Nostalgia for the Waltons

Those were the days!Recently almost all of the original Walton family appeared on the Today Show to celebrate 40 years since the show began. Cast members observed that the show is no more dated now than when it first ran. The story covered the years of the Great Depression through World War II and originated from a semi-autobiographical book by Earl Hamer, Jr. called Spencer’s Mountain.

The cast members were remarkably ageless and seemed quite proud that among the group there had been no arrests, no convictions. Because they spent so much of their lives with each other for those years, they developed their own family-like structure, complete with practical jokes. Richard Thomas, who has gone on to other roles, said the standard farewell after a fan has met him, no matter the circumstances is, “Good night, John Boy.” He ended this anecdote by saying, “It’s just wonderful.”

Other cast members said they included their fans in an extended Walton family and embraced those who wanted to talk when they met them out in public – most of whom asked to hear them say, “Good night, John Boy.” I found it refreshing that all of them seemed to enjoy the remembrance rather than resenting fans who took up their time. I also found it satisfying that their values in real life were not all that different from the people they portrayed.

Seeing them all together sharing the spotlight in the back and forth interview brought back good memories of our family gathered around to watch TV and wind down from our busy day as we relaxed before bedtime. The Waltons joined The Rockford Files, The Bill Cosby Show, and Gomer Pyle as some of our favorites.

The show has returned to cable TV. I’ve just watched the episode “The Best Christmas Ever” with the whole family stranded in various places on Christmas Eve because of an unexpected snowstorm. Predictably, it’s the fact that everyone gets home on Christmas Day that makes it the best, ending with the foreshadowing that this is the Christmas to be remembered when they are separated during WWII. With our entire Butler clan gathered this Christmas, nostalgia sets in as I see a similar foreshadowing in the beginnings of adulthood of the first few of our grandchildren. But I've also had fun getting reacquainted with Olivia, Mary Ellen, Jim Bob, and of course John Boy with his aspirations of becoming a writer.

I taught in a Department of Defense school in Germany during some of the years when the show was on its first run. Our faculty, encouraged by a wonderful principal, formed a similar extended family bond where we shared family stories over lunch in the faculty lounge. One day as I finished an anecdote about my kids, a colleague said, “Your family sounds just like the Waltons.” I took it as a compliment. And there may be just an element of truth, because I - like Olivia - find the best Christmases ever to be the ones like this when the whole family is together.


The Flawed Manger Scene

         Joseph has lost his staff.  The moss on the manger roof is splotchy.  The donkey has no ears and the cow only one of her horns.  Since the nativity scene came from Sears and was inexpensive in the first place, why don’t we just replace it?
         The answer is, “Too many memories.”  Our children were small when we got it.  They stood and gazed at the Baby Jesus, often rearranging the animals or the Magi.  As they grew older, they found a prominent place to display it each Christmas.  They loved setting it up and remembering in Texas, Germany, Louisiana – wherever the Army designated as home.
         One memorable Christmas we lived in Germany atop a hill overlooking a snow-covered village centered by the church steeple.  Right after Thanksgiving, we decorated our Christmas tree. The children chose the wide ledge in front of the picture window for the nativity. Since our German neighbors waited to trim their trees until Christmas Eve, we invited the community kindergarten children to come up to see our tree and have cookies and punch.  
         Their faces lit as they “Oohed,” in wonder at the Christmas tree.  They examined each ornament, but soon they moved to the window and our Sears manger scene – a poor match in my mind for the beautifully hand-carved nativity scenes found in their Chriskindle markets. They drew us into their awe as they sat quietly on the floor around the crèche watching as though they waited for the baby to cry.  
         We have new crèches, nicer and in better shape including one from Bethlehem.  Still, this defective one always takes the place of honor.  Maybe it is appropriate after all. For didn’t the Christ Child come into humble surroundings for that which was imperfect - to heal the brokenhearted, to bind the wounds of the injured, to bring sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are captive?



Gloria or Three Blind Mice?

    I do love a good quote. But a quote sometimes begins by sounding really good before it gives me pause. This is the second quote I’ve used from Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – sign of an excellent book!

“Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria’?...not Bach’s ‘Gloria’…, Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”  [page 6]

My first reaction was in favor of the quote, thinking it was a glorified version of the Army’s slogan, “Be all you can be.” Then I turned it around and looked at it from another angle. What if “Three Blind Mice” is the best you have? Does that mean you’re insignificant?

I have three children who could play Bach’s “Gloria” from the “Gloria” that resided within them – either on the piano or cello. They tried to hide their smirks when I took a turn on the home piano.

With nine months of piano lessons from a very good high school piano student and not a lot of natural talent, my claim to musicianship is that I can play anything a second grader needs to sing. My “talent” actually came in handy for a while. In this day when the arts are the first thing to go in educational budget cuts, the music program in our school with twelve second grade classes disappeared.

I’m sorry to say we had taken for granted the talented young musician who loved teaching children. He knew how to get them to count time, stay on pitch, and have fun all at the same time. He could both do the “Gloria” himself and teach it to children.

We were left with a makeshift program composed of my “Three Blind Mice” and other childhood standards. But the children responded to my demands that they keep time and sing on key. They learned that “loud” and “good” are not synonyms. And they reported at home that Mrs. Butler was a wonderful pianist. [My smirking children at home couldn’t resist laughing out loud at that report.]

So, I think I’m back to loving the quote. With an appreciative audience, I enjoyed doing a mean version of “Mr. Frog Went A-Courtin’.”


I Plead "Not Guilty"

I am not guilty, and I have the photograph to prove it. The author of the “Afterword” in one collection of Dickens Christmas stories says that A Christmas Carol should be read annually before Christmas with girls and boys – especially boys – around. He goes on to say that boys who grow up without this experience should bring suit against their parents. My two boys are going to have to sue for something else if they expect to collect!

The writer goes on to quote Lord Francis Jeffery’s opinion that the book has done more good than all the pulpits in Christendom. While this is probably an exaggeration, I agree that one is deprived who has not heard Dickens’s story read aloud in its original version.

To this end, and even before I knew I could be sued, my three heard A Christmas Carol annually either nightly under the tree or on a long drive to visit grandparents in North Mississippi from wherever the Army had selected as home for us. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see which one did not pay attention as well as he should.

By the time our children outgrew being my captive audience, I had another one in junior high students. [This clears their parents of guilt as well.] I read it to them every year and waited for my favorite part – the reaction on their faces when they heard the Ghost of Christmas Present throwing Scrooge’s words back in his face. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” We followed with some good discussions about the girl Want and the boy Ignorance who clung to the ghost’s robe and whether the ghost was correct in saying the boy was to be the most feared.

Video versions of A Christmas Carol crowd TV schedules this time of year, but they inevitably leave out one of my favorite parts or do a pitiful rewrite – such as having Scrooge show up at the Cratchit’s home instead of his nephew’s on Christmas Day, which also negates Dickens’ fine ending of Scrooge “catching” Bob coming in late the day after Christmas. But it’s okay, I have several copies to read – the worn Scholastic copy I read to junior high students and copies my children have given me because of their fine illustrations. I even have enough to loan one to you to keep you out of a lawsuit in case your children have been deprived.

In the hoopla of the best set of wishes during this season, I return to Tiny Tim. I’ll go out on a limb and say that his very inclusive greeting got it right long ago, and I have borrowed it as my hope for each of you and all of us for the season. Yes, it does occasionally snow in Hattiesburg during the season.


10 Good Things About Main Street Books

Let me say up front that I am in favor of all book stores and am not taking aim at chains, but I do have a preference. After a recent author lunch at my favorite, Hattiesburg’s Main Street Books, I decided it was time I spoke up about a fine independent book store. These are just a few of the good things I have experienced with the store and its owners, Diane and Jerry Shepherd.

1. When they Facebook Friend you, they really mean it.

2. Jerry takes your list of hard to find books and searches for them, but checks before ordering to see if you really want to pay $75 for a rare children’s picture book. [No, thank you.]

3. Diane hosts an intimate lunch for her patrons with a Mississippi author [Susan Haltom] of a book about the garden of another Mississippi author [Eudora Welty]. The excellent more-than-a-coffeetable book is One Writer’s Garden with Eudora’s garden story and great photographs and memorabilia pictures.

4. Diane’s mother Norma serves a delicious home-cooked meal at this lunch.

5. They actually know what is on their shelves and can find it for you. They also do “hand-selling,” meaning they make a match between their customers’ reading tastes and books they will enjoy.

6. They support local writers and supplement their stock of books with local art and products from the area.

7. When you request an order for a new book you’ve seen advertised, Diane just might remember that she had received an advanced reading copy and give it to you.

8. Diane holds a signing for you when you are a contributor to an anthology without waiting until you have a whole book to yourself. [Cup of Comfort for Sisters and Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s]

9. A local independent book store is said to contribute 3.5 times more to the local economy than a chain.

10. Now add a cozy place with character in a restored downtown building where you can go to browse, chat a few minutes, or sit and look through books until you make a decision, and you have a real community treasure.

If you’re in Hattiesburg, check it out. If not, I can only hope you can find a good independent with character in your neighborhood.