Yesterday the Beav's Mom passed away at the age of 94. Everyone loved Mrs. Cleaver, she was the perfect mother, wife, homemaker -- always vacuuming and baking cookies in her pearls. She set an impossible standard for any of our real Moms. I thought my mother was the perfect mother -- she was a wonderful cook, gardener, home decorator; she could teach Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray a thing or too. But often when I came home from school and got off the school bus, there was my mother on her hands and knees in the garden, wearing ratty old pedal pushers and one of my father's shirts, with dirt all over her face, as she worked her magic on the petunias or the begonias. "Oh, gosh, why couldn't Mom be more like Mrs. Cleaver? And why couldn't our life be more like 'Leave it to Beaver?'"
If folks ever tell you they grew up in a "Leave it to Beaver" household, don't believe them. The presumption of a "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle was impossible, even in the make-believe world of television. Most housewives were more like Lucy and Ethel than they were like June Cleaver or Donna Stone (the Donna Reed Show). It's no accident that TV shows like "Leave it to Beaver" or "The Donna Reed Show" were sponsored by Campbell’s Soup, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric. The shows were half hour advertisements, marketing a lifestyle, and people bought it. None of my friends had mothers who vacuumed in their high heels and pearls. And none of them had fathers who ate dinner in a sports jacket and tie. Most folks in post-war middle class North America had traditional middle class jobs, where they got their hands dirty doing a day's work. In 2007 Barbara Billingsley told an interviewer that the reason she always wore pearls on camera is because of a small indentation just above her sternum that didn't look good on television, so she covered it up. Who knew!
If anything, Mrs. Cleaver was the catalyst who started the feminist movement; she was the bridge to women's social activism of the 1960s. Women started looking at their lives of vacuuming and cookies and said, "Is this all there is?" Now women have unimaginable choices that they never had before. They can work at challenging careers, and they can still be good Moms and vacuum and bake cookies, but they can do it on their own time and they don't have to do it in their pearls. Thank you for that, Mrs. Cleaver.