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It's a wrap

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JONAL ENTRY 1221 | February 1 2012

As you probably know, "it's a wrap" is what movie directors yell to indicate that the filming of a scene is finally finished. I chose it for this bit of blather to indicate this is a wrapup of some topics left hanging and perhaps some miscellany that may occur to me while writing, bits that aren't worth a whole Jonal entry.

Grandma Walton (Ellen
Corby) and John-Boy
(Richard Thomas)

The Waltons (to end a thread that has run through these blogs from some time early last year): I have finally apparently watched all of the episodes in the INSP network's archive, but have no way of knowing how many if any episodes that originally aired on CBS may be missing from INSP's vault. The show continues to run on the network and I continue recording the episodes, but it has been weeks now since there has been one I did not remember seeing earlier (often it takes half a show before that dawns on me, however; don't you hate when that happens?).

As for the questions I raised earlier, I finally learned how John-Boy became the editor and publisher of the Blue Ridge weekly newspaper (its original owner, whom John-Boy is working for as a reporter, decides to leave the area quickly and sells the paper and the press to John-Boy). But I never did have confirmed whether John-Boy actually graduated from Boatwight University or dropped out to move to New York and write novels. Perhaps Richard Thomas's departure from the cast (as John-Boy, the narrator of the stories) was so sudden that the show's writers were unable to create an episode about his college graduation.

I've learned from other websites about the show that there were a number of inconsistencies in things said from one show and one season to another, and I think an inconsistency I've discovered relates to a fact I mentioned earlier. In comparing Waltons Mountain with my home village of Belsano, I said both had two Protestant churches, and Waltons Mountain's churches were a Methodist one and a Baptist one. But later episodes seem to indicate that the Baptist Church is the only one in town.

I also noticed that the Baldwin Sisters called themselves Episcopalians (or Anglicans, my memory is not sharp enough to be sure on that detail; at any rate they're two names for the same thing in Virginia) but later they are regular attenders of the Baptist Church, despite the fact that they are the local moonshiners and the Baptist Church is often described both in real life and the show as anti-alcohol. Of course the show makes out like the sisters are unaware that "the recipe" they produce and dispense is moonshine; they think it's strictly "medicinal," though everyone else in town knows the truth. And though they seem to use quite a bit of their own medicine, I don't recall seeing them becoming tipsy, though some of the men characters do from time to time.

Richard Thomas was the first major cast member to leave the show, followed by Michael Learned (the mother, Olivia Walton), and eventually Ralph Waite (the father, John Walton). The doctor-husband of Mary Ellen Walton, Curtis Williard, was actually played by two different actors in separate seasons (as was John-Boy's character), and the actress who played "Aunt Rose," the major character introduced in later seasons to replace Olivia, originally appeared in the series as another, relatively minor character, one not related to the Waltons.

DVDs of each season of The Waltons are available through a variety of online sources and stores. Click here for more information.

The Wind At My Back: I said earlier I would do a Jonal entry on this show, but this will have to suffice instead. In many episodes this strikes me as one of the most nearly perfect shows I've ever followed, though as a social phenomenon it had much less impact than The Waltons and therefore did not get my vote as "best show ever." But part of my prejudice toward this show is that it is set in a small mining town (in upper Ontario) and the resemblances between the mining towns I know best—Vintondale where I was born and Nanty Glo where I came of age through my Journal column—are many. Even some of the characters—especially May Bailey, the owner of the mine and the founder with her late husband of the town of New Bedford—strongly remind me of people I knew in Nanty Glo. It originally aired on Canadian television and has been shown in this country only over a succession of cable channels, which accounts for its limited social impact.

Like The Waltons, The Wind At My Back is set during the Great Depression, and coping through hardship is a constant theme, but unlike The Waltons it takes several seasons worth of shows before "religion" becomes a major topic. But once it does, it has more conflict than that in The Waltons and its treatment, with the central family being Catholic but the inlaws—May Bailey in particular—being Presbyterian. In one episode May's eldest grandson admits to being interested in becoming a priest, to which May responds by disinheriting him. But despite this harsh side to May's character, she is more generally both wise and good-hearted and the show's main theme may be her redemption through many ups and downs.

The Bailey brothers, Henry ("Fat") and Hub in season two.

The grandson, Hub ("Hubert"), at age 16 or 17 at that point in the series's development, along with his younger brother, "Fat" (Henry), then 14, are the show's greatest delight, as the episodes trace their relationship, their lives in the town and the school, and their growing pains. My favorite episode is one in which the town boys gather at the railroad trestle just outside town to dare each other to jump down into the river far below, the local rite of passage. Also in that episode, Hub is pressed into sitting up overnight with the body of a classmate who tragically died.

Unfortunately, the Canadian network abruptly cancelled the series, causing many of its loose ends to remain untied. A Christmas movie set after Hub is in college (and has decided not to become a priest) tried to bring it all together, but unfortunately it raised more questions than it answered (May Bailey's absense from that final episode being the major one). But this is the best small-town series I think I've ever watched, and (appropriately, since it's set in Ontario) it has the best winter scenes in any television series, both of which (the small town and the snow and slush) make it worth your catching when you can.

Like The Waltons it is, still at this writing, rerunning on INSP, the Inspiration network. DVDs of the series are available through Netflix, Amazon, and other outlets. Check the production company website linked here for information on when the series is being offered and how to order DVDs direct from the producers.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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