“The following program is brought to you in living color.”

If you can remember hearing those words, you might not be older than dirt, but you probably grew up with its grandkids.

I still remember the “good old days” when TV screens were small and most of the time the programs – like “Howdy Doody,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” and even “The Wonderful World of Disney” – were presented in black and white. When something was broadcast in color, the announcement would be made: “The following program is brought to you in living color.”

(It never occurred to me to wonder if that was in contrast to “dying color” or some other condition. Maybe the announcement was to prepare people so they didn’t die of shock.)

Of course, if your family didn’t have a color TV, the announcement did little good – other than to make you envious of families that did have the luxury of “living color.” And even for those of us that did acquire color TVs as soon as they became affordable, the color was no comparison to what we enjoy today with our high-def, huge-screen monitors. But back in the 1960s when I was growing up, color of any kind was a wonder.

Actually, the first “color TV” I remember was when I visited the home of a friend and they had laid a sheet of transparent green plastic over the TV screen. It made everyone look kind of green – not very good because many people still believed there might be little green men from Mars back then, but at least there was some color other than black and white. (Purists, of course, will even tell you that black and white technically aren’t even colors, so I guess in the early days we watched no-color TVs.)

Today we can still watch black-and-white programs from the past, including one of my favorites, Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” and regard them as quaint examples from entertainment history. But as a boy, I found TV of any kind, color or not, a special treat.

We had just three channels – how did mankind survive, right? And they didn’t all come in clearly. Rooftop TV antenna and “rabbit ears” atop the TV would improve reception somewhat, but often we still had to put up with “snow” – fuzzy pictures in which sometimes we could barely make out the characters.

And programming wasn’t 24/7 as it is today. I’m not sure when the shows first came on in the morning, and stations always signed off after the evening news. After a scene of the American flag waving in the breeze to the tune of “the Star-Spangled Banner,” a test pattern would be projected on the screen where it would remain until the next morning. It too, of course, was only in black and white.

I’ll always remember the “living color” days. If you were watching the NBC network, the NBC peacock would appear, displaying the primary colors to prepare you for the technological marvel of a full-color TV program. How could anyone ever forget the spectacle of Tinker Bell flying across the screen, waving her wand and turning the images from black and white to “living color”?

Walt Disney would then appear, his mustache in living brown, ready to introduce the featured program of the evening, whether it be Davy Crockett, a nature film, or Mickey Mouse cavorting with his friends. As Archie Bunker would say years later, “Those were the days.”

Oh yes, we didn’t have remote control “clickers” then, either. We had to physically get up from our chair or couch and turn the channel selector knob. It’s a marvel more people didn’t suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome with such frequent torque to their wrists. But that’s a story for another day.


Pea soup. That’s what they call fog that’s so thick you can barely see several feet in front of you. It was “pea soup” that greeted me as I stepped outside the Shop-Rite supermarket where I had just completed my part-time evening shift as a grocery clerk.

It was about 9:30 p.m. and darkness had descended, along with the fog. Coincidentally, it would be my first time to drive home on my own. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’d learned to drive well from my uncle Joe in Houston earlier that year, I had also successfully completed the driver’s education class, and had my official New Jersey driver’s license. So I was fully qualified to make the drive from Shop-Rite to my house alone.

Except I’d never received instruction in how to drive in pea-soup fog.

Earlier that day I had proudly driven to the supermarket, my maiden voyage as a solo driver in the 1957 turquoise and white Ford Crown Victoria we had inherited from my grandfather when he died. Like most young people, I found this first opportunity to drive without an adult riding shotgun a cherished moment. It represented freedom, my emancipation proclamation from being chauffeured (or having to walk) wherever I wanted to go. Shop-Rite was only about three miles, so the distance wasn’t a big deal. But the fog presented an unexpected complication.

This was long before cell phones, so I couldn’t call Dad or Mom for help. Also enshrouded in fog, they couldn’t have given much assistance anyway. So, with the bravado that befits a teenager, I unlocked the Crown Vic, got in the driver’s seat, started the car and headed out of the parking lot. Very, very slowly.

One good thing about extremely heavy fog is most people have enough sense not to drive in it. So oncoming traffic – or even cars headed the same direction as me – did not pose a problem. The only difficulty was seeing where I was going. In fog, headlights don’t function well. The glare bounces off the moisture-saturated air rather than illuminating the distance.

So I crept along, carefully following the white lines in the road as I continued the three-mile journey, driving not more than five miles an hour. I’d traveled the route from the grocery store to my home numerous times, so the combination of memory and familiar landmarks helped a lot in guiding me along the way.

Again, I couldn’t advise Mom and Dad of my progress with a cell phone; they didn’t exist in 1965. They hadn’t even been imagined yet. I was on my own.

To my recollection, I didn’t pass a single car along the homeward route. I guess God knew He better keep other motorists out of my way.

The biggest challenge came when I turned into our subdivision. I knew there would be cars parked along the right side of the road. Parking on the left side was prohibited, I knew, so I did what is usually not advisable: I drove on the left side of the road to make sure I wouldn’t collide with a parked car. And I hoped no one else was out driving around the neighborhood.

I also continued to drive very slowly.

Nearly an hour later, palms sweaty and nerves a bit jangled, I found sanctuary – our familiar gravel driveway. With a sigh of relief, I got out of the car and walked up the front steps into our house. My mom – the most worrying of worry-warts – was probably more relieved that I was. My dad? Well, Mom had sent him out to look for me. He returned home about 15 minutes later, also pleased to know his son had successfully negotiated his first driving challenge.

Even though I really didn’t have the foggiest notion of what I was doing!

Some of my most vivid memories come from summer 1965, six weeks with my uncle, aunt, and cousins in Cypress, Texas. Uncle Joe decided to teach me to drive. A very smart man, he still could have been confused with the proverbial fool that rushed in where angels fear to tread: I knew nothing about driving – steering, starting, or stopping – but that didn’t intimidate him. It probably should have.

I started from scratch. Literally. The vehicle chosen for my course in the fine art of driving was not a sleek, automatic transmission sedan. My driver education conveyance was an orange, battered, not-cool-looking 1950 Chevrolet pickup truck affectionately called “Aurora.” I’ve no idea where Uncle Joe got the name; it certainly had no resemblance to the Aurora Borealis. He just fancied the name, and it stuck.

Aurora was a piece of basic automotive craftsmanship. Igniting the engine involved a starter button on the floor. You stepped on it to turn the engine, but the trick was to quickly move foot from starter to gas pedal before the engine died. As soon as the engine began winding to life, you released the starter and fed the gas – or the engine would cough, buck, and stall. It took me about two weeks to master this delicate skill. Why God provided only two feet if He intended for us to drive, I couldn’t understand.

Did I mention Aurora also had a clutch? Yep. You engaged the clutch to get the truck to start moving. Depress the clutch pedal with the left foot while performing the dance from starter to gas pedal with the right. Getting the truck moving required releasing the clutch while depressing the gas pedal. Let out the clutch too quickly and again the engine would jerk, then stall. Step on the gas too fast and the engine would race, emitting a loud roar while you still attempted to engage the clutch. It took me another two weeks to discover how to get Aurora into motion without herking and jerking.

Of course, the clutch meant the truck was manual transmission. As I said, Aurora wasn’t fancy. It only had three forward gears, along with reverse. Mounted on the steering column. You started in first gear and, if you didn’t stall out by letting out the clutch too fast or not giving the engine enough gas – an exquisite balance, I concluded – you accelerated to a certain speed and then pushed the clutch, let off gas, and shifted into second gear. Third gear was a comparative piece of cake.

The challenge of driving is tough enough without fretting about clutching and shifting, gassing and going. But Uncle Joe was determined; if he taught me how to drive, I’d know how to do it right. Including how to shift gears, so I could handle whatever kind of vehicle came my way.

Eventually I figured out the starter/gas pedal, clutch-in, clutch-out, give-it-gas system fairly well. I could start the engine without sputtering, get Aurora moving forward with decreasing amounts of herky-jerky momentum. I’d head down the road, trying not to forget about shifting into second. When we were really going fast (about 30 miles an hour), I’d shift into third and think, “This is the life!”

Then a stop sign would appear out of nowhere and with Uncle Joe’s reminder, I’d feel for the brake pedal so we could stop. Initially, focused on taking my foot off the gas and moving it to the brake, I’d forget about the clutch. The clutch, unfortunately, did not forget about me, so the truck would lurch to a stop – and after a gasp or two, stall.

OK, let’s try it all over again, from the top: Starter button, gas, clutch, etc. Several times I wanted to surrender and let Uncle Joe assume the driver’s seat, resigned to lifetime passenger-dom, walking, or riding my bike (which I didn’t do all that well, either). My lack of driving skill was partnered with minimal confidence and low self-esteem.

Did I mention Aurora’s steering wheel had considerable play in it? That ole steering wheel could make about half a turn before even starting to make any difference in the direction the front wheels were heading. At times even making a 90-degree turn became an adventure until I mastered the steering wheel and its foibles. Just another complication.

Amazingly, I finally got it. Uncle Joe’s persistence in sticking with me, despite my teen-aged impatience, paid off. I could motor down Jones Road and Hempstead Highway without breaking a sweat. Cypress, Texas was 30 miles from the heart of bustling metropolis of Houston in those days, which helped – with relatively few cars on the road, I had my own practice track.

Those driving lessons that summer taught me a lot more than how to drive. I learned patience, perseverance, and the power of having someone believe in you when you didn’t even believe in yourself.

That was the summer I started to grow up.

Encounters with ice cream stand tall among my strongest childhood memories. I’ll never forget the rush of excitement that accompanied the approach of the ice cream man into our neighborhood, bells ching-a-linging on his white truck with its freezer packed with an array of wondrous frozen treats.

An illustration of Elsie the Cow, the Borden Dairy mascot, adorned the truck’s side, reminding us of her vital contributions in helping satisfy my and my friends’ collective craving for creamy sweets. Those brief stops of the ice cream truck on our street presented my first decision-making experiences: Fudge bar? Ice cream cup? Popsicle (orange, lime, cherry or grape?) Or ice cream cone in the snug paper wrapper?

Ice cream delivered direct on a hot summer day. There was nothing like it.

Several familiar dairies churned out ice cream for us in New Jersey, but the PenSupreme brand sticks in my mind. (Consulting Google, I discovered the company still exists, based in Lancaster, Pa.). I especially liked their vanilla and chocolate ice cream cups, the chocolate providing semi-sweet contrast to the vanilla’s pure sweetness. And if you let it sit just a little bit, the creamy melted-ness made it even more fun.

We had a local Dairy Queen, a little walk-up business that quickly dispensed soft-serve cones, dishes and milkshakes for consumption in your car. You could take them home, but they’d be soupy by the time you arrived.

But my most vivid memory of all is of Costa’s ice cream parlor, on French Street in downtown New Brunswick. My mom was the kind of person that never met a stranger, so she and Mrs. Costa had struck up a friendship. Seems like mom, my sister Ida and I visited there at least once a week, maybe more often.

There were “5 &10’s” in town – Newberry’s and Woolworth’s – predecessors of today’s huge department stores. They featured soda fountains that served not only ice cream and shakes, but also hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. However, for me Costa’s was the best: cozy, friendly, casual.

I remember dishes of ice cream, served in icy tin bowls, or real milkshakes made with one of those machines with a steel rod that spun milk and ice cream together in tall metal mixing cups. The creamy, frothy drinks it produced never failed to delight.

Costa’s was more than an ice cream store, however. It was a “variety store,” selling an assortment of stuff ranging from toys, baseball cards, and cheap jewelry to handy household items, combs and brushes, and my favorite – comic books. Back then Superman, Popeye, Archie and Little Lulu comics only cost 10 cents each. Once in awhile they arrived at the store in “giant” sizes, priced at 25 cents apiece.

I was an avid book reader, but comic books were my special vice. Whenever I was ill, perhaps with a cold or a virus and had to stay home from school, my mom would drive to Costa’s and soon return with an armload of comic books. Made it almost fun to get sick!

For me, Costa’s was mostly a place to receive stuff. But one Christmas it was where I found something neat to give. “Christian home” was not a term we ever used to describe our family surroundings. But my mother loved records (the old 33 and 45 rpm vinyls, played on real record players) with hymns sung by people like Tennessee Ernie Ford and Teresa Brewer. She also liked religious artwork.

So leading up to that Christmas, I had diligently saved my weekly allowance (I think I got 25 cents a week) and went to Costa’s to buy a replica of Leonardo daVinci’s “The Last Supper” that had been hanging on a wall for sale there. The artwork had a light mounted at the top of the frame so it could be viewed at all times, day or night.

Mom loved that picture and for years displayed it proudly in our living room, visible day and night for all to see. The original painting by da Vinci is world famous, of course, even subject of some controversy today, thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. But all I knew back then was it seemed like a nice picture of Jesus depicted in a familiar Bible scene.

One other thing: In da Vinci’s painting, no one’s eating ice cream.

Saturday evenings were “bath night” in the Tamasy household. Today I scarcely miss a day without a shower, but back then we just took once-a-week baths. I guess we didn’t get as dirty in those days. Just “sponge bath” during the week, then a complete dip into the tub on Saturday.

But the steamy bath, long enough to wrinkle fingertips and toe tips like prunes, actually was the prelude to the big event – gathering in the living room with my mom, dad and sister in front of the television set to watch the newest broadcast of “Perry Mason.” I’ll never forget the ominous strains of the show’s theme song, “Duh-duh dahhhhh, dun-DUN!”

We would gather on or in front of our couch, its floral slipcover concealing time-worn armrests and cushions that had remained quite serviceable, if not nearly as appealing to the eye as they had been at one time. Decorative slipcovers could add years to old furniture.

Every Saturday night viewing was accompanied by the scent of Charles Antell hair cream – greasy goop Mom applied faithfully to my hair, post-shampoo. For what reason, I really don’t know. After all, throughout the week I had been applying Brylcreem religiously – you know, “a little dab’ll do ya”? Maybe she just felt I also needed a different kind of dab – whatever Mr. Antell’s concoction was made of. Nevertheless, I would sit patiently in front of Mom on our red, low-nap carpet as she rubbed the cream into my scalp.

But the legal mystery was the highlight of the night – and often, the entire week. We would watch with fascination as Perry (portrayed by the inimitable, hulking Raymond Burr), aided by his faithful secretary, Della Street, and detective Paul Tragg, unraveled the case through courtroom testimony to reveal the perpetrator’s true identity and motive. Whether it was “The Case of the Bullied Bowler,” “The Case of the Glittering Goldfish” or “The Case of the Scarlet Scandal,” you knew Perry would get his man (or woman). You just weren’t sure how.

Peering over our shoulder from shadow boxes on the wall between our living room and the stairway to my room upstairs were porcelain figurines my mother had collected during the years she spent in Germany while my father was serving in the Army. Gaily decorated ballerinas and dancers, crinolines flaring beneath their tiny skirts, stood in rapt attention as Perry’s nemesis, District Attorney Hamilton Burger, tried in vain to trip up the adept defender. When the verdict was rendered, I almost expected them to pirouette in delight. But they never did.

Usually the experience was capped off with a bowl of popcorn, which Dad popped fresh for the occasions in a large pan in the adjoining kitchen. Nothing like the aroma of hot, newly made popcorn, doused with melted butter and generously seasoned with salt. Those buttery servings ultimately might have contributed to the cardiac miseries my family encountered in later years, but that’s a matter for another day.

Perry Mason, popcorn and Charles Antell pomade. Now, those were the days!