Whatever became of TV dinners?
Oh, I realize there are more frozen meals out there than ever before. You can stick them in the microwave and have lasagna for four in 18 minutes and there are Hungry Man meals and Lean Cuisines and all sorts convenient-- and pricy -- entree and sides collections.
But none are like the old-fashioned TV dinners we used to have, back in the golden age of television, when Jack Benny and Arthur Godfrey and "I Love Lucy" were must-see TV. You remember, don't you? They came in those little aluminum foil trays and you had to peel back the part of the lining that covered the apple crisp dessert before putting the tray in the pre-heated oven.
When TV dinners became the next big thing, I used to beg my mama to buy them at the store and serve them for supper. That's right. I asked for frozen Salisbury steak, reconstituted mashed potatoes and peas and carrots rather than my mama's country fried steak, homemade mashed potatoes and fresh purple hulled peas. I was an idiot.
Thankfully, Tommie Huckaby was not and not once in my life did we sit down to a TV dinner at suppertime at our house. During the summer, however, once I was old enough to stay home alone and tend for myself, Mama did bring home the occasional frozen dinner and I often prepared them for lunch and watched them in front of the television set while watching "Lassie" and "I Love Lucy" reruns. What can I say? I had eclectic taste in television programming.
Eating in front of the television was something else we never did at my house. The lone exception was the Sunday after JFK was assassinated and a man got murdered right before my eyes.
But when I was home alone, I was king of the castle and did, indeed, lunch in front of the boob tube while munching on fish sticks and partially frozen peas. I never could seem to muster up the patience to wait until everything came out just right.
I suppose I ate a lot of things during those long idyllic summers that I no longer devour. It has been a long, long time, for instance, since I enjoyed a snack of mayonnaise on soda crackers. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it. If you are out of peanut butter, you are out of peanut butter! You have to have something to make those soda crackers go down a little easier.
When we had a fresh loaf of that good old Merita bread -- the kind the Lone Ranger advertised -- I would mix a little mayonnaise with a can of potted meat and throw in a little pickle relish and have a sandwich fit for a king -- or at least fit for a 10-year-old linthead boy. I'll say again, don't knock it if you haven't tried it.
Vienna sausages were another delicacy of those Southern summers that seemed to last forever. Take a plate of Viennas and slice up a little hoop cheese and put them on the plate with some mustard to dip them in -- and, of course, the obligatory soda crackers -- and you've got a lunch that would make a puppy pull a freight train.
What else? Oh, yeah. Banana sandwiches. Mayonnaise -- again, peanut butter didn't last long at our house -- white bread and bananas cut lengthwise. I don't care if you did cut your bananas in little pinwheels. I had small hands when I was 10 and the little circles of banana would fall out the bottom. Besides, I have it on good authority that Elvis cut his bananas lengthwise. Gerald Fuller told me and Snuffy spent six months with the king and the Memphis Mafia that time he went missing.
Ricky and Bud Cason, who lived across the street, used to eat mustard and ketchup sandwiches. Again, don't knock it. It's just like ordering a hamburger and asking them to hold the meat, especially if you add a little lettuce and tomato and a slice or two of Vidalia onion.
See what I'm talking about? Looking at this luncheon menu, a Banquet TV dinner sounds like -- well, a banquet!
My lovely wife, Lisa, is on a health kick right now and has me on a rather extreme diet, so I suppose it will be a while before I can sneak one of those pre-packaged dinners into our freezer, and we haven't had a can of Viennas or a slice of white bread in the house for months. Even the mayonnaise is low-calorie, which is a synonym for "no taste."
But not to worry. Summer approaches and it promises to be a particularly long one for me. I 'spect I'll get to put a little '60s nostalgia in my mouth a time or two in the coming months. Now, if I can only find out which station carries "Lassie" and "I Love Lucy," I'll be set.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.