Bob McKinney

I trust all you moms had a nice Mother’s Day.

Finding an appropriate way to celebrate presents challenges in the times in which we are living, and I’m sure some of your observances were virtual — a word I’m coming to dislike as much as “social distancing.” Whatever the case, I hope you felt honored and appreciated, because you deserve to be.

A few years ago, I wrote a Mother’s Day piece about my favorite TV mother, Olivia Walton, from the long running show from 40-plus years ago, The Waltons.

I would still hold her up as an example of a strong and virtuous female and mother. Any woman who raised seven children during the Depression, with her in-laws under the same roof, deserves high praise.

For good or bad, my generation was greatly influenced by television and television parents. My earliest memories of TV moms include Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show), Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best) and June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver).

Those three were traditional moms of their day, married to men who worked while they kept things in order at home. June was known for her trademark chiffon dress, high heels and pearls, in which she could just as easily bake a cake and vacuum the rug as go out with husband Ward for the evening.

Truly, June knew how to accessorize for the occasion. I’m sure the others did too.

As a mom, she was a warm and welcoming face when her boys, Wally and Beaver, arrived home from school in the afternoons, and she almost always had milk and cookies waiting for them.

She was also wise and discerning, seeing right through the likes of Wally’s disingenuous friend Eddie Haskell, who would feign big-word conversations with adults until their backs were turned.

A few years later another mom came on the scene, this one a widow and business owner. Kate Bradley was the proprietor of The Shady Rest, a Bed and Breakfast that served as the centerpiece of the sitcom Petticoat Junction

While running the inn, Kate was also raising three beautiful daughters who lived with her there, and dealt with her lazy but lovable Uncle Joe, who ostensibly managed operations at The Shady Rest.

Although Kate was a no-nonsense type, she was also a dedicated and loving mother, adored by her daughters. To my knowledge, the only mention of the girls’ father was in the episode in which daughter Betty Jo married pilot Steve Elliott, when Kate told Betty Jo she felt her father there with them.

Sadly, during the show’s run, the actress who played Kate, Bea Benaderet, died of cancer and was written out of the show. In those days, sitcoms rarely dealt with characters dying, other than in past tense. The girls’ mom was mentioned in subsequent episodes, but there was never an explanation for what had happened to her.

Television moms would soon begin to change with the times. Perhaps the best example is Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show. A devoted wife of an obstetrician (Cliff) and loving mother of five, Claire was also a successful Manhattan lawyer who loved her job.

Plot lines often dealt with Claire’s responses to female stereotypes. She came across as tough as nails, but with an immense soft side in which her children took refuge. 

She clearly represented women of the ’80s who were choosing to have both careers and families, performing a balancing act, but doing so effectively and with good humor. In addition, with the Huxtables being an African-American family, Claire made a statement for women of color.

I don’t watch much network TV anymore, so I’m unable to address TV moms of today. A few years back, Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond) represented well meaning but overbearing mothers of adult children, trying desperately — but way too hard — to stay relevant. She was a textbook for how not to treat your daughter-in-law.

If I were comparing, I suppose I had one of the more traditional mothers. She cooked, cleaned and did laundry (hanging clothes on a line until I was in my early teens!) while running carpool for my brother and me when we were young. But I would have to say she was more sensible than those early TV moms, never dressing up for household chores.

The wonderful mom to whom I am married had a successful career, but was also home a lot, and was clearly the safe place to land for our two sons and daughter. Today I love to hear them recall some of the traditions she maintained with them, like special celebrations on the last day of school.

The TV moms all had some semblance of reality, I guess, and I obviously paid them a good bit of attention.

But my mother and my wife? They both were, and the mother of my children still is, the real deal. My mother never worried about having it all – whatever that means — or any such thing, and my wife never cared for any of that either.

They both simply followed their hearts, fulfilling a longing which, I am inclined to believe, they both were born with. 

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].

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