One of the simple pleasures of having time off from work on a week day over the holiday is being able to watch old television re-runs.
If I could spend the rest of my life watching only “I Love Lucy,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Father Knows Best,” I’d have all of the entertainment I’d ever need.
I love the sweet characters and innocent storylines, and that June Cleaver can look glamorous in pearls and high heels while cooking dinner. Each of us can somehow relate to being like a 7-year-old Beaver Cleaver and getting a ring – that we were forbidden from wearing to school – stuck on our finger, and the motions we go through to avoid our parents finding out, but parents always find out.
I suppose that it’s my envy of the seemingly perfect lives that these television families portrayed that draws me to the shows. Despite their perfectly pressed Oxfords and dust-free dens, a problem is always brewing; and, if Wally Clever has anything to say about it, creepy girls and junk like that are usually to blame. You know that within 30 minutes the problem will be solved and life will go on unscathed for these fictional families.
I especially enjoyed an episode of “Father Knows Best.” Watching these shows is such a guilty pleasure that I justify it by folding laundry and wrapping presents – kind of killing two birds with one stone.
The story line resonated with me, because every year I envision the idyllic Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas. I picture a gentle snowfall, Andy Williams singing and the smell of baking gingerbread wafting through the house as I decorate the Christmas tree.
Instead, every year, I’m up until the wee hours of the morning trying to get the tree decorated before Christmas Eve, and wrapping presents until five minutes before we leave to visit family.
The storyline of this episode addressed the stress of trying to create the perfect day, and left viewers with the conclusion that when we try to create a “perfect” moment, we lose out on enjoying the present moment.
If you’re not familiar with “Father Knows Best,” it features the Anderson family – father and mother Jim and Margaret, older daughter Betty, son Bud and younger daughter Kitten. Kitten performed a fire inspection at the Anderson home, and found the attic to be woefully non-compliant.
Jim and Margaret set out to clean out the attic to appease Kitten. Soon, Jim comes across items from his younger days: a baseball mitt, bat, and then the hat that he wore on a bike ride he took with Margaret decades earlier. It wasn’t just any bike ride – it was the bike ride they took on the first day that Jim held Margaret’s hand. Even sensible, practical Margaret couldn’t resist the walk down memory lane. Jim talked Margaret into recreating that special day by taking a bike ride to their special place. Jim dusted off the bikes and Margaret prepared a picnic lunch.
From there, Jim and Margaret’s plans went awry. Kitten hopped on a bike against her father’s wishes, and the chain fell off. To fix it required a trip to the hardware store. Betty needed a book returned immediately to the library, which was located on the other side of town. Bud was always precocious and needed some extra parenting oversight as he was preparing for a date. Jim becomes curt and overwhelmed by all of the distractions, and Kitten asks Margaret, “Why is daddy is so grouchy?” Margaret replies, “Your father has never been grouchy a day in his life.” (I love how Margaret adores Jim.)
As it turns out, Jim really was grouchy. He put so much pressure on himself to recreate the perfect bike ride that he wasn’t enjoying the moment. Jim soured the otherwise happy-go-lucky personas of Kitten, Betty and Bud. There would come a time when he’d miss not having Kitten tinker around the garage with him, or Betty asking him to run to the library errand or Bud being a precocious young man.
Jim realized that even if the bicycle chain hadn’t broken, and Betty hadn’t needed her library book returned, and Bud wasn’t vying for attention to prepare for his date, that he could never recreate the bicycle trip. While it provided memories that would last a life time, that day could – and did – only happen once.
Finally, the chain was re-set and the picnic lunch was prepared and packed. Jim and Margaret were eager to take off – but then Bud’s plans for his date collapsed when his car wouldn’t run. Jim offered the bicycles and picnic lunch to Bud, and with Margaret at his side, they could almost see themselves as they were many years before, as Bud and his girl rode off.
As it turns out, nostalgia can be a good thing. Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a professor from the University of Southampton shared the following in a piece that appeared in the New York Times in 2013:
Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.
Nostalgia does have its painful side – it’s a bittersweet emotion – but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.
So, even though we can’t relive that old bicycle trip, just like Jim and Margaret Anderson, we should talk about it and savor the happiness it brings us.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.