The seventies: the popcorn was hot, the channels were few, and the network promos were things of wonder.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I’ll be going about my day, dealing with some everyday object when WHOOSH, I get a sudden flash of recall of its ghostly late 20th century antecedent. With it comes a fierce rush of memories of people and places and experiences long gone. It happened today. I’m eating leftover microwave popcorn (a little squishy but it was sitting there, why not) and flashed back to the basement of our house on Maple Avenue in Hershey, PA, let’s say 1974. Finished basement — a rumpus room, if you will — concrete floor painted a muddy brown by my mom in an effort to suggest, er, hardwood flooring? Classic ’70s wood panelling made of cardboard and spit, dropped ceiling with those nasty foam tiles, a shag throw rug in some kind of orange-y tones to “make things cozy”…and the family gathered around the tube in eager anticipation of the CBS Saturday night line-up.
If you are of a certain age, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Long before NBC invented “must see TV” on Thursday nights, there were CBS Saturdays. It started at 8 PM with “All in the Family” and continued through the 10 o’clock hour with some of the greatest TV shows ever made: “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Bob Newhart Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” A few years earlier, but this promo brings it back:
Back to the microwave popcorn? Well, if you’re a child of the ’70s, you know that before there were microwaves and air poppers, there was the electric popcorn popper. And nothing — NOTHING — makes better popcorn. You’d pour oil and popcorn kernels (or “gourmet popping corn” if you were swank and could afford Orville Redenbacher) in a well, cover it with a bulbous plastic dome, slap some butter (“We call it maize…”) in the perforated well on top of the dome, plug it in, and watch the popcorn pop.
Snack prep as spectacle — the sound of the sizzling oil, the smell of the corn cooking, the sight of that big plastic dome filling with fluffy popcorn — and the anticipation of that butter as it melted and dripped down through the perforations to the popcorn below…once it was done, you just unplugged it, flipped the whole contraption over, and your dome/lid now served as a bowl — full of steaming hot, buttery popcorn. Nirvana. My mom would bring the whole set up — hot oil and all — down into the TV room because remember — no DVR pause buttons. We didn’t want to miss a second of all that great TV, so easier to just whip up the popcorn right on the spot.
Ours was a West Bend popper, and guess what — they still exist. They’re sleeker and more streamlined now, but the one I remember looked just like this, down to the golden see-through plastic dome and the bright yellow plastic lid that pushed down the butter on top.
TV watching is a splintered, silo’d, highly individual experience chez Smirnov. We are a household with nine screens, of every size and persuasion. Each one of us has an electronic appendage — the Russian and his iPhone, the kid and his DS, me and my blackberry. Very often we’re multi-taking as we keep one eye on whatever the channel surfing dredges up on the HDTV in the front of the room. Don’t get me wrong, we have our communal TV-watching moments, and the older our son gets, the more we can share our TV preferences with him to make for a true family viewing outing.
It’s not the same, of course. Down to the way the popcorn tastes. Who sits around watching popcorn pop, for god’s sake? Well, 30-some years ago we did, and I cherish those memories. There’s such a thing as Slow Food and Slow Parenting…maybe it’s time to trade in the microwave popcorn for a West Bend and try out some Slow Family TV Time.
(Logo montage via James White. Popcorn popper via ebay.com)