Saturday, August 20, 2011

Those Loveable Waltons


I am deep into Season Six of The Waltons. At the end of Season Five, John-Boy had his first novel published and moved to New York City. He was moved to tears at leaving Walton's Mountain and I admit it, my eyes were not dry either. My IRS tax refund gift to myself this year was a complete set of The Waltons tv series. My husband keeps asking me what I'll do when I finish the series, which runs to nine seasons. I truly don't know, for I find an hour or two of Waltons daily to be most satisfying.

I've written before about my enjoyment of books that have homespun appeal. Much of Earl Hamner's oeuvre, including books, film and tv, has that Depression-era, down to earth, homespun quality. But did you know he also wrote for The Twilight Zone and Falcon Crest? Not to mention the screenplay for Charlotte's Web (1973). Somewhere in my Hamner research and reading, I came across an anecdote where Earl Hamner answered the phone from his desk where he was finishing up his Charlotte's Web script. The caller asked why he sounded choked-up. His answer: "A spider just died."

But back to The Waltons. One of the things I appreciate is the religious differences between Oliva (Michael Learned) and John Walton (Ralph Waite). She is a Baptist and he is unchurched, although he does go along to church every once in awhile to keep the peace or see his children perform. At various times in the series he is called to explain that life is a great mystery, and that we are all a part of it. He walks his own walk, which matches his talk, and he is an archetypal good father. Not that Olivia doesn't keep hoping and trying to convert him to her faith! I also love the way the family has its squabbles but always manages to come together. Yes, that might be a little idealistic, but there is also a great deal of realism involved in depicting the whole 1930s and 40s era rural Virginia way of life. Butter gets churned, pennies pinched and treasured, wood chopped, hand-me-downs worn and made over into quilts.

For me, the Waltons are salt of the earth type folks, exemplifying common decency and compassion for others, be they human or animal. Grandpa Zeb Walton (Will Geer) is a walking encyclopedia of mountain ecology, folklore and family history. His wife, Esther (Ellen Corby) is one of tv's most delightfully vinegary characters. The entire clan is based on Hamner' own family, including a preponderance of red hair amongst the children. Richard Thomas is brilliant as John-Boy. I admit it, I have trouble believing these characters are not real. I care deeply what happens to them. And so I treasure watching each episode, down home on their mountain, no matter that most of the filming took place on some Hollywood lot. The wonderful voice-overs introducing each show are read by Mr. Hamner himself.

In 2002, Earl Hamner and Ralph Giffin came out with the book Goodnight John-Boy: A Celebration of an American Family and the Values That Have Sustained Us Through Good Times and Bad (Cumberland House), which I have enjoyed consulting as I work my way through the series. Some day I would like to visit the Walton's Mountain Museum in Schuyler, Virginia. I'm all ears for any view-alike type recommendations of what to watch when the last goodnight sounds from that cozy Walton's homestead. To close, here is an exemplary quote from the series.

Olivia Walton: [after John Boy has read her a poem for her birthday] "John Boy, those words were just like listenin' to music. I don't really understand what the poem meant, but I think those were just about the most beautiful words I ever heard."
John Boy: "Well, I think the poem has a meaning, um, to me; it means that some things which may seem too simple, or unimportant, or even just downright plain, those things are really every bit as important and every bit as beautiful as the most magnificent things in the whole world." - from Season 2, episode 13, The Air-Mail Man.

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