Waltons

Goodnight Jim-Bob … Goodnight Mary-Ellen… Goodnight Mama…………. Goodnight Elizabeth.

Ike Godsey, the Baldwin sisters, the Recipe, Charlottesville.

If you don’t recognize any of these familiar words and names then you probably won’t want to read on any further.

I’m on a good old-style road trip through 9 U.S. states, finding a part of America previously unknown to my eyes.

Yesterday, leaving the musical fumes of country behind, we motored out of Music City, Nashville, in the early morning haze, heavy fog and mist layered like cotton-batting over the green deciduous hillsides.

We headed east on the wide, truck-loaded freeways, escaping Tennessee, a few hours later finding ourselves in the state of Virginia. Every 5 to 10 miles there’s an off-ramp leading to an almost identical collection of gas depots, hotels and McDonalds, Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Applebee’s, Bob Evans, and Subway.

To escape the monotonous sameness of it all, we had our lunch at a tiny little country diner called the Rose Garden, filled with southern-drawled locals who said “uh-huh” instead of “you’re welcome”. Soupy vegetable servings of crowder peas and creamed corn were served up alongside deep fried bread balls and breaded catfish.

Our slightly plump waitress Desiree looks puzzled when we ask what crowder peas might be — “Duh, they’re peas that grow in a field”. No, she didn’t say it but her face says it all the same.

And when there’s a chair available at a customer’s table, she sits down to take the weight off her feet and write down the order. Bathroom condom dispensers are hidden behind metal-hinged covers with dire warnings not to lift the lid if you are offended by family planning products. Who has time to pee when there’s so much illicit fornication going on in these here parts?

The car’s GPS soon had us cruising our way through the twisting back roads of rural Virginia, turning up and dipping down the narrow, shoulder-less roads heavily lined with trees leading to the boyhood hometown of Earl Hamner Jr., creator of the popular 1970′s-80′s TV show The Waltons.

As a young teenager growing up in a city, I was enthralled by The Waltons and their simple, heartwarming country ways. The loving family portrayed once a week at 8 pm was reassurance that we can always feel at home when in the comforting cocoon of our family.

I was a hybrid of characters John-Boy and Erin. To be a famous, dedicated writer like John-Boy was romantic. He had a charisma and calm confidence I wanted; Erin wore her vulnerability like a warm sweater and had a desire to be attractive and a need to be liked that I could see in myself.

Now you might think that using high-tech GPS would make locating this obviously famous museum in the back hills of Virginia dedicated to the popular TV show a simple matter.

You would be wrong.

There are winding hills and narrow roads and back alleys in eddies running through these hills. We bobbed and weaved, we U-turned and practically genuflected before finally arriving in the little hamlet of Schuyler, Virginia.

Schuyler (pronounced “Sky-ler”) is not unlike coming into most any well-hidden mid-American village. There’s one gas station and one general store. Peering up the hill from the general store you can see a swath of trees disguising a red-brick building that looks like a church, which it should since at one time, it was.

Today, this is THE WALTON’s museum.

The gravel-stoned parking lot could hold 50 cars easily, but this afternoon there are just 2 others besides our little rental Nissan Versa.

We pull open the front door to the building and can see down a narrow hallway to the opening of a spacious room that looks like a gymnasium. Just at the entry to the gym sits a little elderly lady behind a table the size of a card table with a white table cloth on top.

A little metal box sits in front of her that holds the dollar bills that she collects from the tourists that come from all over the world. Smiling sweetly at us with big red lipstick lips, she takes the $8 cash for each entry and slips us a single pamphlet about the museum.

Glancing around the “gym”, it looks like a Grade 8 class has just taped their school social studies projects to the walls for a parent interview night.

One 50′s-ish gentleman stands at the far end of the room, watching us intently as we begin our tour. While we inch along the walls, reading the articles and looking at the photos, he inches forward bit-by-bit in our direction.

There are lots of yellowing and dog-eared photographs of the Walton’s cast. There are newspaper clippings. There are certificates and awards given to the show and the actors.

We come to a little photo contest on the wall just as the dark but thin-haired man from the end of the room finally meets up with us.

On the wall in front of us, there’s a Hollywood-style headshot photo of a handsome young man. With an unusual smirk, “Mr. Museum Man” asks if we know which character the man portrayed in the 7th season of the show. I know this!

–It was Mary-Ellen’s husband.

–Right, he said. Which one?

Huh, Mary-Ellen had more than one? I didn’t remember Mary-Ellen had married more than once.

–Uh … the physician?

–NOPE, it was her second, veterinarian husband.

SHAME! He looked out from behind his black-circled eyes at me with a smugness and barely-concealed glee before confidently launching into all sorts of Walton’s trivia.

He was a miner for weakness and he knew he had found a motherlode. He had me against the ropes and began pounding me senseless knowing he had trapped a weak opponent. His sad, lonely day at the museum had suddenly found some meaning and excitement. There was a spark in his eyes and voice.

Breathless and bleeding, I escaped from his trivia-grasp as quickly as I could and hid in one of the little off-rooms that held replicas of the Walton’s spacious kitchen, or John-Boy’s bedroom that had a desk where he wrote his stories overlooking the front yard of the farmhouse.

I was enjoying re-living some of my early TV-watching childhood and it felt warm and good. I almost forgot about my wild-eyed museum stalker until…

I needed to visit the toilet facilities.

A few days earlier, I had learned pretty quickly when we passed through the custom’s kiosk entering into the U.S. that my use of the term “WASHROOM” would not be understood in these fair southern states. “BATHROOM” got me the same blank look if I asked a gas station attendant or waitress. “RESTROOM” is the appropriate term to describe the toileting location. Got it!

I headed off seeking out the “facilities” and unable to find them on my own, I reluctantly resorted to asking my new-found black-eye-rim friend.

–Where could I find the washroom, sir? Sorry, I mean RESTROOM”

–It’s OK, we get lots of Canadians visiting us here, he said. I know what a washroom is. As a matter of fact, the majority of our visitors come from 3 places … Australia, Ontario, and British Columbia.

–Really? That’s amazing … We’re here from British Columbia. Well, how many BC visitors do you think you’ve had here so far this season?

Without flinching he answered.

– Hmmm … I think you’re our first British Columbia tourist here this season.

OK …I was left with no reasonable response to that answer, so I turned without a smirk, I think, and found the “restroom” he had pointed out to me.

Five minutes later we exited the museum into the bright Virginia sunshine. Before we could pull out of the parking lot, another four cars from four different states took a spot in the lot. Rush hour had finally arrived on Walton’s Mountain.

We’ve grown so accustomed to our world being a stupefying wonder of high technology and awe-inspiring glitzy entertainment.

The Walton’s TV show in the 1970′s reminded me as a young teenager of a simpler time that existed in the days of my parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. There was a cozy safe feeling that stayed with you when the sweet harmonica triplet ended each episode and the last light was extinguished in the Walton farmhouse.

Spending time in a tiny museum in the backwoods of rural Virginia took me away from the hectic modern-day world and showed me that even a bit of quirky simplicity still has charm, even in the 21st century.

The presence of a 90 year-old sleeping lady at a museum front desk and creepy Mr. Museum Guy weren’t going to steal away my warm and fuzzy feeling.

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