Remembering Saturday morning cartoons

Kat Vuletich
and her mews Mack

The generations of readers whose childhood included cable TV and on-demand streaming of the myriad kids’ channels dishing out 24/7/365 cartoons may not be able to relate to this piece. That’s OK. The rest of us lived it.
For those of us (mostly Baby Boomers) who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, our television viewing had a lot of restrictions due to broadcasting being conducted over the airwaves by three or four local channels that shut down from midnight to 6 or 7 a.m., with just a static test pattern to look at during those hours. There was no coaxial cable slinking into houses and attaching to the back of TVs. Digital streaming by a home’s WiFi router wasn’t even in our imaginations back then.
The main body of cartoons available were those broadcast Saturday mornings on the three main channels (ABC, CBS and NBC). And we had some fabulous ones -- half hour shows that went back-to-back from around 8 a.m. to noonish. Some of my favorites were Mighty Mouse, Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, George of the Jungle, Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Jetsons (I was never a fan of Scooby Do).  And on and on. We had three to four hours sprawled out in front of the TV, and then we went outside to play. Or, if Mom was on her toes, we grudgingly did chores first, then went outside to play before Mom thought up more chores.
The other cartoon-focused shows were weekday mornings with Captain Kangaroo. But once you started school, you didn’t have time in the morning to watch, because we had to have breakfast at the kitchen table (no television in the kitchen), and then we had to walk to school -- 10 blocks to our elementary school. We also walked home and back for lunch and home again after school. Kids didn’t get rides to school from their parents. Ever.
Once we got home, our local afternoon kids’ show was Dr. Max and Mombo the clown (broadcast from Cedar Rapids, Iowa), ripe with cartoons: Deputy Dawg, Ricochet Rabbit, Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and Foghorn Leghorn. Mostly Hanna Barbera and Looney Tunes. We watched Dr. Max a lot, unless the neighborhood kids were coalescing for a game of kick ball, tag or the like.
We had a great bunch of kids in that neighborhood. We played outside most of the summer, all day and well into the evening. Some of the kids had orders to go home when the streetlights came on. Other parents would attempt to call their kids in after dark, and we’d pretend not to hear. In the winter we wielded our sleds on our hilly street before school (in the dark) and after school.
We invented games. Steal the sticks: Sort of a soccer with goalies guarding piles of sticks the two teams had to steal until one team had them all. Colored eggs: A race of two kids running around our house in opposite directions started by the first of the opponents who guessed the correct color of an imaginary colored egg the remainder of the kids had secretly agreed upon as they sat on our front porch, waiting for their turn to race.
These days, Bluey, Paw Patrol and a gazillion other animated offerings are streaming on demand.   As adults, we’re immersed in binging our shows. Or watching continual repeats of whatever catches our fancy. Kids are great at mimicking their parents. They binge watch, too. Spend hours in front of an LED screen (TV, tablet, computer, smartphone). How many times has any little girl in the USA watched Frozen?
How many kids have Saturday chores? How many kids in your neighborhood gather after supper to play an invented team sport? Without any sort of adult contribution? What about those school-free summer months? Do groups of kids get together after breakfast to play all day? Ride bikes?
We rode our bikes, nearly daily, to the swimming pool and spent hours cooling off in its sparking chlorinated waters. So much so that all the blond kids’ hair would be a hideous shade of green by summer’s end. All of us kids also sported deep tans, except for my red-headed sister who cycled through phases of burning and peeling (this was before sunscreen).
We convinced our moms to make us sack lunches so we could go play in the little strip of woods up by the hospital and have our own picnic. We were rarely in the house. If we sat around in the house (even in our rooms) too long during the day, Mom would put us to work. One of her incentives to get out of the house was Kool Aid. She’d make a gallon and dispense it at the front porch to all the neighborhood kids. We quenched our thirst with the sugar-rich fuel drunk from waxed paper Dixie cups.
The outdoors and our imaginations consumed our summers. But Saturday morning cartoons, year-round, held us hostage. Willing hostages. And then we bolted for the door----