Monday, January 24, 2011

“Margaret Disowns Her Family”

My fambly dipped into the third season of Father Knows Best over the winter break, and we found ourselves once again caught up in genuinely moving — and sometimes bizarre — storylines. Genuinely moving: “Class Prophecy” (May 8, 1957), for instance, in which Jim’s college-roommate Henry Pruett (played by the terrific actor Harry Townes) unwittingly knocks on the Andersons’ door while selling kitchen gadgets. When Margaret answers and recognizes him, he casts aside his sample case and begins a painful (not funny) effort to pass as the doctor everyone had expected him to become. The bizarre: “Shoot for the Moon” (June 5, 1957), in which an itinerant laborer, Sageman (played by Royal Dano), conducts a fire ceremony that cures Kathy’s warts and restores the Andersons’ confidence in themselves. Not your father’s Father Knows Best.

The episode we liked best though attracted us by its title: “Margaret Disowns Her Family” (May 22, 1957). Like “Class Propecy” and “Shoot for the Moon,” it was written by Roswell Rogers and directed by Peter Tewksbury. The story begins with Margaret composing a classified ad to sell an old crib. Jim gently mocks her wordy effort as the house falls into mild chaos, Bud having tossed his jacket on the floor, Kathy having left toys everywhere. (Betty is missing from this episode, off studying at a friend’s house.) Margaret is steaming. “Are you gonna disown us?” Kathy asks her mother. “Yes. Definitely, emphatically, yes,” Margaret replies. “There are moments,” she says, her voice trailing off toward despair.

In a Springfield apartment, Walt and Esther Garvin (James Ogg and Christine White) read Margaret’s ad. Esther is a worrier. She worried when her mother told her she was too young to marry, and she worried when she and Walt moved away to Springfield. And she’s worrying now, about the baby on the way. When the Garvins show up at the Anderson house, Kathy opens the door and invites them in. They hear Margaret railing at Bud and Kathy from another room. Kathy explains that her mother is in a mood and has threatened to disown the kids. Margaret enters, and the Garvins put some crumpled bills together to make ten dollars. They'll pick up the crib that night. Margaret notices how fearful and worried Mrs. Garvin seems to be (it’s Mrs. Garvin of course, not Esther), and how scarce money seems to be for this young couple.

Later that day: it’s not even 9:00, and Margaret orders Bud and Kathy off to bed. Jim is just getting home from work: he’s hours late and never called. His dinner is ruined. The Garvins haven’t come back for the crib, and Margaret knows that something must be wrong. It turns out that Walt too is working late, and he too hasn’t phoned home. Esther thinks he must be out with his pals. She calls her mother and makes arrangements for her father to meet her at the bus station. “I never should have gotten married,” she says. But before leaving town, she stops at the Andersons’ house, to let Margaret know that she won’t be taking the crib. And she needs the ten dollars for her busfare. But everything is all right, she tells Margaret. Then she confesses: no, everything is not.

Esther begins to unload her troubles in the Anderson foyer, saying that she knows Margaret will understand how she feels. And if things are bad for Margaret, who obviously has “a nice home and a good husband,” what will they be like for Esther? Margaret then explains how she really feels:

Oh, my dear child — let’s go in and sit down for a moment. You have such a wrong idea about this. I don’t know what you heard me say to my children, but — oh, these are just the eternal little gripes of every mother. Now there are times when you almost feel like disowning them. But we might as well face it: raising a family is no simple bed of roses. It takes a lot of hard work. Tell me this, Mrs. Garvin: can you name me one thing, one worthwhile thing that doesn’t take a lot of hard work? And believe me, I know of nothing more worthwhile than a family. Oh, you can get irritated picking up your boy’s jacket a thousand times, but what if you didn’t have that boy to pick up a jacket for? You can get a little mad at your husband for barricading himself behind his newspaper at the breakfast table, but you just try eating breakfast without him there.

These little irritations are all forgotten during those wonderful moments when you see your children begin to develop into — well, into people. The kind of people that you want them to be. Their triumphs at school, their awkward gestures of affection, their demonstrations of moral courage and fairness and good will. The warm feeling that fills your heart at those times you — you couldn’t buy for a billion dollars. You’ll have good times and bad times, but you’ll need them both. It’s from the bad times that you learn. And you’ll find that your family has good points and bad points. And you’ll love them for both. In fact, I think it’s people’s shortcomings, not their strengths, that bind them together.

So the thing to do, Mrs. Garvin, is to muster up all your faith and your energy, your courage, whatever you have, and plunge headlong into the demanding, difficult but the most fulfilling and wonderful job in the world. Will you do that?
The Anderson doorbell rings, and guess who’s there? Mr. Garvin wants to surprise his wife by getting the crib tonight. Margaret immediately sends Kathy to bed, directs Bud to clean up the mess from his snack, and orders Jim, now in his robe and slippers, to carry the crib to the Garvins’ car. Margaret turns to the camera and smiles: “This is one the bad days,” she says. In 2011, I want to hear Margaret’s words as a commentary not on motherhood but on parenthood. It’s the part about seeing your children develop “into — well, into people” that gets me. You too?

Other Father Knows Best posts
“Betty’s Graduation”
Card-file steals scene in TV debut
Father Knows Best Christmas episode
“A Woman in the House”

comments: 2

Joy Rothke said...

Nice to know there are other "Father Knows Best" fans out there. I grew up with the Anderson family.

Elaine said...

And then, just as they turn into people you are thrilled to know...they leave! and move to Cincinnati or Vicksburg, or both!

(I still miss them so much!)