I have a secret way to de-stress during a busy day. It has nothing to do with a spa (of which I have none) or Jack Daniel's (of which I definitely have none.) No, this de-stresser is instantly available to me with the click of a button when a rerun of Leave it to Beaver, that classic sitcom of the late '50s and early '60s, begins.
A feeling of instant calm comes over me as I watch Mother June keeping the house in apple pie order or Father Ward dispensing wisdom as patriarch of the family. With two good kids, who are slightly mischievous, the Cleavers effortlessly go about solving the daily problems of life in the fictional town of Mayfield.
I know perfectly well that watching LITB is a harmless way of escaping some of the harsher realities of everyday life — not any worse than throwing a Frisbee around the pool or listening to music on an Ipod. Yet, I felt embarrassed to admit to friends that I watched that show. It didn't help when I read Barbara Walters in her autobiography Audition refer to the program as "the sugary portrait of a perfect happy suburban family doted on by a perfect happy wife and mother." How could I disagree (at least openly) with Barbara Walters?
True, many aspects of the show are dated by today's standards. Take for instance the clothes characters wear. Mother June is almost always seen in a crisply starched shirtwaist, even to do the vacuuming, Dad and older son Wally both wear suits to attend Beav's school play. And the boys wouldn't dream of wearing anything to school but a neatly pressed shirt (no t-shirts) worn tucked in.
Words and expressions used on the show seem passé. Father often refers to the boys as "fellas." The boys use "stick around" for today's "hang out," "sore" for "ticked off" and frequently to show respect to the father ,"Yes, sir." (There is no equivalent for obvious reasons.)
However, on Oprah's recent Blast to the '60s episode I found out some information that made me proud to be a Beaver fan. For example, Jerry Mathers (now a frisky 61 years old!) who played the Beav said during his guest appearance that LITB is one of the longest-running American sitcoms of all time. Oprah herself said it was one of her favorite sitcoms. What was good enough for Oprah gave me the courage to share my secret.
And, when I think about it, values expressed on that show are timeless. To name but a few:
• Father has an important role in the family. Compare that to father as buffoon in many other sitcoms. In one case the father's lack of sexual prowess is the constant butt of jokes; in another, the wife frequently refers to her husband as "idiot." Beaver's parents not only love and greatly respect one another but have fun together. One has the feeling that this is the union of two soul-mates;
• The children are the center of their lives. The family eats dinner together. When the boys misbehave and get in trouble (for example, Wally for using his dad's razor without permission or the Beaver for disobeying father and attempting to drive a boxcar sitting in the garage,) punishment is doled out fairly and accepted. One never hears the clichéd cop out, "That's not fair," as a response.
• As for school, education is a priority and the teacher is held in high esteem. And speaking of punishment, if Miss Landers sends home a note regarding Beaver's behavior, he's the one punished, not the teacher. How refreshing those school scenes are when compared to the violence going on in many local schools that has actually made the front page of our daily paper.
Although the show is an idealized version of family life, the fact that it is still in syndication gives me a good feeling that the loving nuclear family still has value today. Like the pb&j sandwiches prepared for countless generations of kids' lunchboxes, like the milk and cookies still gobbled down by ravenous students after school, some things just never go out of style.
Barbara Russek is a French teacher and freelance writer. She welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net