My kids love what they call TV-Not-in-Color. I don't mind DVRing some of the better shows for them, so we can watch together. They marvel how children in the 1950s and 1960s got to play outside until all hours, walk to school by themselves, and went to the malt shop on their own. I get to explain about dial phones, lack of Internet, and why the autos look like new versions of old beater cars (because they are).
We've been watching "Father Knows Best" (FKB) recently. The show is actually older than I am, having been on radio before TV in 1949, and then the TV show started in 1954. It's the story of a dad, a mom and three kids in the small town of Springfield. The state is unknown, although there are, so far, references to Rockford, St. Louis and Chicago being in close, but not too close proximity. We do know New York is a day away by train, as the eldest daughter was in a wedding in New York and did just that.
This was one of my favorite shows in reruns as a kid. I spent a lot of time watching TV, as I had frequent sore throats and fevers that kept me out of school for days at a time. The Andersons were a very nice family, and they had more than the standard two TV kids.
I've heard through the years how the mothers of television shows in the 1950s and early 60s were too stereotypical, always doing housework in dresses, pearls and heels. But as I was watching FKB, I discovered Margaret Anderson didn't. Oh she wore only dresses! She was in her early 40s, according to the story line, placing her in college during the Roaring Twenties (and she did attend college, was Portia in the school's production of the Merchant of Venice). She did cover her dresses with a full-length smock affair, and uses heavy-duty rubber gloves for the tough jobs. She worked smarter, not harder, but she did work. But pearls for household tasks, let alone heels? Hardly.
Margaret got on the eldest daughter's case, regarding dress. Betty, AKA Princess, saw nothing wrong with performing work tasks in public in "dungarees" or jeans rolled up ala capris. Betty went to the high school, and later to the junior college, in her jeans, a belt firmly holding them in place, to work on decorations for dances or scenery for plays, but never for classes. The younger daughter, Kathy (Kitten), also wore shorts, jeans and other play clothes, in addition to dresses to school.
There were real situations, and real anger in some episodes. Jim and the children not only made it clear to Margaret that they didn't wish to attend her annual family reunion, but they made fun of her relatives in the living room! Margaret pouted and then said they weren't going to the reunion after all, if they felt that way. She even stopped making baked beans from the scratch in mid-process! However, Margaret forgot to call the relatives to inform her of her decision. A cousin shows up to ride with them. The bean situation is fixed by a local deli. The kids get in the car for their mother's sake, and even bring along some activities for themselves and their cousins.
The children were far from perfect. James Jr., or Bud, was lazy in the extreme, always looking for the easy way out. He spent the first two seasons in the basement, apparently hiding out from work, from his friends, from bullies, and from his sisters. Betty breathed the rarefied air of good academics, and never let anybody forget it. Kathy was whiny at times. Betty and Bud ganged up at Kathy, and Kathy earned that nickname Kitten in more ways than one, especially when she took out the verbal claws on her elder siblings.
All three of the Anderson children seem to have been expected to work for their money. Bud constantly complained about his lack of funds, just as much as his mother nagged him to take out the trash, mow the lawn, and get a part time job. The Anderson girls seem to have the work for money lesson down. Betty had several baby-sitting jobs, and was shown taking several job opportunities through the school. Young Kathy was entrepreneurial, frequently trading toys with her young friends, and even shaking down Bud for items, in exchange for being left to his own devices.
Jim Sr. worked very hard at the insurance agency, a job I wouldn't want. He seemed to combine the rules of good salesmanship with the Golden Rule. He wasn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he did his best. Oh, and he helped his wife with household tasks, completed the "honey do" list, and helped his male friends with their tasks. He liked to golf, but put off his game to do chores first.
The Andersons tried, when possible, to let their children discover on their own what could happen, when it wouldn't harm them. We recently viewed an episode where teenage Bud was swindled by a carney worker. The $6 Margaret gave Bud to pick up Jim's rewoven pants at the tailor's went to a game of chance. Jim knew the carnival was bad news, as he wouldn't insure it. He warned Bud, and informed hi they expected to be repaid for the gambling incident. Yet Bud was drawn to the carnival like a moth to a flame. Offered a job by the head carney, he took a job in a dunk tank, thinking he would make $25, to be paid the next day. What a shock to his system when he woke up and found the carnival skipped town!
It took courage and faith for Margaret and Jim to allow Bud to make this mistake. Most likely today, the parents would have been down at the local police station filing a report, threatening to sue the carnival. Instead, they expected Bud to suck it up and learn from his mistakes. Margaret and Jim just chalked it up to learning life's lessons.
It makes me feel good, as a parent, to remember there was a more innocent time, yet there were still problems raising kids. I've read in at least one of the few books that exist for grandparents raising grandchildren, that such grandparents have to "get with the times" when it comes to parenting. I see nothing wrong with parenting as the Andersons did, even if it was only scripts written for actors. They were, in a day when people did not air their troubles in public, human in their actions and reactions.