During the mid 1950′s Leave It To Beaver wasn’t just a television show. It was a blueprint for middle America. Flanked by the Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best and Ozzie & Harriet, the families Cleaver, Stone, Anderson and Nelson showed the public how to behave in a post-depression, post-war world. It was the American Dream you could see in your own living room.
Roles between men and women were clearly defined on the small monochrome screens. Children were dressed, educated and shown their place in the cycle of life. The blueprint replaced the chaos of war and uncertainty of depression with a solid economy where anyone who could hold a job had the opportunity to own a house, start a business, or move up the corporate ladder to success. And the architect of this great blueprint was the United States Government – recent superhero of democracy who led the rest of the civilized world in the defeat of nazism, communism and tyranny.
We were badass back then.
In middle America men retained their macho head of the house status which included creating the family income and having the last say in any and all familial disagreements. Women raised the children and kept the family nest in order. Dinner was a family affair no one missed unless they were too ill to make it to the table.
In our house everyone dressed for dinner. That meant changing from school or play clothes into clean clothing fresh from the closet, brushing one’s hair and washing one’s hands and face. My mother was the chief cook while my brother and I were in charge of all the clean-up and any prep work my mother felt we needed to learn. My mother always set a lovely table. There were always flowers from the garden in the center and on holidays she’d set out little individual boxes or baskets of goodies. There was always dessert. It was always wonderful.
Dinner conversation revolved around what everyone had done during the day and a discussion of plans for the rest of the week. It was not uncommon to have a last minute friend over for dinner during the week. Saturday was leftovers or going out with friends but Sunday – well, Sunday was full on.
Sunday was candles in silver holders, freshly polished that afternoon along with the good silverware from the wooden chest. The good China dishes were used as was the antique lace tablecloth from the cedar chest. No one missed Sunday dinner. It was Stroganoff so beautifully cooked the meat melted on your tongue in a blissful sauce of sour cream and beef gravy. It was roast leg of lamb with a crunchy layer of fat on the top you could smell all the way down the block and it made your tummy rumble in anticipation. Sunday was angelfood cake and chocolate sauce or a home-baked apple pie topped with sweet whipped cream.
Sunday was planned visitors and energetic conversations about politics or religion or recent news events which affected our lives. It was people with different opinions sharing their differences respectfully (though sometimes too loud) over a good meal.
I remember countless Sunday dinners that ended with the same scenario – my Uncle Bud, after disagreeing with my father over how the government should be run, leans back in his chair and says something like “Johnny you’re full of shit. But your wife is an excellent cook – and that’s the important thing!”
It’s occurred to me that what was missing from all the townhall meetings this past week or two was a good meal. If the Republican hecklers had needed to get between citizens and a good feed, I bet more folks would have been willing to stand up and chuck them out. And if those remaining had been given a good meal to chew on, I bet more of them would have focused on the reform bill itself rather than the ridiculous rumours of Sarah’s death panels.
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