So I was all set to write another Museum of Comfort TV piece and then Paris happened. Of course, this isn’t the forum to discuss such atrocities, but the impact was such that it didn’t feel right to proceed with my original topic.
Instead, let’s talk about Thanksgiving, and Father Knows Best. Seems more fitting, I think, since the holiday was inspired by a moment when disparate groups of people came together in peace and friendship. It didn’t last, but it gave us a glimpse of what we can be at our best. We need more of those now.
Several classic TV shows had Thanksgiving episodes, though even 40 years ago the holiday was overshadowed by the more vibrant sacred and family traditions of Christmas and the material-rich spooky fun of Halloween. Both evoke myriad ideas that would work for almost any kind of series.
Thanksgiving is more of a challenge. It’s always tough and time-consuming to shoot a large group of characters seated around a dinner table, and such scenes feature very little movement outside of passing the sweet potatoes and the biscuits.
Unless you unleash a food fight.
There were football games and parades on Thanksgiving in the Comfort TV era, but would you want to watch a television show in which the characters are also watching TV? Not very exciting.
Friends had some great Thanksgiving shows but it’s a bit out of our era, though I did cover the series once before. And Bewitched offered a delightful holiday episode in its fourth season (“Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember”) in which Aunt Clara accidentally blinks Sam, Darrin, Tabitha and Mrs. Kravitz (!) to the Pilgrims’ Plymouth settlement. I watch it every year around this time.
But my topic for today is “Thanksgiving Day,” from Father Knows Best. It was just the eighth show of the series’ first season, so at the time America was still getting to know the Andersons of Springfield (a radio version had aired for five years already, but that series had a much different tone).
In the story, the Andersons decide that Margaret deserves a break from cooking, and instead they’ll all go out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. But then Bud announces he’s going to spend the day with his high school football team, and Betty accepts an invitation to dine with a neighbor’s family. “She didn’t think you’d mind,” Margaret tells Jim, “as long as we were eating out.” “No, of course not,” Jim mutters, though it inspires reflections of the Thanksgiving traditions he cherished as a boy, and how times have changed.
There’s another plot about Kathy having an emotional meltdown, but these were fairly common occurrences in the Anderson home. So let’s skip past that to Jim having second thoughts about dining out. “I’d just rather eat here,” he tells Margaret, even though all they have in the house is hamburger.
Perhaps, even if you have never watched this episode, you can guess what happens next. Kathy calms down, and Bud and Betty heed an innate call to home and hearth and realize that is where they should be and want to be on this special day.
The episode ends with the family seated around the kitchen table, on which sits a platter stacked with hamburgers. The Andersons join hands, as Jim offers a prayer of gratitude for the blessings they have received. One particular part of that recitation brings us back to Paris and the challenges of the times with live in now:
“We thank thee for the privilege of living as free men in a country which respects our freedom, and our personal rights to worship and think and speak as we choose.”
There are people in this world who want to take that away from us. And not all of them are terrorists. It’s something to think about as we keep Paris in our thoughts and prayers, and look forward to our own family Thanksgivings.