We’ve been hearing about how our smart phones and smart TV’s are spying on us. We are told these devices can eavesdrop on our living room conversations.
I know some people are troubled by this, but I’m resting easy. If the Russians and the WikiLeakers want to hear about my missing socks, I hope they can stay awake, because that’s about as exciting as it gets.
Besides, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I was being watched. Anybody out there remember Miss Marcia? Of course you do. She taught an entire generation of Chattanooga area children how to read, write, and behave on Channel 9’s “Funtime” show in the 1960s and 70s.
Our relationship began, unbeknownst to her, when I was a wee lad. I hadn’t even started first grade. You see, in ancient times, we didn’t have Head Start, we didn’t have pre-K, and in rural Alabama we didn’t have kindergarten. If you were lucky (as was I), you had parents or older siblings who would teach you the basics before you started school. Still, they couldn’t cover everything. So it fell to Miss Marcia to show me how to tie my shoes, mind my manners and tell time. Oh yes, tell time. Clocks were foreign to me until I figured out that when the big hand was on the 12, and the little hand was on the 9, it was 9 o’clock: Funtime!
Miss Marcia’s morning kiddie show featured games and songs with actual children in the studio (lucky them!). The highlight of each day was when she sang her own “Happy Birthday” song. As we baby boomers know, this wasn’t the traditional birthday song. It was unique to Miss Marcia, and featured high notes most humans can’t hope to reach.
Often, in the middle of the birthday song, she would stop playing the piano, look into the camera, and say, “Well hello Ricky, and Debbie, and Vickie…and David!” My five-year-old self would stare into the TV set and wave at her. She would play a little more music, and stop again. “I hope you’re being good boys and girls, and doing exactly what your parents are telling you to do.”
Of course I was caught in the act, because I was usually up to something. I knew I wasn’t supposed to get into the cookies, but Mom and Dad were busy elsewhere, and now Miss Marcia was looking through that TV screen: I was busted!
The good news is, since she was keeping a close eye on me, I decided I’d better “sit up and act right,” as we Southern boys were told to do back then.
Miss Marcia hosted the show for fifteen years, with one significant interruption. In the early 1970s, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. Her absence was noticeable to her young audience. WTVC knew she was irreplaceable. Rather than try to come up with a substitute host, the station ran nonstop cartoons on the show during her illness.
What few people knew at the time was, this was no ordinary illness, the kind where you just need a few months of recuperation. Miss Marcia had to learn to speak again, from word one. This extraordinary hostess, who had spoken so clearly, would have to work hard to return to this most visible job. Our prayers were answered when she won her battle, and we gladly welcomed her back into our homes.
I finally got to meet her as an adult. One day at the mall, I was with my sons Chris and Vince, who were five and two. I saw Miss Marcia, and said, “Guys, you’ve got to meet this lady! I grew up watching her on TV!” She gave me a hug, and I introduced the boys to her. She made the appropriate fuss over them. I didn’t see her in person again until about five years later, and this time I was alone. “Well, hello David, how are you?” And how are Chris and Vince?” As I’ve told that story over the years, I’ve learned, that my experience was not uncommon. She remembers names like no one else.
Miss Marcia continued working for Channel 9 for many years, before stepping away from the daily grind in 2013. She continues her impressive record of helping every charity that comes her way.
I saw her recently at a local school, volunteering to read to students. I figured it was a good time to share my story. “Miss Marcia,” I said, “You’re not going to believe this, but when I was little, I thought you could see me through the TV set.” She laughed, shook her head, and said, “Of course I could see you, David!” She was joking. I think.