My Mother Kept Our TV in the Closet Like a Wretched Family Secret

Cathy Lamb, Author

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My childhood was a little bit quirky.

One of the quirky things about it was my sweet mother’s utter distaste for TV.

Bette Jean kept our black-and-white TV in the closet. Yes, in the closet. As if the TV was a wretched family secret that had to be locked away.

Our TV was as heavy as a crate of steel and as wide as a Mack truck. It was a looming black and gray blob. The unwieldy antennae looked like it came off a space ship. It had to be adjusted, stabilized, and propped up. The picture was none too clear, often fuzzy.

The Blob had a handle on top and had to be heaved out of the closet and up onto a bench in the family room so we could watch it. You could darn near throw your back out hauling that TV in and out, but our inevitable broken backs and whining did not prevent my mother from insisting that we haul it right back into the closet the minute our show was over.

Bette Jean thought the TV was unsightly and she thought the vast majority of TV shows were unsightly, too, and should not be watched. It rightly followed that she should not spend any hard-earned money on a new TV and that TV should be somewhat difficult to view.

Now, no one else’s mother thought this. Everyone else in the neighborhood had a color TV. Everyone else in the country probably had a color TV. But not us. Oh, no. Many years after color TVs came out, we watched the ole’ black and white.

That TV was pretty embarrassing for a kid who really wanted to fit in but knew from a very early age she wasn’t quite going to.

Friends would say, “Where’s your TV, Cathy?” And I would, with great shame, open the door to the dark closet, as if I was letting out a roaring monster, or the wretched family secret.

The only thing I could compare not having a color TV to, at that time, is not having a refrigerator. In place of a refrigerator, you would have stacks of ice in your kitchen. Or, perhaps instead of an oven, you would have a cave in the kitchen that held hot rocks.

So what were we allowed to watch? Very few shows. One was The Waltons. For those of you too young to know, this was a show set on a farm in Virginia. It was about seven kids and their parents during the Great Depression. They prayed at dinner. We could also watch The Brady Bunch now and then.

Only good, clean, wholesome family shows.

We were also allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I don’t think my mother liked us watching cartoons (also unsightly), but she had four kids—she was wiped out, and the cartoons allowed her to sleep in a couple of hours one day a week.

Bette Jean could not sleep in on Sunday, God forbid, because she and my father had to cattle prod four kids out to Catholic mass. Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, do not let your children watch TV.

So why the aversion to television shows? That’s a pretty simple answer. My mother was an English teacher. She believed in books. Books were far superior to any show.

She also believed that children should play outside. So we headed out the door to play hide and seek, and kick the can, and had all sorts of fun; and when we headed back in, we often dove into the world of books.

I think of her and that hulking TV in the closet sometimes when I’m watching a show. My favorites? Property Brothers. Fixer Upper. Madam Secretary. A couple reality shows I’m really too embarrassed to admit that I watch. My TV is up in a cabinet. The screen has to be three times the size of The Blob.

I like my shows, but Bette Jean had it right.

There is a rare show that is better than a great book.

Playing outside is really fun.

I hope to do more reading and more playing outside this year, and less TV.

I’m going to wish you the same. And let me know if you put your TV in the closet. Bette Jean would really like that.