The following day my father brought home two crystal radio sets shaped as rockets. They were made in Japan. My father was an electrical engineer with New England Bell and explained their workings, “You attached alligator clips to a metal object. The signal is transmitted to the antenna and you tuned the radio with a retractable space needle jutting from the nose of the rocket.”
“They aren’t going to get electrocuted, are they?” My mother’s fear was for our own good.
“There’s no electrical charge. The radios capture the airwaves. These are better than TV.” TV reception is Maine was limited to three very snowy channels during the day. “You can hear the rest of the world with them.”
“Okay.” My mother didn’t sound convinced and at bedtime I dressed in my Davy Crockett pajamas.
Before I could plant the earpiece, my mother ordered us to hand over the sets. My brother surrendered his and rolled over to sleep.
I needed any explanation.
“Because I said so.” She held out her hand.
“But they don’t have any batteries.” I had read the flimsy instruction sheet. One side was in Japanese.
“At night they play things you shouldn’t hear,” she exhaled with adult exasperation.
“Things?” This cryptic comment reanimated my dozing brother.
As a devout supporter of Tailgunner Joe’s battle against the Reds my mother was deeply concerned about the subversion of the airwaves.
“There’s nothing on the radio in Maine that can hurt them.” My father came into the bedroom and contradicted my mother’s demand, “Let them listen to the radio. It’s a free country and the radio scares away the snakes.”
“You shouldn’t be telling them stories.” She gave him a withering glare.
“I just want a night’s sleep,” he whispered with a wink.
My mother begrudgingly returned my brother’s set and kissed us both.
“And don’t let the bedbugs bite,” my brother and I replied in unison.
Once the light went out, my brother fell asleep and I attached the alligator clips to the metal bed frame. The little rockets range expanded across the country at night.
The airwaves soared with voices from Montreal, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Wheeling, West Virginia. Their accents scared away the snakes. Music and radio shows could be heard between the squawks of static, until a hoarse man cried out, “And Cousy has the ball.”
I soon divined this broadcast was a basketball game at Boston Garden between the Seventy-Sixers and the Celtics.
Each play mattered to the excited announcer and the roar of the crowd was as bloodthirsty as the Romans in the Coliseum. I rooted for the Boston team, since my mother had been born in Jamaica Plains, but Bill Russell was not stopping the dreaded giant, Wilt. Luckily the Sixers were befuddled by the Jones boys and at breakfast I recounted the two brothers’ defense stopping the Philadelphia team.
“When did you fall asleep?” my father asked and I answered, “Around midnight.”
“Don’t tell your mother or the Jones Boys will have a curfew.”
After that night I listened to every game.
Without touching a basketball.