Times Past: Broken TV proves parental warnings were unwarranted

  • A newer TV sits in Janet Keyes’ old-fashioned, closing TV cabinet. Contributed photo/Janet Keyes


Published: 6/22/2018 3:38:52 PM

My kids grew up with a set of strict household rules concerning the extremely fragile nature of the television screen. These rules were based on some facts and lots of urban legends.

I’m not sure how many rules there were, but I remember some of them:

No playing rough in the living room — you might bump into the TV and break that glass screen.

The living room is no place to be throwing things — you might accidentally break that picture tube.

No bouncing balls anywhere near the TV — if the picture tube gets broken, it might explode and throw shards of glass everywhere.

These rules had many different versions, and most people who were parents in the 1970s can remember them all and can still recite them, usually with exclamation marks. One thing all the rules had in common was the cold and certain nature of the inevitable break-ability of the TV screen, which was actually the front of the picture tube.

One dark day, our TV died a natural death. It was quite old, and several small tubes had been repeatedly replaced over the years. Even the picture tube had been replaced once, two days after I had come down with mumps — my early “Christmas gift” from my 6-year-old daughter (but that’s another story).

This time we knew that when the fragile picture tube went permanently dark, it was the end. We knew that newer TVs needed fewer replacements of small tubes, and were actually more economical. We visited Mr. Borer, the owner of the L.A. Kohler Co., and selected a new and modern television set. We removed the old TV from its handsome wooden cabinet and closed the “curtainwood” doors at the front. Those doors slid in and out on a curved track. Theoretically, one could have the doors closed when the TV was not in use, and no one even had to know you had a TV, especially if you had visitors you wanted to impress. (It is hard to explain to the younger generation that TVs were once considered sort of low-class entertainment for the unsophisticated, and were best restricted to the den.)

With our new TV in place in the living room, sitting on top of the perfectly good cabinet, we were then faced with the prospect of disposing of the old TV. Fortunately, we had a ravine on our property that we had been filling with “clean fill” — mostly gravel, old bricks, old broken pieces of cement blocks and a few stumps. We sensed an opportunity for a “teaching moment” for our children. We carefully lowered the fragile old TV down into the rubble. Our children had to then throw small rocks down at the TV to be able to see for themselves how very breakable it was.

Much to our surprise, this turned into a teaching moment for us. The small rocks bounced off the TV screen. So did the bricks. My husband thought the children were not throwing very hard, so he took over. Well-thrown bricks hurled by an adult would surely do the trick. Not.

He then slammed a cement block down at the TV. That worked, but the fracture was not very dramatic. No explosion, no flying shards of glass. He went down into the rubble and retrieved some pieces of the old picture tube. Well, no wonder it didn’t break easily — that TV screen that was actually the front of the picture tube consisted of glass that was about three-quarters of an inch thick.

We had succeeded in breaking the TV screen, and breaking the rules, and breaking the myth of the urban legend of the fragile picture tube.

It would be nice to think that we might be able to view the modern flat screens as just as tough as the old picture tubes, but I’m not counting on it. We still don’t throw things in the living room to this day.

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