I hope some of you find a common thread in the story below.
I grew up just a little different than most people.
Now, when I say that, I must also qualify that statement, because the people who know me best would say something completely different and, from their perspective, they would be right.
I grew up on a farm in a farming community where everyone had two jobs; the job they went off to in the factories, the lumber companies, the banks, and the retail stores and the job they woke up to and went to bed with. This job was farm and family. In my world – a very good world to be a kid in – you could not separate the two. I cut my working teeth in hayfields and tobacco patches and in barns. I was making money working from on the farm from the time I was thirteen.
As far as the other aspects of my life, they were quite normal. I went to school. I played sports. I fished and I hunted. We played backyard football, pitched horseshoes, and, in the winter, played card games until we couldn’t stand to play them any more. I did all these things and, everyone I grew up with, did these things as well. I dreamed of girls, sneaked around and chewed tobacco, smoked cigarettes and did things on a motorcycle that no one would have approved of. Just like everyone else did.
So when I say I grew up different than everyone else, what I really mean to say is that I grew up different on the inside. For, on the inside, in the place no one could see, in the place that fueled the fire that drove the body, soul, and mind was the writer.
In my small farming, hard working community, full of people I continue to love and admire, someone who likes to write is someone that they just don’t understand. It is something that they can not comprehend. These are people who make their living, literally, by the sweat of the brow. Hours upon hours of backbreaking, body depleting labor went into the continued assurance of their existence. They worked hard all day, watched television at night, attended church on Sunday and went to singings and revivals in the summer. It is a steady diet of work, religion, and tame entertainment. This was the life of my family and community.
Amidst all this comes a kid who, from the time he was seven, wrote stories. Here’s a kid who has been touched by the writing gods, who can see a blank pad of paper and pen and feel his heart burn for a desk and a quiet moment where he can be alone with his thoughts. Here is a kid that had a gift that no one around him understood. I was like a sculpture being born to family of loggers or an artists being born to a family of housepainters. No one knew what to say to me or do with me.
I learned early on to just not say anything about what I did. There wasn’t any point to it. No one understood what was going through my mind. No one who is not a writer can understand what was going through my mind and, in a community of way less than five hundred people, it is not like there was a workshop or a seminar close by to discuss my ideas and feelings with. So, I just stayed silent. I read my books and wrote my stories and I kept it myself not out of fear but out of practicality. It didn’t matter whether I wanted to talk about it or not talk about it. Nobody would understand if I did talk about it. I was talking the Greek language in Italy.
Then, out of the blue, when I was preteen (between eight and twelve or so) there was John Boy. Like a Godsend, there was this young man, living in a small, rural, farming, hardworking southern community who not only wanted to be a writer but was embraced by his family as a writer. They not only went to church, prayed at the dinner table and busted their asses from dawn till dusk to make ends meet, but they also had time to encourage their writer son. I was drawn in immediately.
One episode had Santa bringing a Big Chief writing tablet to John Boy for Christmas (Santa heard you wanted to be a writer, John Walton said).
One episode had John Boy submitting a novel only to find that they didn’t accept handwritten work (he had to find and learn how to use a typewriter).
Another episode had him struggling to rewrite a novel after it had been burned up in a fire (It is easy the first time around, but it is hard to duplicate inspiration).
My favorite episode was one in which he had finally made it and his grandfather was looking a word John Boy had used to describe him. Grandpa Walton had to go through several words and interpretations to finally understand original word John Boy had used. When he finally got to the last word – and the meaning as he understood it – he spent the rest of the episode mad. (Reference my blog “It’s You”).
These things – and so many more on the show – were things that I was either feeling or would later feel as a writer that no one was talking about when I was a child. I can’t overstate this enough. No one can understand an artist but an artist. No one can understand a writer but a writer and here was this guy, through the magic of television, talking about things that no one else I knew was talking about, things that no one else got but me and others like me.
It has been a long time since The Waltons was on. I still watch from time to time in reruns. While it remained a very good show thanks to great writer and acting, for my taste, it never was the same after John Boy left the show. I don’t think it was for anyone. I think for most the loss of Richard Thomas and his ability as an actor left a void that couldn’t be filled.
For me, the fact that John Boy was no longer on the show was a bit more personal.
Who have you identified with either on television or the movies or in books?
Thanks for reading.