There is nothing like discipline. That’s what my dad believed and he was right.
When I was eight there was no moment as heart-rending as bedtime. Even the most overacted soap opera lamentations couldn’t match my mournful protests at being sent to bed at 8.30 p.m. All my favourite shows started after bedtime: Bonanza, Dick Van Dyke, The Adams Family. Even more outrageous was the ignominy of Sunday nights. Not only did I have to go back to school on Monday morning, but I also missed half of the Ed Sullivan Show which started at 8 p.m. During the first half hour they had plate spinners. The big stars were always on in the second half of the show.
“Stay tuned for Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley,” Ed would say. Then he would add, “And Mrs. Smit, remember that it’s Ray’s bedtime!” Okay, maybe I didn’t hear him say it out loud, but mom must have because she always sent me straight to bed.
In February 1964 everyone was buzzing about a new group headlining the Sullivan Show. They were called The Beatles. I begged and cajoled to watch the show but dad laid down the law. Straight to bed or there would be severe consequences. So, I did what any kid would do. I crept out of my room and listened from the hall. They had an amazing drumbeat. Luckily, dad was too busy ridiculing them to notice me standing there.
After it was over, I slipped back into my room. Suddenly I had an inspiration. I took out my transistor radio and inserted the earphone. I played with the dial and pretty soon I found two stations playing rock and roll: CHUM and CKEY out of Toronto.
After that, bedtime ceased to be a problem. I just plugged in the earphone, turned off the light and listened to music. Dad was pleased at my sudden obedience.
“You see, Marsha, no more problems at bedtime,” he said. “All that was required was a little discipline.”
Like any other clever, cunning plan, mine had a few drawbacks. Firstly, nine-volt batteries don’t last very long if you keep falling asleep with the radio on. Secondly, the earphone was made of cheap plastic. Many a morning I woke up to find it still attached and my ear, beet red.
The folks were starting to get suspicious, but it wasn’t until I discovered CKFH Hamilton that the truth finally came out. CKFH was owned by Foster Hewitt (ergo the FH) and he had the radio rights to all the Leaf games. That meant every Sunday night when I was banished from the television, I’d slip off to bed and listen to the Leafs games in Boston, Detroit, New York or Chicago. One night, late in the third period, when the folks were watching Bonanza, it got exciting: “This is Foster Hewitt. The score is tied two-two with seconds to go. The Leafs move the puck into the New York zone. Keon has it. He dekes. It comes loose in front of the net. There’s a mad scramble! Duff passes it to Mahovolich. He shoots, he scores!” Of course, as a diehard Leaf fan, I started yelling, “The Leafs win, the Leafs win!” at the top of my lungs. Dad appeared at my door.
“Hand it over,” he said, and my precious radio was confiscated. Goodbye Leafs. Goodbye Beatles. But I learned a lesson that night. I spent the next several weeks saving every penny of my allowance to buy a flashlight. From then on I spent my evenings under the covers reading my comic books and listening for dad’s footsteps in the hallway. I guess he was right. There really is nothing quite like discipline.
— Ray Smit is reading from his new book The Trouble with Tapioca at the Parksville Library Wednesday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m.