Sunday, October 17, 2010

R.I.P., June Cleaver

I was saddened to hear of the death of the lovely Barbara Billingsley on October 16. She was 94.
Barbara is best known for her portrayal of June Cleaver in the hit television series Leave it to Beaver. Always pleasant, nicely dressed, and beautifully coiffed, June epitomized the ideal stay-at-home mom of the 1950's.


Little did Barbara/June know that, as much as she was appreciated by audiences of her own day, she would later be scoffed at and vilified by mothers who felt themselves unfairly compared to her. Believe it or not, there is a book titled I Killed June Cleaver: Modern Moms Shatter the Myth of Perfect Parenting. There's another called Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box.

Honestly, I think those images of June Cleaver as the "perfect" mom, the standard against which all moms should be judged, should be killed. But I also think that the "real" June Cleaver is a pretty good role model. Here are some things I've observed about June:
  1. She keeps a simple but gracious home. The Cleaver household is not at all fancy. The children share a bedroom; the family eats its meals at the kitchen table. The kids get into all kinds of scrapes. But all in all, things are orderly and therefore lovely.
  2. She is firm with her children. June knows that boys will be boys, but she also trains them to be gentlemen. She expects them to be gentlemanly when the situation calls for gentlemanly behavior; otherwise she allows them to be boyish. As the mother of three teenage boys, I'd say her approach is pretty good.
  3. She dresses as the respectable person she is. After all, what role is more important than that of chief executive of a home and family? I think perhaps this job calls for something a little better than sweat pants. As for the much-touted pearls she wore each day, those were a touch that Barbara Billingsley herself added to her wardrobe. Apparently she was self-conscious about a hollow in her throat, and she wore the pearls to cover it up. Smart move.
We moms seem to have a habit of judging ourselves too harshly, of expecting too much of ourselves. Perhaps the greatest thing we could learn from June Cleaver is her graciousness, and perhaps we should start with a heaping helping of grace for ourselves. No doubt our children could do without elaborate Halloween costumes. Our husbands don't need us to be fashion plates. Our communities don't expect us to be paragons of volunteerism. In short, nobody expects us to be perfect--expect perhaps we ourselves.

Jerry Mathers, the actor who played the Beaver, had this to say about Barbara Billingsley: "She will . . . be remembered by her friends as a gracious lady. Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners and respect for others." Barbara's own son, Glenn Billingsley, said, "She was every bit as nurturing, classy, and lovely as 'June Cleaver,' and we were so proud to share her with the world."

Perfect? No. June Cleaver wasn't perfect; neither was the woman who portrayed her. But gracious, patient, nurturing? Yep. She was that in spades. And that's exactly what I want to be.

Maybe I'll go put on my pearls.

16 comments:

Marla @ Always Nesting said...

Yes, beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.

Courtney said...

Aw, I love this. Great things to strive for.

Paula said...

This is a great post. I'll bet your boys think that you are the perfect mom!

Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

This was such a well written post. She played a wonderful Mrs. Cleaver. I especially liked how she was on to Eddie Haskell. :) And I enjoyed reading the quotes from her son and her TV son. I am glad to know she was as genuine as she came across on the show.

Holly said...

It's always nice to hear that an actress or other person of fame is just as nice in real life.
I'm wondering if my kids have ever seen Leave it to Beaver. I think not, and I'll have to remedy that!

Rebekah said...

Wonderful post, Richella. I have often wondered why so much scorn is heaped the character of June Cleaver. Sadly, I think it comes from a general scornfulness toward homemaking and professional motherhood. Perhaps if more of us conducted ourselves with the grace and dignity of June Cleaver, that attitude could be changed.

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Awesome post, Richella!! I always loved June Cleaver. :) I agree with Lisa...I loved how she interacted with Eddie Haskell. :)

Shelia said...

What a sweet tribute to a beautiful lady!! I loved to watch Leave It To Beaver when I was a little girl and love the reruns today! This makes me sad.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Terri said...

Beautiful tribute to a wonderful role model! Blessings!!!

Centsational Girl said...

Well said Richella. I agree with what you said. She was a gracious lady and a good role model!
xo
Kate

Bonita said...

One other great thing about June Cleaver was the way she treated Ward with such respect. She didn't always agree with him and sometimes she even fussed at him a bit, but her admiration and respect for him was never in question.

HeathahLee said...

I. Love. This. Post! Beautifully said!

melissa * 320 Sycamore said...

There is just something comforting about June Cleaver. I loved her and her pearls! A beautiful, classy lady.

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Laura Burciaga said...

I enjoyed reading this refreshing post honoring June Cleaver! I agree that many things can be learned from her. As a young wife, I think many women today have lost the art of being a gracious wife, homemaker, mother, and host. Thanks for reminding us all!

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