In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Please welcome Mitchell Barbee (’21), who will be writing on the 23rd of each month. Mitchell graduated from Calvin with a BA in writing. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a Digital Marketing Copywriter for Hughes Integrated, based in Grand Rapids. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.
Summers used to mean going to my grandmother’s, bunkered in a dimly-lit log cabin in Middle-of-Nowhere, North Carolina.
Through all the changes of my childhood, I always knew that my grandmother’s home would be the same. Gray shingles that somehow pounded with the heavy summer rain; a birdhouse I pretended was first base when I made her yard my baseball field; thick gravel I’d try to walk across with bare feet; stone stairs lined by metal watering tins that led to her house that I always feared I’d fall down.
I’d trade the cool, crisp Appalachian summer air for suffocating humidity of the Piedmonts. And I’d love it. My grandmother had DirecTV.
Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron, any Hanna Barbera show (which I always read as Hannah Barbara) was finally at my disposal—I had no cable growing up—as well as all the baseball games I wanted to watch.
My grandmother had two couches in the living area, set roughly ten feet apart. The couch closest to the TV was placed with its back against it. This meant that, for hours, I watched hugging to the back of the couch, careful not to roll off.
When my grandmother pried me from the couch, we played an assortment of card games, from Skip-Bo to rummy to hand-and-foot (and a whole lot of Bananagrams).
This was when I loved to watch TV the most. In the in-betweens. Peeking through the edge of the doorway into the living room or through the wooden window frame bars from the screened-in porch, I stole glances waiting on turns. Fascinated.
My grandparents subscribed to DirecTV in the early 90s. It was the only way they could get TV in Efland, North Carolina. In Efland, once you took the exit off the highway, it was thirty minutes of farmland and forests.
They never updated the box. Buried in the 900s, past the countless FOX, CBS, ABC, and NBC affiliate channels, were the music channels. Nearly a hundred, where even the smallest divide in genre would result in a split.
And on the screen, neon sea creature outlines danced in front of the black background. They’d float and morph into other shapes. Seashells into seahorses into jellyfish. When tired of the dancing, they’d retreat behind the screen, leaving the blank background alone with the music.
I’ve moved five times since 2014, to the Philippines and back, moving to a state I’d hardly been to, and then to a state I’d never been before. Summers were no longer spent nestled in my grandmother’s cabin. They were spent standing for hours working retail, and now sitting in my basement bedroom, writing a small business’s new slogan.
I don’t remember the last time I went to my grandmother’s. Over the years the grey shingles became a red tin roof, the birdhouse was removed, the coarse gravel that lined her driveway became fine, a plywood handrail was added to the steep stone steps—my grandmother fell down them one day—and there was a new TV and service provider.
She switched the box in the early 2010s. It was exciting to see modernity. A new remote and the ability to watch while scrolling. But music channels. They were gone. The neon sea creatures were forever dormant.
I’ve spent hours trying to find someone who uploaded an image or a video of this online. These days you can find almost anything. I’ve never found it.
I know that there will be something else new when I’m in North Carolina next. New seat cushions for the porch furniture, a new chair in the kitchen, a fridge to replace the one that was installed in 1990. Some I will notice and some I won’t and none that can’t be seen again through stacks of albums that lay around in her house and ours.
But the music channel creatures—they reside only in my memories and live with my youthful summers. When I visit my grandmother next, I will look to find new ways to remember the in-betweens.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.