Under my mother’s roof, we observed the Jewish holidays but we did not celebrate them.
Chanukah, supposedly the best holiday of the year, lasted but a few moments on each of the eight nights. At sunset, my mother would shout, “Steven! Girls! Time for candles!” We would gather in the kitchen, make the blessings, light the candles, and return to our homework. There were no latkes. There were no dreidels. There were no songs. There were no presents.
One year, however, it was different. There was a large gift-wrapped box on top of the television set. Even though it was a holiday, it never occurred to me or to my brother or to my sister that this mystery package might be meant for us. We didn’t get presents, not even for our birthdays. My mother told us that we didn’t deserve them and we knew better than to suggest otherwise.
While we were entranced by some mid-70s sitcom — Happy Days or maybe Welcome Back, Kotter — my mother interrupted to ask if we were going to open our present. Our present? If we were confused as we tore the wrapping paper, we were stunned as the words and pictures on the underlying box revealed themselves. This was no ordinary gift. This was Pong. Pong!
Pong was the very first video game, a rudimentary form of ping-pong where each player would turn a knob to manipulate a rectangular “paddle” to hit a square “ball”. We had seen Pong by the pinball machines at the movie theater — it was all the rage, at least with the boys — but had only recently become available for the home.
When my father and brother finally got it attached to the TV, we found that this was no ordinary version of Pong. It had four different games. Four! Racquetball and hockey in addition to singles and doubles tennis! We played the different games for hours and it was really fun. My father played a few times with us and my mother didn’t scream at anyone.
Of course, the euphoria did not last. Even with four games, we tired of Pong in a few short weeks. This didn’t mark some change of direction in our family life either. The usual misery returned to our home the very next day. Still, there had been a holiday and it had felt special and it had certainly seemed like a great miracle happened there.
© 2012 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.