Usually you think you are pretty safe when your kids are watching old, classic television series. We recently acquired a smart TV as a gift and my kids have discovered some classic TV shows they never knew existed.
“Family Affair” was a show that premiered a bit before my time in the late 1960s. I watched it in reruns, as it was already off the air by the time I was 4. It was the story of Uncle Bill, who was a wealthy bachelor, employing a butler or “gentleman’s gentleman” to take care of his schedule, household, etc.
The butler, played by Sebastian Cabot, was a very proper Englishman. Uncle Bill’s life was turned upside down when his brother and sister-in-law were killed, leaving their three children without parents.
So, Cissy, 15, and 6-year-old twins Buffy and Jody move in and disrupt his bachelorhood. Fun and frivolity ensue, especially in exchanges between Mr. French (Cabot) and the kids, as well as some dramatic moments.
A good show for its time.
My youngest daughter became fascinated with the show this summer and I found myself explaining a lot of things to her. We talked about how Buffy and Jody lived in the city of New York where people took taxi cabs and didn’t own cars. There was a bellhop at the door of the apartment building.
The stories were so saccharin and wholesome that I didn’t see any negative aspects, especially compared to the crap that is on TV today.
Uncle Bill dated a stream of glamourous women, some of them taking an interest in the kids, but none of them ever spent the night at the apartment as they might in today’s television.
Kids were basically well-behaved on the show, and if they acted up a bit, they ended up apologizing or getting justly punished.
Probably the most scandalous episode involved Buffy leaving dance lessons early and becoming friends with a group of neighborhood kids who were more “streetwise” than she. Buffy ended up requesting clothes from a thrift store, asking for sugared bread for a snack and reciting semi-offensive rhymes that we think are totally G-rated today.
I guess I was a little amused one day when an episode started in which Buffy and Jody were putting a puzzle together in Jody’s immaculate bedroom. Suddenly, a scaffold on rope appears and a man who washes the apartment windows waves hello to them through the window. The kids excitedly open the window and talk to him. They carry on a long conversation with him, as if he’s someone they are very familiar with.
It occurred to me that this was something out of the ordinary when I saw my daughter staring wide-eyed at the screen.
So, I felt it necessary to have a long conversation about strangers, even if you saw them every day, and how Buffy and Jody lived in a time when things were safer and people weren’t as concerned about the bad guys and watching kids every minute.
My daughter knows we keep a close eye on her when she rides her bike or plays in the yard. Gone are the days when you can completely let your kids run the streets like we used to.
Michelle came in at the tail end of our conversation, so I found myself reiterating the whole thing to her. We both were still a little blown away by the fact that Buffy and Jody opened the window and had a big conversation with their friendly window washer. He could have easily snatched them out the window, I guess. But I’m not sure the thought would have occurred to anyone in that era.
Looking back, I guess I was amused and also saddened by the fact that I had to have a conversation about stranger danger and keeping safe based on a “Family Affair” episode from 1967.