Writing–and Writers–That Last

I’ve been watching Walton’s re-runs since the recent death of Ralph Waite. (He was the father of the Waltons.) So for you Waltons fans, here is a re-run of a post done after visiting Walton’s Mountain, VA…and what I learned about writers there.

I’m going to reveal my age here–I was born the same year as John-Boy Walton. I loved the Walton family, I own all ten seasons of their show, all the specials, and a few books about them.

So when our plane was overbooked and we didn’t get on our overseas flight, we drove from Baltimore to Norfolk, VA, to catch a plane flying out of the Naval Base there. We had four days to relax and read. I was looking at a map of Virginia when suddenly the words “Walton’s Mountain Museum” leaped out at me.

Forty Years Ago!

There it was! Right in the Blue Ridge Mountains, very near Rockfish. The Museum was in Schuyler, the small town where Earl Hamner, Jr. (creator of the Waltons) grew up. The drive took longer than expected, and we very nearly didn’t get there on time to see the 30-minute video before going through the museum. I was entranced, enthralled…

This was my favorite family during their ten-year run on TV. They were considered a goody-goody kind of show. When they were put on the air in September (’73, I think), they were in the same time slot as Flip Wilson’s comedy show and “The Mod Squad.” Earl Hamner said they didn’t think the series had a prayer against those two popular shows–but by Christmas just three months later, “The Waltons” was #1. They remained popular for ten years.

Write What You Know

I always love to see the homes of writers. The Hamner home on a steep hillside (above) was modest for a family that included eight children. The country store sits on the spot where Earl Hamner, Jr. had a writing shed. The church they attended was just around the corner on the country road. We passed several logging trucks and loggers at work as we neared Schuyler–everything very “Walton.”

Whether you loved the Waltons or not, as writers it’s worth thinking about its popularity at a time that everything was “mod” and becoming irreverent. Earl Hamner, Jr. tapped into something that spoke to people. First his books, and then the shows made from his books. How did he do it? He followed the advice of “write what you know.”

Writing That Connects

He studied people–and what made them tick. He knew specific details: the birds, the trees, the wildflowers on the mountain.

He observed dynamics between people and got to the heart of what made a common man heroic. He wrote and rewrote and rewrote some more.

[NOTE: Hamner is 90 now and lives in California, but you can still buy his autographed books at his boyhood home.]

I left the mountain inspired.

[Leave a comment if you were/are a Walton's fan!]

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10 Responses to Writing–and Writers–That Last

  1. Vijaya says:

    Love the Waltons. So wonderful you got to visit. I hope to make a trip down to GA to see Flannery O’Connor’s farm and peacocks.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Oh, take pictures to share! I love visiting the homes of writers. My favorite is still seeing the little desk/table where Jane Austen worked on Pride & Prejudice.

  2. Maria says:

    Love the Waltons! Inspiring.

  3. SuZan says:

    Very much a Walton’s fan! It struck a healthy chord during a troubled time. Too bad some of the actor’s didn’t understand that. I remember some of them didn’t like the “goody goody” label and ruined their reputations/careers to escape the label.
    So sad they didn’t understand not to follow Hollywood’s ideals.

    • kwpadmin says:

      I didn’t know anything about that, to be honest. I did get to see “John Boy” on stage in a play here in San Antonio a few years ago. He was foreman on a murder trial…”Twelve Angry Men,” I think it was called. Very good. And just before the curtain closed, he was getting ready to leave the stage. He shut off the light of the “jury room,” and someone called out from the balcony, “Good night, John Boy.” He stopped and smiled and said, “Good night, everybody.” Believe it or not, he hardly looked any different at all.

      • SuZan says:

        Very good to hear that story. So glad he came to terms with where his start came from. I remember he was on one of the late night talk shows expressing his frustration and desire to move on.
        However, it was the actress who played Mary Ellen that I most had in mind.

  4. Kathleen Stamer says:

    I am a huge Walton’s fan! I met “John Boy” when I was working the night shift at a grocery store in Saratoga Springs, NY. When he went through my line, I just said hi and asked what brought him to Saratoga. He told me that he had just performed in a play at The Little Theater. Anyway, I acted cool and not like an awestruck fan, and I sensed that he appreciated it. I didn’t even ask for his autograph!

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