The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 3, 2011

RALPH COUEY | Sat. morning memories

Ralph Couey
The Tribune-Democrat

LORETTO — One of the warmest memories of my childhood was Saturday mornings.

I could sleep as late as I wanted and I didn’t have school, so the day was full of possibilities. But before I ran out the door to whatever boyhood adventures awaited, there was the happy tradition of Saturday morning cartoons.

Television back then was predictable. Cable wasn’t even a distant dream and we were all limited to three channels – or four if your town had one of those maverick independent UHF stations. It was the ’60s and animation ruled the day.

Disney was King, but his products were rarely seen on network TV. So my attention was captured by Mighty Mouse, Popeye, Space Ranger, Magilla Gorilla, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Deputy Dawg, Huckleberry Hound and others.

They flitted across the small black-and-white television screen as I watched engrossed while my bowl of Cheerios or Alphabets grew soggy. Wile E. Coyote pursued the Roadrunner. Adam Ant and Secret Squirrel fought the bad guys, along with Rocky and Bullwinkle, who took on the evil Boris Badinov and his slinky partner, Natasha.

Some shows made it into prime time, most notably the Flintstones, that modern stone-age family who last year celebrated their 50th anniversary.

The show was filled with mind- blowing applications of stone-age technology. I enjoyed their garbage disposal, which after consuming the leftovers, would occasionally burp and follow up with an embarrassed “Pardon.”

There were other “live” devices who performed their function, looked at us, shrugged, and said, “It’s a living.” It was, of course, an analog of “The Honeymooners,” the wildly successful sitcom starring Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. Other cartoons also “borrowed” from live TV. “Top Cat,” the cartoon about a wise-cracking alley feline and his band of misfits, was an animated version of “The Phil Silvers Show.” “The Jetsons” fed my already space-aged imagination with all kinds of futuristic technology, the family cared for by Rosie the robot maid, a close copy of “Hazel.”

My absolute favorite, though, was Jonny Quest. I wanted to be Jonny Quest. I wanted to cavort around the world with his government scientist father, his CIA bodyguard Race Bannon, his best buddy, the snake charming Hadjii (adopted by Dr. Quest off the streets of Calcutta), and his dog, Bandit.

Quest also had, in my opinion, the coolest theme music.

The great thing about those shows was their sheer unpretentiousness. They didn’t teach political activism; they were just fun. They were simple stories told in a simple way, a realm where all problems could be simply solved.

Of course, there was marketing there. Magic decoder rings buried inside cereal boxes, candy wrappers adorned with the likenesses of popular characters and at Halloween, masks and costumes.

Those shows and others like them lacked the cynical crudity that today is embedded in shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” Back then, parents were respected. Now kids see them as buffoons and objects of derision.

The modern age has not been what we hoped it would be. We don’t go to our three-day-a-week jobs in hovercars that fold up into a briefcase. Universal peace and prosperity is still a dream. Our problems aren’t solved by pushing a button or throwing a switch. But we still carry warm memories of those simpler days, even though we know that the only reason they were simple is because we were children. Our parents may have struggled, but we never saw it because they protected us from those harsh realities.

A couple of years ago, my family bought me the entire DVD collection of Jonny Quest.

Despite knowing all the episodes by heart, I watched the whole thing in one sitting.

Watching Jonny and Hadjii race across the snow in a propeller sled, or fly through the sky in his dad’s custom jet, or swim in the warm Caribbean waters of their Palm Key Island home, took me back to those Saturday mornings, sitting on the floor in pajamas with a bowl of soggy cereal.

For a little while, the challenges of a complex and uncertain adult world vanished.

And for a precious space of time, I was a kid once again.

Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.