I Remember John Boy

“At night across the mountain, when the darkness falls and the winds sweep down out of the hollows, the wild things with their shiny eyes come to the edge of the clearing. At such an hour, the house seems safe and warm, an island of light and love in a sea of darkness. At such an hour, the word home must have come into being, dreamed up by some creature that never knew a home. In his yearning, there must have come to mind the vision of a mother’s face, a father’s deep voice, the aroma of fresh baked bread, sunshine in a window, the muted sounds of rain on a roof, the sigh of death, the cry of a newborn babe and voices calling goodnight. Home- an island, a refuge, a haven of love.”

–          Earl Hamner Jr., from the script of “The Actress,” an episode of the Waltons.

 

I am happy to admit it.  Despite being the author of stories and books about abuse, rape, horrible mothers, worse fathers, damaged clock collectors, extra-extra-extra large women, women who pretend to be widows, women who have lizards as husbands, men in jails, in bars, in bed, despite all of that, I am the #1 fan of the television show, The Waltons.

Proof that I am the #1 fan:

*I used to own every season of the show on VHS.  I now own every season of the show

on DVD. Despite that, I still watch it on television when I have the time.

 

*I can recite the lines of every episode along with the actors and actresses, including the

narration by Earl Hamner Junior.

 

*I own the Waltons lunchbox, with thermos.  I own the Waltons board game.  I own the

action figures, which are Grandpa and Grandma, Mama and Daddy, John Boy and Mary

Ellen.  I own the Waltons Viewmaster reels (and a Viewmaster).  I own the Waltons

Little Golden Books and Chapter Books and Coloring Books.  I own the Waltons

Collector Cards, the sticker sheets, and the Christmas at the Waltons LP.

 

*About the only thing I don’t own is the Waltons cardboard dollhouse, which I covet.

 

*Oh, and I own a collection of poetry by Richard Thomas, written while he was playing

John Boy. Horrible poetry.  But I love the book.

 

*I visited the real Waltons Mountain, which is Schuyler, Virginia.  I gazed at the

porch of the real Waltons home, still lived in by the real Jim Bob.  I met Earl Hamner’s

aunt and she showed me a trailing arbutus. I wanted to make a cutting and bring it home

to grow, but it was covered in bees. At the Waltons Mountain Museum, I corrected the

tour guide when she claimed that the quilt on the recreated bed was used to cover Olivia

(Mama) when she was struck with polio and needed to go to the hospital. “No,” I said.

“Doc Vance decided that Olivia was too sick to handle the long trip. She stayed home.

That quilt is what they wrapped her in to carry her downstairs, so Jason could sing his

award-winning song from the talent show.”  I don’t think the tour guide was too happy

with me.

 

*My youngest daughter is named Olivia, after…Olivia Walton.  And Olivia calls me

Mama.

 

So the other day, when I was walking home from a book festival meeting, I was about knocked off my Waltons feet when I passed an antique store and saw a typewriter in the window.  No, not “a” typewriter. THE typewriter.  An Oliver typewriter, an odd machine, a cat-eared contraption.

An Oliver typewriter that John Boy Walton used.  In the episode, “The Typewriter,” John Boy is encouraged by his high school teacher to submit a story to Collier’s magazine.  The story is rejected because it’s handwritten. And the only typewriter in the county is owned by the Baldwin Sisters, eccentric and rich old ladies who make bootleg whiskey.  Their father, the esteemed Judge Baldwin, wrote his memoirs on an Oliver cat-eared typewriter.  John Boy borrows it, and hides it in the tool shed in a box, as Mama would not be happy to have her son involved with the Baldwins.  Sister Mary Ellen, wanting to make money to purchase a makeup kit, sells the box to the junk man.  And thus ensues a county-wide search for an Oliver typewriter.  It’s found, of course.  You can watch the 30-Second Waltons version of this episode on Youtube: 30-Second Waltons

Among other things, I collect typewriters.  And this one, the cat-eared Oliver, eluded me for years.  Why did I want it?  Because of its John Boy-ness, of course.

That typewriter now sits in the AllWriters’ classroom. I don’t know how it works and I don’t care.  John Boy is in the house.

John Boy is who brought me to The Waltons even before I watched The Waltons.  When the television show first came out, I was twelve years old, and watching The Waltons was just not cool.  But on Thursday nights at 7:00, I sat at my desk in my room, writing in my journal, and listening to my family downstairs in the living room, who were watching The Waltons, while on The Waltons, John Boy sat at the desk in his room, writing in his journal, and listening to his family downstairs in the living room as they listened to the radio.

Even then, I was looking for community.  For someone who wrote with the same passion and care and religious attention that I did.  I found it, when I was twelve years old, with John Boy Walton. I listened and wrote in my journal beside John Boy until I graduated from high school in 1978.  The show was canceled after nine seasons in 1981.  From 1978 to 1981, The Waltons television show was far from my mind as I attended college.  To become a writer, of course.

But oh, I remembered John Boy. I remembered him every time I sat down to write. I still do.

I came back to, and fully absorbed, The Waltons in 1983, when I was pregnant with my first son.  The show was on the Family Channel then, at 2:00 every weekday afternoon.  I was working part time as a secretary/receptionist from 8:00 in the morning to noon. Every day, I came home, had lunch, wrote for a bit, then took a break to watch The Waltons. With my overheated pregnancy hormones, I cried over every single episode. But again, I found community with John Boy. I found someone who not only wanted to write, but actually wrote and loved what he was doing. When the show was over for the day, I returned to my typewriter – at that time, a Royal Selectric, an electric typewriter that was my pride and joy. It meant as much to me as the Oliver typewriter meant to John Boy.  He and I wrote together, on what today would be considered two dinosaurs.

My writing was affected by The Waltons, without a doubt, even though my work is totally different from Earl Hamner’s.  My favorite episode of The Waltons is “The Literary Man”.  For the first time, John Boy meets a “real writer.”  John Boy is full to the gills with the idea that a writer has to search for “the big story,” the one story that he or she was meant to write.  A.J. Covington, the “real writer,” is someone who has spent his life trying to find that one big story, and not getting very much written in the meantime. He encourages John Boy to write “the little stories.”  The first time I saw this episode, I also believed I had to find that one big story, the story that was going to give me my name in the literary world.  After watching it, and watching it again and again, I no longer felt like a failure when a story didn’t end up being the big one.   Watching that episode triggered something in me…the faith to follow the creative process, to write what came to mind, even if it seemed ridiculous or meaningless.  Or little.  That has led me to teach students now to “follow the stupid,” meaning that when they hear their inner editor saying, “Oh, stop that.  That’s just stupid,” they especially have to buckle down and write it. A lot of my work comes from following the stupid, what I was tempted to edit out of my mind and ignore.  I have John Boy Walton and A. J. Covington to thank for that.  You can get the gist of this episode by watching the 30-second Waltons version on Youtube:  30-Second Waltons

But for me, the attraction was always about community. Family.  I watched as John Boy’s family crowded around him and showered him with support.  I watched as the community, the Baldwin Sisters, store-owner Ike Godsey, Reverend Fordwick, the schoolteacher Miss Hunter, the ne’er do well Yantze Tucker, the rooming house owner Flossie Brimmer, everyone, supported a boy whose dream was to write.  I craved that community, that family, and that support.

And now…I have it.  I am surrounded by people who believe in me, in my ability, and in what I strive to do through writing.  And further…I provide it.  AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop is my very own Waltons Mountain.

In the movie, The Homecoming, which launched the idea for the television show, Daddy says to John Boy, “I don’t know much about the writing trade, son.  But you’ve got to give it your best.”  Unlike Daddy, I do know a lot about the writing trade. But like him, I tell my students they have to give it their very best, their very hardest work. And I provide them with the supportive environment they need to do just that.

When I brought the Oliver cat-eared typewriter home, I set it on a shelf in the AllWriters’ classroom.  And I looked from it to another recent purchase – a ten-foot long glorious wooden table, the centerpiece of the room, and the place where AllWriters’ magic – community – happens.  And I realized what I’ve done.  I brought The Waltons kitchen table home.  In the show, the family sits often around a long wooden table.  I sit at the head of the table in my classroom; that’s where John Walton Sr., aka Daddy, sat in The Waltons kitchen.  He was the head of the family. And I am the head of AllWriters’ – my family.

All from listening to John Boy listen to his family as we both wrote in our journals. And the shock and pleasure of community that rolled through me that day.

By the way…a lot of fun is often poked at The Waltons for the goodnights they called out to each other, supposedly at the end of every show.  But actually, the goodnights bouncing from family member to family member only happened twice.  The first time, it wasn’t even in the series, but at the end of the movie, The Homecoming.  The second time, it was during the first season of The Waltons, and only in one episode.  The most chilling goodbye occurred when Mama and Daddy received a telegram stating that John Boy, now an Army reporter for Stars & Stripes during WWII, was covering a story that required him to be in a plane that was going into battle. His plane was shot down and he was MIA. The end of that episode: stark silence as the house sat in darkness, the only light coming from John Boy’s bedroom window. And then…the light went out.  Oh, chills.

And yes, there is the absolute worst episode:  “The Changeling,” aired in 1978. Youngest child Elizabeth crosses over into teenagerhood and is infected with…a poltergeist.  Really. Oh my god horrible.

Take that, Waltons Museum Tour Guide.

Goodnight, John Boy. Goodnight, everybody.

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