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Waltons' Mountain vs. Belsano

Jon Kennedy
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Three friends from the local congregation were asked, "When you're in your casket, and friends and congregation members are mourning over you, what would you like them to say?" Artie said, "I would like them to say I was a wonderful husband, a fine spiritual leader, and a great family man." Merle commented, "I would like them to say I was a wonderful teacher and servant of God who made a huge difference in people's lives." Don said, "I'd like them to say, 'Look! He's moving!'".

— Sent by Trudy Rummel

Thought for today

It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor.

— John Stott

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Jon Kennedy's recent book, The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, from Adams Media, F&W Publications, is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and can be ordered here. It is also available on Amazon.



JONAL ENTRY 1198 | AUGUST 23 2011

A response to the previous Jonal from a friend who asked that I withhold her name is the first to suggest an alternate favorite show from the history of television, and her reasons for liking it are similar to mine in choosing The Waltons, She writes,

I just read your most recent observations on the show The Waltons. I was especially interested to learn a little more of your childhood, wherein you stated that you had no telephone and only radio. I, too, being raised in the Kooteney Mountains in B.C. Canada, in a small (what would now be termed a suburb community, Warfield, better known as Minnie Mouse Town.....really!). We did have a phone by the time I was eight, but it was a three- or four-party line. The first time I ever saw television was peering through a window at a neighbour's new set and being mesmerized by Peter Pan even though we could see very little from that obstructed distance. Throughout the rest of my years at home we were constricted to one station....and that transmission came from Spokane, WA. I remember Mom ironing clothes and watching "Queen for a Day." I also remember the "The Mickey Mouse Club," "The Little Rascals" and ..."Father Knows Best"....Oh, and what seemed like an unreasonable amount of airtime dedicated to hockey. Funny.

I mentioned to you my nostalgia for a few of the old Mayberry RFD shows. The ones I reference are all within the first two or three years of the series (early 1960's...I never watched the originals, possibly because we did not have the option) in black and white and with a limited cast. Although I was always irritated by Aunt Bee and snickered at Barney, some of the most sensitive and beautiful father-son relationship scenarios I have seen were incorporated into this 30-minute show. There is one especially that I recall and still get a little teary-eyed thinking of it. I expect there has always been a yearning for a daddy like Sheriff Andy Taylor. In this episode, Opie (Ronnie Howard) killed a mother bird with his slingshot. His dad, Andy, sternly disappointed, made Opie listen to the heart rending cries of the baby chicks. Chastened and convicted...Opie raised the chicks himself. When it was time to release the full-grown birds, Opie had a reflective and difficult time and finally took one chick out and set it free. And then the others. The last words spoken by Opie (a literal "empty-nest" syndrome!) were, "The cage sure looks awful empty, Pa." Wherein Andy replied "Sure does, Son"...and then looking up he said, "But don't those trees seem nice and full!" Nobility, simplicity and sentiment..definitely...morally "iconographic" as well. And just really very sweet.

Thanks for your references to The Waltons. I will look up the time slot on Hallmark [Channel]. It is so hard to turn the TV on and maintain a godly attitude these days!

One of my own first memories of watching television is also of watching through a neighbor family's window. I have seen only a few episodes of the Mayberry RFD show, but had very similar feelings toward Robert Young as the father of Father Knows Best, wishing I had such a loving dad. That is one I saw almost without fail in its original airings and still consider it one of the best shows.

As I elaborated a number of things I have in common with The Waltons' narrator character John-Boy, I should also mention some differences between him and me. The main contrast is the difference between our fathers and the father-son bonding. There was none of that in my childhood or youth, as my dad always distanced himself from children and though he did start taking me fishing with him and some of his work buddies when I was in seventh grade, he still spoke to me only minimally and never offered constructive counsel like John Walton always had for his seven children. My dad's closest approximation of counsel was criticism, usually couched in harsh sarcasm. He really seemed to believe that any words of approval would ruin ("spoil") a child. Though I've always regretted that gulf, it didn't seem very strange at the time, as it seemed to me that most male members of Dad's generation were unexpressive and not very communicative with anyone younger, including their own sons.

And though John-Boy and I both followed our boyhood wish to be writers as our adult vocations, I combined mine with a church-related mission and ministry, while he took the more typical writing career path through New York and eventually Hollywood book and script publishing. Though he and I both spent years in newspaper work and both did some freelance magazine writing (and I published my own magazines for decades), my books have been nonfiction while his were fictionalized memoirs. And of course I am describing "John-Boy" as though he is a real person, because he is the fictionalized alter-ego of his creator, Earl Hamner.

I've also been impressed by some comparisons between the Waltons' village of Waltons' Mountain and my home village of Belsano. Both are villages with two Protestant churches, but whereas Waltons' Mountain was on unpaved roads, Belsano was on a main east-west federal highway (422) and a lesser north-south state highway, now route 271 (it has been a state highway as long as I remember, but the number has changed at least a few times), both of which were paved for as long as I remember. But though Belsano's highways were more modern by the late '40s (when I arrived there) Waltons' Mountain had some telephones in the '30s, whereas Belsano didn't get telephone service until the 1950s (please correct me if I am misremembering, but I don't recall a phone at the school or anywhere else in town by the time I left the school there in 1952). Ike Godseys' General Merchandise appears to be Waltons' Mountain's only store, whereas Belsano had two general stores, one of which had the town post office and Mobil gas pumps, two gas station/convenience stores (Sunoco and Cities Service), and a restaurant/truck stop when I first got there.

And Belsano School was two stories with two classrooms which each served two grades, whereas the Waltons' Mountain school is shown as serving grades one through 12 in one room. This contrast is indicative of an apparently much larger population in the area around Belsano than around Waltons' Mountain. The Waltons' town was 28 miles from Charlottesville, a major city that goes back to the early years of Virginia, and the home of the University of Virginia (founded by Thomas Jefferson). Belsano is 18 miles from Johnstown, which was probably bigger than Charlottesville was in our youth (but no longer, as Johnstown is less than half its 1950 size). The apparently fictional Fishcreek and Weston are about eight and 18 miles, respectively, from Waltons' Mountain. Fishcreek is the home of the nearest movie theater (Twin Rocks and Vintondale had one and Nanty Glo had three theaters in the time period, within a five-mile radius of Belsano). Weston is the home of Boatwright University, which John-Boy is attending, about the same distance as the nearest college to Belsano (Indiana State) in the '50s. I'm curious that it is called a university, as even Penn State didn't get renamed "university" until 1953. I can believe that because of the history with Jefferson and two other U.S. Presidents, Virginia may have been called a university earlier' but it seems reaching to call the fictional Boatwright (actually named after one of Hamner's favorite professors at the University of Virginia) was more than a college. (The main distinction between the two is that colleges are bachelor's level whereas universities include a range of post-graduate programs.)

Finally for this outing, a word about my viewing options. I mentioned last time that INSP (Inspiration Channel) had disappeared from my Dish Network. The channel and the network subsequently accused each other of willing the rupture. Initially, Dish started running Hallmark Channel, free, on INSP's former slot, and it had The Waltons like INSP and Little House on the Prairie as a substitute for INSP's Highway to Heaven. Hallmark was also offered on Dish in another slot for a premium charge. After a week or so, Hallmark was replaced in the former INSP slot by GMC, formerly known as Gospel Music Channel. GMC has The Waltons five hours a day, but nothing as good as either Little House on the Prairie or Highway to Heaven. But in general, its programming is better than INSP's, which is mostly Pentecostal church services (I haven't seen any church services on GMC), and its motto is "Uplifting Entertainment," so it may be a better replacement to the old Family Channel than INSP is. GMC was founded and is run by Charles Humbard, son of the late Akron, Ohio-based evangelist Rex Humbard.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy