Growing up, I learned my way around Newark
in a most unlikely way. It had to do with television.
It was the early 1950s and Dad was apprenticing part time to learn
how to repair televisions. He had his heart set on starting up a
small repair service. Since Dad and I did most repairs around the
house together, it seemed only natural that I became the "sorcerer's
apprentice". We set up shop in the basement and went to work.
Mom or I would take the customer phone calls as they came in.
I did my homework and playing after school. Since Dad was usually
home from his day job by about 4:30, we had an early dinner at 5:00;
and from 6:00 to about 9:00 we were making our rounds. Between repair
stops, Dad would challenge me to give him directions to the next
service call. Friends still marvel today when I zoom around Newark
taking short cuts and little known streets. One time during a water
main break in Newark and a huge traffic jam, I impressed my wife
with my ability to bypass the problem and still get us both to work
with little delay.
After a few years, we became known in local TV repair circles
as the father and son team. I checked tubes and cleaned the TV screen
and tuner while Dad was busy diagnosing the trouble. Sometimes we
couldn't repair the TV in a customer's home, so we took it to our
basement shop for a more intensive repair, and returned the set
a few days later. We even put up TV antennas on roofs, wired remote
speakers for radio and Hi-Fi systems, set-up intercom systems, fixed
radios, and on several occasions even ran electrical wiring. Our
little business was booming.
Dad realized I had an aptitude for electricity and soon I was
experimenting on my own in the basement. Dad began to talk to me
about a possible career in electronics or electrical engineering.
He always thought I might go to the Newark College of Engineering;
and he was right as usual. I grew up to be an electrical engineer
and graduated from the college in 1970. Sometimes now I even teach
a course or two there, and conduct research on the campus.
I wonder how many kids today work alongside their fathers, or
have the advantage of being taught firsthand. Seems like parents
are so busy today, that the up close-and personal touch often gets
lost. Things stay with me from those early encounters with customers.
All those TV repair calls made me less shy and able to speak to
people with confidence.
Dad's gone now, but I have that old repair kit in my basement.
Every now and then I open it and use a few of the tools in my own
basement workshop. I seriously thought about donating it to The
Smithsonian as memorabilia of the birth of the television age. But
sometimes when I open it and smell those aromas of the past, I swear
I can smell and feel my Dad’s presence. How could I ever part
Not too long ago, I met someone from the old Newark neighborhood,
someone I had not seen in 40+ years. We were kids when we last saw
each other, but she remembered me. She immediately asked, "Wasn’t
your dad, Harry the TV Repairman? I remember him fixing our set."
Between the welling tears, I managed to choke out a "Yes".
People still remember.
I’d sure like to drive that old Pontiac down Bloomfield
Avenue one more time. I never saw a car with that color again. I
still have Dad’s registration slip for it.