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.