My husband and I had been married nearly 18 months when CBS introduced “The Waltons.” It premiered on Thursday, Sept. 14, 1972, and I was an immediate fan. My television viewing is minimal, but I’m loyal to my selections. My husband and I watched it together, seated comfortably on the sofa, although then I’m sure we called it a davenport, in our cozy living room. We lived in an upstairs apartment that might best be described as modest in size with three rooms, hallway and bathroom, and the best people ever to rent from who owned the house and lived downstairs. They were an “older” couple to us, but I’ve since realized otherwise, with no children. Their renters through the years, often young couples like us, became their surrogate kids.
Having a large family was my childhood dream and the Waltons fed into that scenario charmingly. Reality cannot adequately be portrayed on screens, movie or TV. But I was impressionable and not savvy enough to read between the lines of scripts concerning family life. In my mind, Mrs. Walton was a lovely example to emulate.
Not everyone shared my enthusiasm for the series that concluded June 4, 1981. Some found it unrealistic and saccharine sweet in its approach. For those unfamiliar with the story, it detailed the lives of the Walton family with their challenges, heart-warming moments, humor and inspiration during the Depression era in rural Virginia. Family members included husband and wife, seven children and paternal grandparents all living together under one roof. Money was always a concern, and resources were stretched to their limit to accommodate everyone’s needs. The family responded with ingenuity, grace, dignity and kindness.
Yes, that’s what I aspired to in the family I looked forward to having. Differences between fiction and real life weren’t so apparent to me given my naivety, and it wasn’t until much later when I understood clearly that Mrs. Walton and I were not of the same ilk, nor would we ever be unless I developed different likes and dislikes.
Preparing three meals a day for 11 people would have caused my disposition to spiral downwards with few chances of recovery. Not only did she cook the food, she also grew it. Yes, she had help, but basically the kitchen was her domain. There was no money for eating out, and even if there had been, no neighborhood restaurants were conveniently located. Her husband worked at home as did her in-laws, and while they understood about family dynamics and compromise, that’s a lot of togetherness.
It was a one-vehicle family, and that truck was used continually for hauling lumber for their livelihood. She had no Girls Night Out and few trips into town. The clothes she wore, she made. (That one fact alone squelched any possibility of my recreating her character.)
I was genuinely sorry when the show was cancelled, but by then I was very involved with my sweet family of three children. The show always ended each week with the family calling out good night to each person. Good night, John Boy. Good night, Daddy. Good night, Elizabeth. And so it went. Good night to any dreams of duplicating the Waltons. My dreams became reality but in ways much better suited for me.