When we were mourning the death of Johnny Carson last night at the "Cranky Catholics" meeting, one guy looked a little puzzled at how sad everyone was. Then it hit him: he'd grown up in the eastern time zone, where The Tonight Show came on at 11:30 pm, when kids were soundly asleep.
In our house, if my dad wasn't working an evening shift, or moonlighting at an extra job, my parents would settle down after we kids were in bed. They'd clamber aboard the Naugahyde delirium of our 1960's living room, put on NBC and watch the news and then.....that blare of theme music meant that the world was home and safe and ready to laugh.
I usually wasn't asleep, and my bedroom was at the top of the stairs, so I'd strain to listen for the guests, and if someone I liked was on, I'd weigh up the day's behavior and venture to beg to come down and watch. Often, I'd be granted that boon, and would perch on the edge of a chair, watching the monologue with my parents. I didn't get most of it, I'm sure, but no matter, it was funny so it was funny. Then I'd see Joan Embry or a comedian or an impersonator and then back to bed.
The sound of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon and that brassy band and the laughter were the sound of safe and happy childhood.
N.B. The Carson family keeps saying to the press "no memorial service." That worries me. No grand public display, fine: but no chance for a family to join together? That's a trend to examine in another post, but it treats dead people as discardable and no longer worthy of honor, in a way, doesn't it?