Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Pink Room

Some of my earliest and best memories when I was a little girl was listening to old time radio. That may have been my first exposure to history. All before the age of 9, I had stayed at my grandparents house in Duluth, Minnesota many times over. It was they who gave me my first handheld white and silver transistor radio, complete with a carrying strap back in the 1970's.
My Aunt's old pink decor room was my quarter of choice, while my mother's vacant room was purple. I loved the pink room. It had a tiny balcony on the 2nd floor, overlooking the small backyard and the apples trees, complete with bird feeders and bird baths. My grandfather had a love for birds and squirrels, chipmunks and the like, so the backyard was always filled with small animal activity. One year a young black bear even found his way up one of the apple trees, just to satisfy his hunger smack dab in the middle of the city. The Duluth News Tribune showed up to take a photo of that event, proof that my grandparents back yard could turn into a zoo at any given day.

Here is my Grandmother, sitting in her back yard, 100% Irish, and 150% not happy her photo was taken.
The pink room was always sunny and warm, and the chenille bedspread was a cozy escape at night to snuggle under with a flashlight while I searched the AM airwaves on that old transistor radio. The mystery theatre programs were always a welcome delight during the summer months. The windows would be slightly cracked open to let the heat escape as night fell. Lightning bugs could be spotted down below as I'd peak out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the ship's lights as they floated across Lake Superior, echoing it's deep sounding horn to the Aerial Lift Bridge on Canal Park wanting the ok to come into port.

I'd turn that dial, ever so slowly, hidden under the chenille blanket with the flashlight shined on the radio. It was past my bedtime, and I didn't want to get caught, so I pressed the ear plug into the jack on the radio and stuck the one hearing end of it in my ear, while the other was alert for possible footsteps outside my door at any given moment. The sound of crackling static filled my head along with the sounds of commercials in the far off distance, baseball games being broadcast, even two programs intertwined into one, impossible to decipher. Until finally, it came in, after a few crackles of static and adjusting with my finger on the dial... clear as a bell I would hear the radio theatre mystery program. I'd turn on my side, the one with the plug in the ear, so it would stay put against the pillow while I listened, and I'd lift the covers and turn off the flashlight. Only the glow from the moon would enter the pink room now. It was all I needed to be transported back in time while my full attention was given to the latest nostalgic re-broadcast on the radio.

Sometimes, if the mystery was too creepy for my young mind, I'd often crawl back under the blanket with my teddy bear and flashlight. I'll bashfully admit, it was only about 5 years ago that I quit sleeping with a teddy bear, but it hasn't strayed too far as it's always on standby next to the bed. More often than not, I'd fall asleep toward the end of the broadcast and awake in the morning to the sun-filled pink room, earplug hung over the bedside. The smell of fresh brewed coffee percolating on my grandmother's stove wafting up the stairs, alerting my senses to breakfast. It is to them I can also attribute my present day coffee habit. I still have the tiny tea cup they gave me to sip my small portion of coffee they allowed me during breakfast with my eggs and toast and sausage. And then, my day would begin all over, exploring the backyard and the rest of the neighborhood, only waiting for night to fall in anticipation of another old radio mystery theatre broadcast.

Because October 30th marks the death of Jerome J. Collins in the Arctic, this link below will provide you with a nostalgic leap to the past thanks to Orson Welles' "Mercury Theatre On The Air" from 1938. He portrays George W. Melville, Chief Engineer on the Jeannette Arctic Expedition, based on the book by Cmmdr. Edward Ellsberg. Although mostly factual (especially the end of the broadcast where he reads off the diary entries), Jerome is portrayed in a very bad light which can only be attributed to the naval standpoint it was written with. As many of you know, Jerome was a civilian forced to sign on as a seaman, a fact which he was not aware of at the time he agreed to the Expedition. His purpose of meteorologist and journalist never allowed to fully be completed thanks to the 18 month arrest he was held under for a trivial charge. Nevertheless, this on air broadcast allows the mind to picture the events of the Expedition (with some exaggeration by Welles of course), and it gives you an idea of the toll it takes on a man in 1879 as he attempts to reach the North Pole.