Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

A Pilgrimage to Walton’s Mountain

For my 50th birthday this year, I made a list. It’s not a bucket list. It’s not a list of things I want. It’s a list of things to do, adventures to experience, and places to explore this year. It’s a list of short day trips to get me out of the house and exploring my environment.

This month, our trip took us on a pilgrimage to Walton’s Mountain, otherwise known as Schuyler, Virginia.

The Walton Museum is located in a repurposed school building off of Route 6 in Schuyler. The building itself is interesting; Earl Hamner, Jr., the author of the original Waltons stories, lived down the block just a bit and attended the elementary school.

Earl Hamner’s house, author of the Walton’s and inspiration for the house set in the show.

The school had two doors flanking a central open auditorium. I wondered if boys entered on one side and girls on the other. Or perhaps one size was for the younger children and the other, older students?

Inside, the old school had been turned into a celebration of all things Walton. The old classrooms had been made into facsimiles of John-Boy’s bedroom, the Waltons’ kitchen and living room, Ike’s Store (actually, the gift shop), and the Baldwin sister’s home. The pony cart used in episodes with Waltons cousin Martha Corinne, a rough and tumble mountain woman who always reminded me of Baba Yaga the witch of Russian folklore, is authentic and stands in its own honored place.

There’s also a room of merchandise from the show, a movie documentary with the actors, and a room full of donated military equipment from the local community. The middle section, the auditorium, is used as a community center.

While the entrance fee was a little steep ($10) the town of Schuyler probably has little other income now. Only one soapstone quarry is left. The new Quarry Garden at Schuyler, a privately owned home recently opened for garden tours, offers a fun destination, but probably doesn’t generate any job opportunities.

One of the old soapstone quarries now doubles as a swimming hole for local teens.

During the time when Mr. Hamner lived in the white clapboard home down the road with his seven siblings and parents, the soapstone quarry about a mile down the lane from his house was a bustling center of commerce. Over 7,000 people lived in Schuyler. Now, like so many sleepy little towns across America, not much is left except lovely fading old homes, a few tourist spots, shady lanes, and history.

We didn’t go into the Hamner house (it was another $6 fee) but I did take pictures outside. It really does look like the Waltons’ house on the television show, except it is missing the two side wings. I can’t imagine eight kids squashed into that house. We were five kids in a house about the same size and it was tight!

One thing that struck me about our visit was the number of visitors to the museum. One couple was on vacation from England and mentioned they had driven four hours out of their way just to see the museum! There were at least several dozen other couples, mostly older folks, visiting the museum.

The conversations, murmured in old school hallways and classrooms, fascinated me. People love the Waltons television show for so many reasons. The most important reason, I think, is what someone said in the documentary film shown in the museum.

I’m paraphrasing, but the gist is this: the Waltons celebrates the nobility of the common man. It celebrates the average person, the ups and downs of the typical American family for whom love, faith, family, and fortitude go hand in hand.

In an age when we are bombarded with violent television shows and every kind of depravity trotted out for entertainment, the Waltons and similar shows remind us that there are good, kind, gentle and hard working people just like us out there. They are content with their lives; sometimes they chafe a bit, as in the episode when Olivia takes painting lessons or buys a bicycle so she feels young again. But for the most part, the daily joys of life, the care of family and home, satisfied.

We’ve really forgotten this, and sometimes as a society, we manage to remember it. We suddenly like shows on Netflix about baking or organizing; we celebrate canning or homesteading, or sewing. Knitting comes back into vogue. But always, chafing behind the slow, quiet comforts of life is the glittery show of other things that lure us away from what is important.

One of the things I love at our church’s Easter Vigil is the renewal of baptismal promises. Every year, this line strikes me: “Do you reject Satan and all his works? Do you reject the glamor of evil?”

The glamor of evil. That’s what most entertainment today makes me think of: the glamor of evil. Evil always looks glamorous, doesn’t it? The excitement of car chases, of police shows, of murder, rape and other horrendous crimes trotted out for us on television looks glamorous. Models, actresses, actors, their lives also seem glamorous. Don’t get me started on those silly ‘reality shows’ that are anything but real life.

Real life is Grandma peeling potatoes in the kitchen, Olivia thumping an iron on a pinafore dress so Erin can look presentable to go to a dance, Elizabeth crying because her kitten died. Real life is John Walton patching the truck tires to make them last and John-Boy reading late at night so he can get into college but still rising at dawn on a weekend to go with his family fruit picking to make some money (and bite into his mother’s yummy pies later). Real life is the church on Sunday, picnics by Drusilla’s pond, hitching Blue the mule to the pony cart and snow storms that threaten to engulf the mountain.

A recreation of the Walton family kitchen. I wanted to pull up a chair and dig into some home cooking!

Real life is love, lived in action, in an everyman family that rejects the glamour of evil for the sanctity of family life.

The Waltons debuted in 1972, poised against The Mod Squad, an action show with hip detectives and racing stuff, and The Flip Wilson Show, a funny comedian. Somehow, someway, they rose to the top. Why? Because something in the family dynamic, the true ‘reality show’ of life, captured the public like nothing before.

Soon we had Little House on the Prairie and a mini golden age of television in the 1970s with funny, clean comedies (Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days), and funny but thought-provoking shows like M*A*S*H and All in the Family.

But nothing in my mind surpasses the homespun charm, the reality of the Waltons.

 

P.S. There is no Waltons Mountain in Virginia! Earl Hamner loosely based that on a mountain his uncle owned. Schuyler is hilly, but not mountainous.

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