I grew up in a decidedly middle class family of decidedly modest means. Like many children I never understood or thought about my family’s financial situation. We always had enough food. I can never recall running out of Hawaiian Punch, ice cream or day-glow French dressing. Our beds were warm and our clothes wholly adequate, although I wasn’t allowed to buy dungarees (yep, dungarees) until high school. Occasionally we would go on a short summer vacation or to a baseball game. When I was 10 my folks bought a single family house, one so decrepit that Bob Vila would’ve stormed out in disgust, but a house nonetheless. All in all it seemed like a very American Dreamish upbringing, although I never thought about it that way. It simply was.

Years later, after my dad died and my sister graduated from high school, my mom sold the house. I remember her saying at the time that when they purchased it they were constantly worried about making the monthly mortgage payment. It was $180. That’s not much more than we pay for cable and internet today. Of course in those golden days television was free and the internet was two cups connected by a taut string.

This wasn't it, but you get the idea.

I remember getting our first color television set. It was a year or so after we moved into the house. We had been easily surviving with a 15” black and white job which happily sat on a portable TV stand. One day a couple of large men came to the house toting a big awkwardly sized box. They may not have been large men, but to my small, skinny self they certainly looked large. They struggled to maneuver the box up the front stairs before getting it through the door and into the living room. I saw the markings on the box, but could hardly believe it. Surely this was some kind of mistake. Someone produced a box cutter and sliced open the cardboard like a rogue surgeon. When the box and the Styrofoam fell away there stood a big, beautiful 25” console television! The men moved it against a wall where it would stay until its dying day. It must’ve weighed 100 pounds. I hope my folks threw them a few bucks for their herculean efforts. It was the least they could do. Almost literally.

Who says there isn't a God?

I was ecstatic, especially when I discovered it was a color television. I could finally see what the NBC peacock looked like as it fanned its feathers while a honey-voiced announcer purred, “The following program is brought to you in living color.” I was living in black and white world and had no clue what I was missing. And when I first saw Barbara Eden dressed in her Jeannie costume in big, bright, beautiful tones and all “Master” this and “Master” that …well, let’s just say it accelerated my journey into puberty. From the day that television squeezed through the door my entertainment life would never be the same.

Surprises like this were unheard of, so I asked my parents where the television came from. They exchanged glances and said “it fell off the truck,” further adding that meant it was free. I was stunned by this admission. Stunned! I never had money or paid for anything, so I didn’t care about the free part. But I cared deeply about falling off the truck part. I quickly examined the set like Holmes at a crime scene, no irony intended. Remarkably no scratches, dents or chips appeared anywhere. I looked hard at the screen expecting to see a spider web thin crack up in the corner just waiting to spread its misery, but that also seemed mishap free. I thought how lucky we were considering the television’s accident prone life up until that point.

I imagine the process looked exactly like this.

Over the next few years more things fell off the truck directly into our house. As each new item appeared I looked it over, blissfully amazed it was never damaged. The stereo console (which probably weighed twice as much as the television), the occasional piece of furniture, and even stuff I didn’t care about, like cookware.

Well, we all eventually grow up. I don’t recall exactly when it dawned on me that “falling off the truck” was not the result of carelessly packed boxes on slippery flatbeds. Rather it was a common north Jersey occurrence that inevitably involved a passing acquaintance with a particular type of person who operated a questionable warehouse in a shady part of the city. Some folks called this type of merchandise “swag”. I hesitate to think what insurance investigators called it. But to my young and innocent eyes it was heaven, never more so than when Jeannie materialized from that beautiful bottle with bubbly enthusiasm, eager to grant unimaginable wishes.

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    I remember fantasizing about what Superman’s cape would look like in color, or a baseball game, or cartoons. And I also remember when our huge combination TV-stereo arrived, complete with sliding draped doors. Hawaiian Punch and dungarees, too. Great memories, John.


  2. sparklebumps says:

    My ex’s parents had one just like the one in the picture. It still worked, but if you watched it for longer than an hour, the volume would rise to ear-splitting decibels until you smacked it enough that it went back to normal volume.
    And I Dream of Jeanie! Thank you for adding to my fantasy costume ideas! 🙂


  3. Apparently, that truck did not exit the Turnpike anywhere near my house.


  4. I remember the black and white television sets and the rabbit ears. I Dream of Jeannie and Gilligan’s Island were after school ‘must watch’ programs. What a nice journey into the pasts of “generation X’. Thanks for the memories.


  5. That’s exactly like my childhood except mine occurred in Florida and stuff never fell off of trucks and ended up in our house. But I remember when we got our color TV. Wonderful post!


  6. mysterycoach says:

    Woooow… we never had the console TV but Uncle Freddie did 🙂 Holy cow man! That’s something else! We had a few items that fell off a truck too. LIterally. I also didn’t realize that Searsucker was a material and it wasn’t until many moons later that I realized “sears” didn’t actually “suck”. 🙂


  7. whiteladyinthehood says:

    I love these kinda posts! It was wonderful, Trask… (grew up with a t.v. just like it!)


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