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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Woody Allen wrote and produced a movie a while back called “Radio Days,” set in the late 1930s and early ‘40s before TV dominated our lives. Without even knowing what the screenplay was about, just the title conjured up memories of a time when people spent most of their leisure moments out of doors during the summer and where children played all day long in the streets, instead of being cooped up in air conditioned houses while sitting in front of the idiot box or mindlessly killing aliens in laptop video games.
Don’t get me wrong for I’m not suggesting that era was better than the present, with an economy still reeling from the Great Depression and the country totally committed to the war effort during WWII. Fathers, uncles, older brothers and cousins as well as boy friends were gone, essentials such as food and clothing were rationed, and things made from rubber, iron, or petroleum were virtually impossible to obtain. Those were difficult years but along with the hardships there was one benefit that radio did afford, a stimulated imagination.
The famous actors and comedians who came into our living rooms over the air waves were of course well known from the silver screen, but those less famous people whose wonderful voices portrayed Superman and Capt. Midnight, the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, or Terry and the Pirates were faceless entities, consequently taking on the likenesses of relatives and teachers if only in our minds. After the war ended and TVs invaded our homes, what a disappointment it was to see what Superman really looked like and that he was now an emcee on a game show called “Beat the Clock.” Capt. Midnight fared somewhat better by becoming Capt. Video, though merely sitting in front of a CRT and watching grade B cowboy movies instead of flying after his old arch enemy, the sinister Ivan Shark. Believability was the unfortunate casualty in the conversion from anonymity to visibility.
Luckily, even with today’s constant bombardment of visual imagery coming at us from every conceivable source, children still have the capacity to live in a world of make believe, a wonderful place where adults cannot go and where youngsters themselves are all too soon barred from entering. When my first grandchild was about two or three he had an imaginary friend named Beato, an invisible person with whom he played and talked for hours on end. I had heard of similar instances but never actually knew anyone who had such a companion, and we all marveled at his fabulous creativity, though we were amazed by anything he did. Parents and grandparents are so easy to charm. By the time a sibling was born, poor Beato had faded into fantasyland though we, the grown-ups, still fondly recalled his incarnation from time to time.
Last Monday morning when reading the Red Sox box score of their game with the Yankees that had gone 11 innings the previous night, I was delighted to see that the Sox had won but was shocked to find that the winning pitcher was a guy named Beato, a player I never heard of before. “Imagine that” I mused. My grandson’s imaginary friend had returned to not only delight us once again but to save the Sox from disaster at the hands of the Evil Empire. Capt. Midnight, eat your heart out.