It’s 3:30 on a weekday so Grandpa sets down the shovel or the wrench or shuts off the lawn mower, wipes his hands on the rag always sticking out of a back pocket of his khaki work pants (always paired with a white undershirt – I don’t think they called them T-shirts in those days, not that he’d ever wear a T-shirt), walks up the stairs from the back yard to the kitchen door, makes a right and then a left to the living room, and turns on the TV. No sound yet because he has that turned down all the way, so just the picture. He reverses his path to go back to tending the vegetable garden (with a handful of various vitamins, discovered in an auction box, at the base of each plant because if they’re good for us they’re probably good for plants) or mowing the lawn or fixing a car or tinkering with the sump pump he made out of old lawnmower, toilet, and car parts. His is not an idle retirement.
Grandma is in the kitchen – Grandma is always in the kitchen, doing exactly what for hours at a time has never been clear – so there is no one to watch the flickering, silent picture on the TV in the living room. At 3:45, he makes the trip again to turn up the volume slightly, then back outside he goes. Around 3:55, one last trip back into the living room to turn up the volume to a standard listening level. He’s in for the duration now and sits down in his Lay-Z-Boy, the one that has only ever been in recline mode when someone other than him sits in it because chairs are for sitting, not reclining (one doesn’t sleep in a chair because that’s what beds are for, but one does occasionally every evening rest one’s eyes), and picks up the top newspaper from the ever-present foot-high stack of papers on the foot stool next to his chair because, likewise, one doesn’t put one’s feet up while sitting in a chair because that’s a slippery downward slope headed straight to lazy. At 3:58 (according to the electric clock on the wall above the TV) he gets out of his chair to turn up the volume loud enough so the neighbors several hundred feet away in their own kitchens can follow along. Judge Wapner will begin schooling The People in matters of The Court in two minutes.
I wasn’t around when TVs first made their way into American living rooms, so I don’t know if the set needed to warm up before the picture reached optimum viewing quality or if the volume needed its own, shorter warm-up period. I can scarcely make a grocery list without first performing an Internet search, so I could find out easily enough. He wasn’t hard of hearing, but maybe there were interpersonal dynamics at play that I didn’t recognize. Maybe it was a passive sort of control. Maybe it was his way of ending his day of puttering a little early, before the evening news came on at 5:00. He was, after all, not watching some bit of fluff like a game show or a silly afternoon talk show where people talked about feelings and other self-indulgent nonsense. He, a smart German immigrant with little formal education, was watching the American justice system at work. I prefer to believe that his afternoon TV-warming-up ritual was what Grandpa did just because that’s what Grandpa did.