Monday, May 11, 2009
THE HAPPY FAMILY
I admit it, I'm a sucker for 1950's era kid's books that celebrate the perfect squeaky clean American lifestyle and the traditional divisions of labor between men and women. I love the aprons over starched dresses, the sheets blowing on the line, the four course dinners on china for special occasions.
Mom always baked the birthday cake herself and dad always knew exactly how to assemble a new bicycle.
The unfair demands and expectations of that lifestyle proved chafing in practice, but in the world of the children's book aesthetic, it's a sweet little escape into a place where nothing goes wrong.
I present to you The Happy Family (story by Nicole, pictures by Corinne Malvern, Simon and Schuster 1955):
"Father and Mother live in a pretty little house with their little boy Tony and their little girl Peggy. They have a pussy cat called Kiki and a dog called Skipper. They are a very happy family.
The happiest time of day is when Father comes home from work. Mother gives him a kiss. Tony and Peggy run and shout: "Daddy, Daddy! Hello, Daddy!"
Father hangs up his coat and goes to work in the garden. Tony helps with the lawn mower. Peggy picks radishes and cuts flowers for the table. They work hard and get very hungry. But soon Mother calls from the window: "Wash your hands, everybody! Dinner is ready!"
What a nice dinner! There is roast beef with baked potatoes, a big dish of peas from the garden, and lettuce and tomato salad. Most wonderful of all, there is an apple pie cooling on the window sill. Kiki likes the roast beef. She looks at it and says: "Meow! Meow! Please somebody, give me a taste of this roast beef."
Skipper too, looks at the roast beef with longing, and he lets out a big sigh. "I wish I had the bone, "he says. But Mother is smart and she knows just what Kiki and Skipper are thinking.
"All right!" she says. "Come here, you two."
She gives Skipper a bone and sets out a dish of gravy for Kiki.
Right after dinner, Mother says: "Let's do the dishes," and everybody goes into the kitchen.
It is lots of fun. First Mother fills the sink with hot water and soap powder. Then she rinses the glasses. They come out clean and sparkling.
Father says: "Let's help Mother. Tony and Peggy, will you please wipe the dishes? I will put them away."
In a few minutes, they have washed, rinsed, and wiped all the glases, the plates, the knives, the forks and spoons, and the pots and pans. Then Mother takes off her apron and they all go into the living room.
"Now Daddy, tell us some stories," say Tony and Peggy. Father opens a book and reads them the story of The Three Bears and the story of Little Red Riding Hood and about Tom Thumb and the Little Gingerbread Boy and Hansel and Gretel.
Suddenly Dad puts down the book and says "Eight o'clock!"
Mother puts her knitting down and says to the children: "Time to go to bed."
Before going to bed, Tony and Peggy have one more thing to do. They go to the bathroom and brush their teeth.
Then Mother tucks them in bed and gives each one a big kiss.
It is morning again and the milkman brings milk for the family. Clickety-click go the bottles in a wire basket. Skipper watches him but does not bark. He just wags his tail. The milkman is a friend of his and Skipper does not bark at his friends.
After everyone has had breakfast, Father is ready to go to work. Today he is picked up by a neighbor and sits beside the driver. "Good-bye!" says Mother to both of them. "Don't drive too fast, now!"
Tony and Peggy take their lunch boxes and they go out to meet the school bus.
All their little friends are at the corner, waiting for the bus too. They call out to Tony and Peggy: "Hurry! Hurry! The bus is almost here!"
Now Mother is all alone in the house. She is very busy because she likes to have everything clean and in order. She makes the beds and she cleans the rugs with the vacuum cleaner.
Then she puts the soiled clothes in the washing machine. Swish, swish, go the clothes. Soon they are clean and hung on the line to dry. Later she irons a suit for Tony and a white dress for Peggy.
When Tony and Peggy come home from school, they go with their mother to do the marketing. As they walk along, Mother thinks: "Now let's see, what do I have to buy today?"
Tony and Peggy follow her and carry the bags. They are careful not to drop anything in the street.
Today is a big day. It is Peggy's birthday and Mother has baked a beautiful cake.
She is very busy decorating the cake with candles and little flowers. Now with pink frosting she writes on the icing: PEGGY
What a beautiful cake! How good it looks! When, oh when, is the party going to begin?
At last the guests come and Peggy and Tony and all their friends sit around a table in the garden. Mother brings out the cake. All the candles are lighted and the children sing: "Happy Birthday, dear Peggy, Happy Birthday to you!"
Just as the party is going to end, Father comes with two big boxes. One box is for Peggy and one is for Tony. "What is it? What is it?" they cry.
They can hardly wait to open them. They hurry as fast as they can. Oh, what a wonderful surprise! Father has bought them two beautiful shiny bicycles.
The next day the whole family helps to pack a lunch. Then they jump on their bicycles and ride to the beach.
Tony and Peggy have a lot of fun ringing the bells of their new bicycles: "Ding-a-ling. Watch out, everybody!"
As soon as they arrive at the beach, Tony puts on his bathing suit and dives from the raft.
"Come on in, Peggy! The water is fine!"
While Tony and Peggy have their swim, Father and Mother unpack the lunch: hard-boiled eggs, all kinds of sandwiches, salad peaches, and ice-cream. A nice breeze is blowing from the sea and everyone has a big appetite.
It is late when they get back to their little house and everyone is tired. Soon, very soon, the whole family will be in bed and asleep. Good night.
I like this family...the normal dad from this era would come home, grab the paper and a cocktail and plop his fanny in the easy chair. But this dad immediately mows the yard. I can get behind that.
Plus, the book promotes car-pooling which is cool.
Dad actually shows up for the birthday party instead of indulging his work-a-holic nature, oh, and he helps in the kitchen after dinner.
Maybe they really were happy after all.