example you included showing its many thick leaves crowded together in a rather small pot. I have one of those in a small pot. I've tried twice, over the 40 years I've had it, to transfer it to a bigger pot & both times it almost died. So now, even though it has started to sprout new leaves one right after another after sitting dormant for a few years (I wonder if that's because I started blowing on it a few times a day supplying it with extra carbon dioxide?) I'm going to leave it in its small pot. It bloomed for me once after I'd had it for about 10 years, but never since then. I'd love to see it do that again. Pretty little yellow flowers on a tall stalk that lasted for a long time.

  3. I didn't even know those plants had flowers. I grew up in Detroit and Chanel 9 was the Canadian station. We used to watch it but I can't remember any particular shows. We listened to Canadian radio too. One program my mother always listened to was Alex Pavlini. I remember when he died in a car accident.

  4. Thank you for these detailed memories you’ve shared with us. I love the description of your aunt Addie - petite and fluttery.

  5. I don't remember seeing test patterns on TV. Now there seems to be a trend toward "paid programs" selling the same things over and over instead of "real" programs.

  6. Just suffice it to say, Bravo for giving us a rich and full script for the photo of Addie, Brian and TV. Great fun to read on a Sunday morning.

  7. Initially I thought the plant on the curtain was real. We have bird of paradise plants here but they don't look very much like that. A plantsman I once knew used to call some plant ''mother-in-law's bottom' because he said he liked to pinch it whenever he went by.