West T., not Mayfield; Me, not the BeaverPosted: December 19, 2013
It always seemed to be a sunny Saturday morning in Mayfield. It was never clear what state was home to Mayfield. Perhaps because Mayfield was a state of mind.
The Cleavers lived at 211 Pine Street in Mayfield, on a curving, tree-lined street in a spacious attractive house. There was Ward and June, two sometimes stern, but ever loving parents, and their two sons Wally and Beaver (nee Theodore). Wally was the quintessential all American boy. Beaver was basically a fuck-up. .
As you may have guessed Leave it to Beaver was my favorite show as a kid. I watched it whenever it was on. The show was an idealized version of the American mythos before the Beatles and Vietnam. I seldom saw myself in Beaver’s world but I enjoyed visiting it for half an hour.
The Beav’s life in Mayfield was much different from mine in West Terre Haute.
For instance, there never seemed to be any tumble down houses barely defying gravity in Mayfield. Oh, there was the scary old lady living in a spooky looking old house on occasion, but no bad neighborhoods ever appeared. I had but to look around me to see houses that were barely live-able.
Except for the occasional tramp who came to the door (to whom Beaver would give Ward’s clothes) or the junk yard man and his kids (who were dazzled by Beaver’s home) you never really saw poor people in Mayfield. Maybe they were there, but never shown. I doubt it. Everyone that the Cleavers knew lived in a nice house, where dad made a proper upper middle class living and mom stayed home to clean, bake and nurture. My mom worked, and worked hard.
It has become cliché to laugh at the ridiculous scenes of June Cleaver wearing pearls as she dusted, but that was Mayfield. Women did that sort of thing there. Not in West T. My mom cleaned in an old housedress or still wearing her nurse’s uniform. The closest analogy I remember is June’s cleaning lady’s daughter helping out and doing ironing and my mom was hiring my cousin to help with laundry and ironing.
And Ward. Ward had a fancy office job that required him to write reports to the home office. He had a nice office with a secretary. He wore a suit. Hell, he even wore a suit at dinner. You knew he was dressing down when he doffed the suit coat and tie and pulled on the cardigan. No one I knew wore a suit to work. They wore work shirts and jeans or work khakis. My grandfather wore overalls, a coarse workshirt and a good workingman’s tweed cap (I have one I wear in his honor sometimes) to his job at Terre Haute Concrete Supply Company. Some might wear a tie if they were a salesman or something like that, but a suit? The men in my family only wore suits, and then uncomfortably, at wedding or funerals.
Wally and the Beav had Metzger’s Field, with its basketball goals, baseball diamond, and wide open fields for football games with their buddies. In my day there were no public parks, per se, in West Terre Haute. There were asphalt playgrounds at the schools we could use, but nothing like the recreational amenities in the Cleavers hometown.
Wally and Beaver had a plethora of friends. Granted most of them were screw-ups. Wally’s two best friends were Eddie Haskell and Lumpy (excuse me, Clarence) Rutherford. Lump’s dad went on to be Rob Petrie’s boss, aka Alan Brady’s brother-in-law. I kind of liked goofy old Lumpy (in his autobiography, of which I am the proud owner of a signed copy, he claimed to have slept with over 1,000 women. Who would have guessed?) Eddie, of course, was Eddie. Coward, trouble maker, unctuous in front of adults. As an adult my best friend was named Brian. I sometimes affectionately called him my Eddie Haskell, only because he had a way of gently leading me into minor trouble.
For the Beav, it was initially Larry Mondello (who bore an unpleasant resemblance to my cousin Jerry). But Larry, the always hungry, none too bright goofball moved away. He was replaced by Richard, Whitey and Gilbert. I could see Richard as my buddy, Gilbert, too, but Whitey was a burgeoning smartass and I think we would have clashed. Probably too much alike.
I had kids I played with in West T., but none I would truly call friends. That was my doing. I have always been a loner who preferred books and inhabiting my own mind to hanging out on the corner with others.
As for Beaver’s home life. Beautiful house (though I always wondered why he and Wally shared a room) filled with nice things. None of the houses I lived in ever had more than four or five rooms, unless you count the outhouses when we lived in the country. Wally and Beav had Ward and June as parents. In 1950s television they were often seen as the ideal, model parents. I suppose they were in a way. But I did not want them as mine. June had a certain, knees glued together air about her, a distance. A brittleness (am I the only one who thinks that?). Ward seemed a more real human being to me, but his first thought was usually that his boys had screwed up, instead of initially given them the benefit of the doubt. While I carried on a nearly 20 year cold war with my stepfather, I never yearned for Ward as my dad. And why would I want June as a mother when I was blessed my Mom. She was simply the best.
So what brought on this little essay? It was popular at one time (perhaps, it still is in some quarters) to point to the idealized families of the fifties and sixties (think Father Knows Best or the Donna Reed Show) and the conformity they preached as the catalyst for the social and political upheaval of the sixties. Perhaps they were a little spark in the larger flame. They likely were, but it took more than that, I think.
Another view is that those of us who were poorer than the Cleavers or Andersons were overwhelmingly envious and that helped spark discontent. Certainly a viable thesis.
Was I envious? I am sure I was at times. Psychologists would likely say I certainly had the right to be. And that it would drive me to want better things in my life. But there were only two things in Beaver Cleaver’s world I truly envied. One was the opening of the 4th or 5th season where Wally and the Beav were walking home on a sunny Saturday morning tossing a baseball between them. Upon seeing those I think I wished I had a big brother to show me things and play ball with. The other was Ward’s den. I always wanted a den with built in bookcases holding all that I have read. I have not quite achieved that perfect den, but I still have time. But even as a 7 or 8 year old I knew it was just a television show. It was a show I loved, but it was entertainment. Some might say that merely by writing this essay it shows the series did drive me, did affect me greatly. Could be, but I don’t think so.
Looking back, did I want to be Beaver? Hell no. Would I have traded West Terre Haute for Mayfield? Again Hell no. I would have been even more out of place there.
Do you know what the smuttiest phrase ever uttered on sixties television was?
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
It was asked by June Cleaver. “Ward, don’t you think you were a little hard on the beaver last night.”
That June was suck a smut mouth.