13 March 2019

[Ellis Millsaps] - Let There Be Light

Memoir Chapter IV

Hi kids! What time is it ?”

“It’s Howdy Doody Time/ It's Howdy Doody Time/ It’s Howdy Doody Time/ It's Howdy Doody Time. (Sung to the tune of tra la la boom-de-ay.)

The TV came when I was four years old or possibly younger. I was four years old in 1956, the year Elvis first appeared on Ed Sullivan, an event I remember. The TV came on the back of a flatbed truck, down Summer Hill through the black section rather than from the street we always took to town.
The fact that I remember this from such a young age shows what an impactful event this was in my life. From that day on I watched that box for some part of almost every day until I left for college at seventeen.
Suddenly into my life came Mickey Mouse, Captain Kangaroo, and a new world of Saturday morning cartoons. The Mickey Mouse Club had some boring musical routines, but I was guaranteed a Disney cartoon and episodes of Spin and Marty or The Hardy Boys. Captain Kangaroo was mostly uninteresting, a progenitor of Mr. Rogers, but we did get a cartoon. Saturday morning however was splendid: Mighty Mouse, Fury, Circus Boy, Sky King, Sea Hunt, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, a smorgasbord of entertainment for a preschooler.
There were also Saturday morning westerns: The Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hickok, The Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers. I watched all these programs and enjoyed them, but not as much as the cartoons.  It wasn't until the deluge of nighttime westerns came in the late 50s that television really changed my worldview.
I didn't then consciously realize that in these TV shows people weren't making decisions based on their fears of the afterlife, but I gladly saw myself living in their world while I simultaneously lived in my church world.
Going to church had always been fun for me. There were kids my age to play with, my father was the hero, and I was doted over by the congregants.  But when it became apparent that prayer meeting kept me from Wagon Train, and Training Union stood between me and Walt Disney Presents, I cast my lot with television over the church, although unless I was lucky enough to run a fever I was always in church.                                                                                                                                                   
And revivals? They could wipe out a whole week of Maverick, Bronco, Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot and Rawhide. These cowboys didn't mess around, no silly “Oh Cisco” and “Oh Pancho” or “Wait for me Bill.” These prime time cowboys were who I wanted to be.                                                                                                                                                 
I wanted to be Flint McCullough. I wanted to be Bret Maverick. I was a cowboy and when cowboys ride into town they don't look for the church. They go to the saloon, a practice I've emulated all my adult life.