Monday, April 5, 2010

The Waltons

By J. Bryan Wasson

There were a number of old Television series that I really loved, but one stands out above all the others. That program was, “The Waltons.” I liked the show because it was based upon the way day to day life was in that day. Most of all I liked it because of the parallels to my own life. I had lived it.

I was born in January of 1933. We were not yet out of a period known as “The Great Depression.” This bleak period in our history started with the failure of the stock market in 1929. Throughout most of my childhood, we were still feeling the effects of the depression. Most folks were unemployed and very few had any money. I could identify will all the aspects of the old Walton TV series. The story was set at a place known as Walton’s Mountain Virginia. Whether the setting was a fictitious place or a real location is not known to me. If “Walton’s Mountain“ was a fictitious place, the circumstances, life styles and conditions were real and not unlike my life in west central Texas.

My maternal grandparents lived in the rural Truby community of Jones County, Texas. Truby was very much like Walton’s Mountain in many ways. My grandparents lived in this community throughout most of my childhood and into the years I was in the U.S. Air Force. For most of this time they lived on the Spurgeon Reeves place. The house was within 200 yards of Bitter Creek. The Clear fork of the Brazos River was located about 3 miles north on a gravel road. Steel overhead framed wooden bridges spanned both Bitter Creek and the Clear fork.

Unlike Walton’s Mountain,” there were no mountains and no pine trees. The property on which the house was located joined a mesquite pasture. I spent a lot of time roaming and exploring in that pasture and other area mesquite pastures along with my Uncle, Mack Sterling. Mack was a couple of years younger than me. He was and is more like a brother than an uncle. This was farm and ranch country. Everything was cultivated fields or mesquite pasture.

Not far from the Clear fork of the Brazos River was the Truby General Store. It was much like Ike Godsey’s store in the Walton’s shows. As best as I can remember there were two gasoline pumps in front of the store. One was for regular gasoline and the other was for Ethyl gasoline. The Godsey store only had one gasoline pump. These were hand pump, gravity feed devices. There was a glass cylinder at the top. Inside the cylinder were markers to indicate the number of gallons. The desired number of gallons was pumped up into the cylinder by hand. Gasoline was then gravity fed through a hose and nozzle into the gas tank of the motor vehicle. In those days, no one filled the car’s gas tank because no one could afford to do so. For the most part, people pumped from one to five gallons. Often it was “one dollar’s worth.” I no longer remember the price of gasoline in those days, but by the time I had joined the U.S. Air Force in 1951, gasoline was 19 cents per gallon. Oh for a return to those gasoline prices.

I sure enjoyed the trips to that store, just as the Walton children did on the TV series. I no longer remember the name of the owner of the store at Truby. Groceries could be purchased. The stock was mostly canned goods, but occasionally there was some fresh produce from one of the local farms. Sometimes there were bolts of cloth and always there was candy. Most candy bars came in two sizes. There was the penny size and the nickel size. Most often the penny size was all my uncle and I could afford. The nickel sizes were as big as or maybe bigger than a candy bar that cost 75 cents or up to more than a dollar today. My grandparents maintained a running tab at the store. The owner had a little book for each family. Things that were purchased were recorded along with the price.

When my Grandfather could find temporary work, the bill was paid. He was a carpenter. Sometimes he got work from one of two Government agencies repairing the numerous wooden bridges that dotted the dirt and gravel county roads. There were three Government Agencies designed to provide jobs to unemployed people in those hard times. One was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Another other was the Public Works Administration (PWA). I always got these two agencies mixed up. A third agency was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCP). This agency did construction jobs in National and State Parks and military camps. I do not remember if the CCC came into play in the Walton’s T.V. series.

Truby had a rural schoolhouse not unlike that on the Walton’s T.V. series. Classes in the Truby School went from the First Grade through High School.

I remember the show when John Boy Walton was given a gray mule named Blue. He acquired the mule from a Black woman who lived high on Walton’s Mountain. The mule remained a part of the show for many years. I noticed that the same mule was not always used throughout the series. The original Blue was a little mule weighing about 700 pounds. In later shows a larger mule played the part of Blue. In one episode, John Boy won an annual horse race to the top of the mountain and back riding Blue. He won the race by cutting across through steep terrain that the horses could not climb. John Boy used a McClellan saddle for the horse race. Today there is no better saddle for use on mules and donkeys than the McClellan.

On one episode, the Walton family sold Blue for $15.00. When the Waltons started to grind Sugar Cain, they regretted selling the mule. They first attempted to use the family milk cow, Chance, to power the mill. This was not very successful and they were later able to buy Blue back for the same price of $15.00 and successfully were able to grind the Sugar Cain with the aid of mule power.

The Walton family had one thing that my grandparents did not have, that was electricity. Our light was from kerosene ( we called it coal oil) lamps. The Walton Family would gather around the radio at night to listen Fibber Magee and Molly, Amos and Andy and other radio shows that I was very familiar with. There was often a lot of static and poor reception, but that did not deter the family.

The radio at my grandparent’s home was battery powered. There was a wind charger mounted on top of the house to charge the radio battery. If there was no wind, the radio battery did not charge. There were three 15 minute afternoon country music shows that I liked to listen to. They were Sheb Wooly, Dale Dunbar and Big Bill Lister. We also liked to listen to the afternoon Lum and Abner Show from Pine Ridge, Arkansas. The Jottem down Store and Library that was the home of the Lum and Abner radio show is still open at Pine Ridge Arkansas. It serves as the Post Office, general store, as well as a museum of this famous old radio show.

These shows were about all we could listed to in the afternoon as my grandfather rationed the amount of day time radio that we could listen to in order to ensure sufficient battery power for the evening and night shows that the entire family listened to. My granddad loved to listen to boxing matches. No radio program could interfere with these prize fights.

My Daddy purchased a farm in the Potosi community of Taylor County, Texas in late 1947 or early 1948 or 49. The parallels to the Walton show continued. There was a Country store at Potosi. This store was much like the country store at Truby and Ike Godsey’s Store on the Waltons show. About a mile further south on a gravel road was an old country school house, also not unlike the one at Truby and the school on the Walton’s show. The School building at Potosi was no longer used as a School, but was used as a Community Center. It was the focal point of all community activities.

When we moved to Potosi, the telephones in the area were still the old crank phones hanging on the wall. Our nearest neighbor had one of these phones, but we did not have one. When there was an emergency, we would go there to use the phone. If some of our relatives believed there was an emergency, they would call these neighbors. One of the kids from the neighbor family would deliver the message to us in person. There was no privacy. It was a party line. If anyone’s phone rang, everyone on the line would pick up their phone to catch up on the latest gossip.

Every time I see a rerun of one of the old Walton TV shows, I relive those early days of my youth at Truby and at Potosi. I think it would be nice if we could slow the hectic pace of our daily lives down a little. I do enjoy things like having electricity, central heat and air conditioning, television, a cell phone, and other modern conveniences. Looking back, however, it often seems that those days from the past were in fact, “the good old days.”

O2-03, JBW

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