Memories flowed when I saw the painting of beautiful black people dancing inside the "Sugar Shack," their colorfully clad bodies gyrating to whatever beat you could imagine.
I had looked it up to find out more about artist Ernie Barnes, after learning that this and other pieces of his work would be exhibited at a local art gallery, part of this year's 10-day Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.
I doubt a week went by in my early childhood when that painting didn't span the TV screen. In the backdrop rang the sitcom's theme lyrics:
Any time you meet a payment.
Any time you need a friend ...
Then came episodes filled with J.J.'s "dy-no-mite!" shenanigans and the Evans family struggles and triumphs.
I envision myself now, cross-legged on the living room floor in inner-city Indiana.
I didn't know anything about Barnes back then. Couldn't appreciate the way the strokes of his brush drew you in and captured the mood of African-Americans "gettin' down," shall we say in J.J. fashion.
All I knew was that Good Times was one of my favorite shows — well, that and, oddly enough, Three's Company and Laverne & Shirley.
Or maybe it's not so odd after all. Laverne, Shirley, Chrissy, Janet and Jack — they were all workers with moderate incomes whose dilemmas to pay the rent framed the theme of more than one episode.
Still, their quaint apartment homes in Milwaukee, Los Angeles and sunny San Diego seemed otherworldly. For half an hour I escaped into their plots of mistaken identities, love triangles and predictable switcheroos.
For a reality check, I had the Evanses — parents James and Florida, silly J.J., sweet little Michael. And, of course, there was Thelma, quick-witted and curvaceous. Forget Chrissy Snow; little black girls in the 'hood wanted to be like Thelma.
And from what I can tell, she still looks good. We'll get a chance to see up close since Bern Nadette Stanis (who'll always be Thelma to me) is the scheduled guest for the Jan. 23 launch of the The Motown Maurice Show with live studio audience.
The event is part of the heritage festival's lineup this year. Host Maurice Jeoffroy, aka "Motown Maurice," said it's just coincidence that Stanis and Sugar Shack will be in town at the same time. He wants his show to have an old-school vibe, and Thelma and Good Times are nothing if not old school.
Back in the day, my family wasn't as poor as the Evanses. We lived modestly, but in a house, not a high-rise Chicago project. Still, my mother and father worked hard, just like James. And at times we struggled financially as they did.
My colleague, TV/media critic Eric Deggans, points out that Good Times was one of television's first attempts to depict lower-class black folks, one of the first TV shows set in the ghetto.
The downside, he says, was that it actually made the ghetto seem fun to outsiders, rather than depicting the trials of poverty.
But that's what a little girl like me wanted: to giggle at J.J.'s foolishness and give Thelma a high-five when she set him straight. I wanted to leave the realities of the streets outside my front door — at least until the next time my big sister walked me to the neighborhood candy store for a Sugar Daddy or a pack of Now and Laters.
Or until we'd take the city bus — just like Thelma — downtown or to the mall.
Or when we'd drive to my DJ uncle's house for one of his spades parties in the basement. Inevitably he'd slide in an eight-track and we would dance and dance.
I'm imagining us in our own smaller, much less perfect version of the Sugar Shack.
Those, I must say, were good times indeed.