Needed: Another Earl Hamner
By Tom Purcell
Boy, did I love watching that show when I was a boy.
I speak of "The Waltons," of course. I've been thinking about the show since Earl Hamner, its creator, died a few weeks ago at the age of 92.
Hamner based "The Waltons" on his book, "Spencer Mountain," which recounted fond memories of his childhood in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia during the Great Depression and World War II.
When I was 11 years old, it was a central part of my weekly ritual.
Every Thursday, after dinner, my father and I boarded our 1972 Plymouth Fury III station wagon and headed to the Del Farm grocery store in a small suburban plaza one mile away.
I pushed the cart as I helped my father work through the long shopping list my mother provided. Though cookies and potato chips were never on my mother's list, on a good night my father would be feeling generous.
He'd buy a box of Del Farm's fresh-baked oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies and a bag of Synder of Berlin Potato Chips, onion dip (my mother's favorite) and a wooden case of Regent soda pop.
When we finally pulled the loaded-down station wagon into the garage, everyone in the house was alerted and the massive unloading process began. We usually got everything packed away by 8 p.m., just in time to head to the family room to watch "The Waltons."
I'd bring a bowl of ice to the family room, then open some bottles of Regent soda pop (orange was our favorite, followed by grape, cherry, root beer and cola). Then I'd open the Synder of Berlin chips and pour them into a couple of bowls.
Soon, I'd be sitting there with my sisters and parents, sipping soda pop, eating the finest chips ever made and enjoying the newest episode of one of our favorite shows.
I didn't know then why I loved the show so much, but I know now. I loved it because it mirrored the simple family experience my sisters and I were living.
There was lots of imperfection in my family, to be sure — there will always be conflicts and dramas when six children and their mother and father are living together in a modest-sized home.
But, like "The Waltons," our mom and dad were committed to each other and to us. They put our needs ahead of their own. They gave us an incredible sense of security and well-being. They taught us right and wrong — we all went to Catholic school and attended Mass every Sunday — and they drove us to become good, productive citizens. Thanks to them, all of my sisters and I are flourishing as adults.
Interestingly, nobody expected "The Waltons" to succeed when it first aired in 1972.
The '70s was a turbulent and cynical era, after all. The Vietnam War was raging, Watergate dominated the news. According to Patheos, the social changes of the '60s had paved the way to the disco hedonism of the '70s.
So why was a wholesome drama about a rural American family such a hit?
In 2012, Hamner told The Times there was a simple explanation — that there was a yearning to see "people trying to make decent lives for themselves and their children."
Well, there's lots of uncertainty and nuttiness going on in the world today — hook-up culture, family breakdown, terrorism, social unrest and incredible political division — but I believe that most people are still trying to make decent lives for themselves and their children.
We could use another Earl Hamner about now — and another hit television show that validates the people and families that are struggling in silence to live right.
© 2016 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Sean McClanahan Mysteries," available at Amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact Sales@cagle.com or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.
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