Note: This isn’t the sort of thing I usually write on this site. But, here it is.
A day on Walton’s Mountain
Thousands traveled to remote Schuyler, Virginia this weekend for the Waltons 45th Anniversary Reunion.
From more than a dozen states fans made the pilgrimage to the hometown of Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Jr. to remember the hear-warming drama set during the Great Depression and WW II. The family program about life in a small Virginia town aired from 1972 to 1981.
After the beloved program ended, an additional six special TV movies aired on NBC and CBS. Actor Eric Scott, who played Ben Walton, told me that thanks to the Waltons on cable TV, the cast makes more today than they did when the program first aired.
In addition to several co-stars and minor cast members, all of the surviving original cast members attended, save Richard Thomas who was in a Broadway play.
I lived in Virginia for most of my life and was in Richmond my senior year of college where I could watch the program from 9 to 10 a.m. and walk to school for my 10 a.m. class. After graduation I moved to Iowa and watching the Waltons helped assuage my homesickness.
I enjoyed mentions of Monument Avenue, Richmond, Charlottesville, Norfolk and other places I’ve known for much of my life.
Many still love the show, as is demonstrated by the thousands who attended the reunion, far exceeding the organizer’s expectations.
As I waited in lines for hours, I was struck by the lack of diversity of the attendees.
I counted 11 African Americans; one man in his mid-60s was by himself, all others appeared coupled with a white person. The program had more black people on it in the late 1970s, than attended the event.
The 98 percent white crowd had more smokers than a bingo hall.
Many people looked like carnival employees visiting unemployed relatives. These were people with wrinkled skin cured by sun and smoke, decorated with faded, cheap tattoos. They eschewed warnings about smoking, skin cancer and good dental hygiene.
They didn’t appear to be concerned with obesity, diabetes or the whims of fashion.
I saw a lot of mullets, teased hair, and I kid you not, a woman storing her cigarettes in her bra.
“He’s making knives out of railroad spikes,” said one person as we waited in line. “This’ll be the first time you can ride the rides at the carnival,” said another, “’cause you’re not pregnant this year.”
After I’d been standing in line in a gravel parking lot for three hours, the two youngest of the Walton clan came out to cheerfully thank people for coming and waiting.
Once inside, I waited another hour and half, but enjoyed several actors answering questions, including Mary McDonough saying that in the first episodes the children weren’t used to being barefoot outside, so we can notice them gingerly walking through scenes.
After five hours, I recognized the exact moment my deodorant gave out, and realized that some others had never had any at all.
I finally entered the room after six hours.I told Ms. Michael Learned that I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but she was the one who had me most starstruck. She said she was flattered and honored and I thought, “Mamma Walton’s talking to me.” In the novels, the patriarch of the family references his “red headed babies.” Kami Colter’s long red hair reminded me of the daddy’s line.
As I waited to meet Judy Norton, for the first time I realized I had a crush on her when I was younger.Earl Hamner Jr. first autographed it around a dozen years ago. When Earl signed it, one of his sisters told me that everyone in their family got a game when it was first released. Mary McDonough said that Earl probably bought one for each of his brothers and sisters, because that’s how generous he was. Mary McDonough mentioned me selling the game on e-Bay. I said that my three year-old daughter would sell it for the 100th anniversary of the show. This was my investment account for her. She said that her father collected every memento of her on the show, until he died when she was 16. She took the time to share with me she’d been selling off those mementos, giving others the opportunity to enjoy them. She said the mementos paid for her daughter’s college education. Eric Scott had boundless energy, seemingly happy to meet everyone. Jon Walmsley told the waiting crowd he has an album coming out soon. I was astonished when he mentioned his website wasn’t yet complete. He plays every instrument on his album. I asked him if his musical ability was a natural born gift. He said he also has worked very hard to develop his talent. I said it was funny how all the hard working people seem to be the most talented. And so ended my nearly seven hours on Walton’s Mountain.
I asked Judy Norton how it felt to be part of something that was so beloved by so many people. She mentioned that in the trying times of the current political climate, the message of the Waltons still resonated with people.
“To see this interest and outpouring of emotion for the show, for Earl, for all he created, was heartwarming,” she said. “The Waltons represented love, compassion and understanding. Sometimes they got taken advantage of because of their trust and compassion. But in the end, we should try to treat other people the way the Waltons treated other people, with trust and compassion.”