Just one of the many perks of visiting my VA kids, is that they have a huge flat-screen TV with the Hallmark Channel and re-runs of some of my favorite TV shows. When I started writing this blog and checked its history, I realized the Walton’s TV drama ran from 1972 to 1981. That was 33 years ago! Well, I almost choked on that one! As I watched many reruns I hadn’t seen before, I also realized I had choir that night. Since it was a favorite, I stayed home until the last possible minute, and then avoided the eyes of my choir director as I slid into my seat very close to being late.
Friend Sue, my son-in-law’s mother, and I, drove north from Lynchburg, then turned on the narrow country road through the hilly forest to Schuyler, VA, famous for its soapstone industry but even more famous in later years for being the home of Earl Hamner, Jr. We passed the Hamner family home, now empty of Hamners since it was sold shortly before the last Hamner occupant, Jim-Bob, died in 2004.
It was the fictional story of a family living in rural Virginia during the Depression, but based on the Hamner family. I won’t go into all the characters but the family consisted of John and Olivia Walton, their parents and seven children. The story was told through the eyes of the oldest, John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas who became a college student and writer. Earl Hamner, Jr. sets the scene at the beginning of each story and at the end of each episode as they all go to bed, and the house lights go out one by one, the family members make comments related to that day’s events, then say goodnight. That always makes me cry. Well, I don’t know why – do I have to explain everything!!
Although I have seen the various actors in other stories through the years, I have most seen John Walton, Jr., performed by Ralph Waite, who played most recently, grandfather to Booth on Bones and father to Mark Harmon’s Gibbs on NCIS. He died this year at age 85. Each character in the family was unique and took on major rolls in the various stories. Added to the drama were Ike Godsey, the postmaster and general store owner, with Corabeth, his snobbish wife. While all of them became favorites, I absolutely loved the elderly well-to-do Baldwin sisters who always offered a bit of “Papa’s Recipe” to visitors. I never did quite figure out if they knew it was distilled moonshine.
It was my great honor and delight to meet most of the cast at the opening of the Walton’s Mountain Museum in 1992. It was so interesting to talk with them and find out where life had taken them. Age hadn’t slowed the Baldwins. Feisty Miss Mamie at 85 said, “I am so happy to be here. At my age, I’m happy to be anywhere.” Of course that was 20 years ago so many of them are gone and heaven only knows where the rest of them are now. I understand Richard Thomas is the only “Walton” who never visited Schuyler.
Earl Hamner Jr. was greeted with genuine warmth. “They say I’m the creator of the Waltons but really I have to give the credit to my mother and father for creating the Hamners and thus the Waltons.” He told of the Depression years. “They were hard times but good times to grow up. We weren’t depressed, we just didn’t have any money. We had hogs and cows and a garden. We canned and preserved and made relishes. We ate catfish and bass from the Rockfish River and had a woods full of quail and pheasants.
“My mother sang her way through the depression and she said she went through high school eight times because she helped each one of us with our homework. Memories of my father were of him around the piano singing, ‘In the Garden’ with his arms around a couple of his children, but he loved profanity much to the chagrin of my mother. In Schuyler when I was young, you went to Wednesday night prayer service, Thursday night choir, Friday night General Sunday School and church twice on Sunday and you said Grace before dinner. You were ‘Heavenly sedated.’”
What great fun it was to meet them. At the Walton’s Mountain Museum this summer, Sue and I watched a video in which each of them spoke about their experiences doing the show. In the hallway, there were photos of each of the Hamner family members along with their Walton’s Mountain counterparts.
You can take a tour of the Hamner home down the road and across the street and I guess the store below that is supposed to be the Godsey’s Store but I couldn’t find any parking so we didn’t stop there. The Schuyler Baptist Church is across the way but there is little to show what the village was like “way back when.” But, it was a fun place to stop and reminisce, not only about the Hamner/Walton family but about days when I was young. God Bless until next week or as the Walton’s would say, “Goodnight Mama, Goodnight Ben, Goodnight Mary Ellen…”
Winter in the Wilderness, the first e-book novel published by Minshall, is offered at most Internet book sites. A print edition may be obtained from Amazon, or you can order an autographed copy from the author at Box 1040, Congress, AZ for $7.95 plus $3.50 for postage and handling. The fourth edition of RVing Alaska and Canada is available through Amazon.com.
At 45, Widow Minshall began 20 years of solo full-time RVing throughout Alaska, Mexico, and Canada. Sharlene canoed the Yukon, mushed sled dogs, worked a dude ranch, visited Hudson Bay polar bears, and lived six months on a Mexican beach. She lectured at Life on Wheels, published six RV-related books and wrote a novel, “Winter in the Wilderness.”