50 Years of Star Trek, and PopPop

I could not name more than a few episodes off the top of my head, I’m afraid for the more researched stuff you’d have to visit blogs like this . But Star Trek still means a lot to me. At least the original series. My PopPop lived with my family for most of my life, and loved Star Trek. He wasn’t much of a Sci-Fi fan, but he still watched the reruns and movies constantly. As his hearing declined over the years, he watched them at a steadily increasing volume, so the show felt omnipresent throughout our small house wether I was with him or not.

I started watching Star Trek with PopPop when I was young because I liked spending time with him, and it was one of the few things we could agree on with TV. PopPop loved sports and Lawrence Welk, I liked Batman and Star Wars. But we could always settle on James Bond (it’s enough like Batman), Charmed (Shannen Doherty but let’s call it ‘magic and stuff’), and Star Trek. As a kid I thought it couldn’t hold a candle to Star Wars, but I did love  the cheapness of the sets and costumes. I knew they were outdated, but there was something I loved about the blatant artifice of it. It didn’t matter that what I was looking at wasn’t convincing, because it was oddly beautiful. This is closely tied with the love I had for the Tom Baker Doctor Who reruns on PBS, and later, the Hammer Horror films. I know this is a set, I know that’s a miniature, I know these woods are in a studio somewhere, but they look better than the real thing. There was something in the costumes, the colors, the music, and the acting in Star Trek, that was profoundly entertaining and comforting to me. It promised so much in the way of progressive thinking, yet delivered so little (There’s a strong independent Black woman on the bridge, she answers the phone in a short skirt). Still, at a young age, those well-intentioned yet mark-missing efforts had a positive influence.

PopPop passed away two years ago. I spent the entire fall, winter, and early spring watching James Bond movies and the original Star Trek. Neither were things I put on regularly ever before, but on any given day, I had either one of those properties on TV. Genius that I am, I failed to make any connection between these newfound deep dives into franchises I was previously neutral on, and my PopPop’s death. In fact even when Leonard Nimoy passed away that March I couldn’t understand why it impacted me so deeply. It took me half a year to figure out that Star Trek and James Bond were giving me a way to simultaneously run away from thinking about PopPop, and also spend time with his memory.

It’s something I can still put on as background noise even when I’m not actively watching. It keeps PopPop alive for me when I visit home and see his empty chair. 50 Years ago today it aired for the first time, and if for nothing else, I want to thank the show for the memories it gave me with him.

-Max

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