Monday, December 7, 2009

Tribute To A Friend


It’s just around the corner! Christmas! Here in Southern California we know it’s on its way because suddenly the leaves of the liquid amber have turned mustard yellow, golden orange, bruised red, speckled green and a gentle brown. Snow is already on the ground up in the Angeles National Forest. Weekend visitors pack it on the top of their SUVs, but it's mostly melted by the time it reaches the downhill suburbs.

The faces of jack o’ lanterns, set out on the curb after Halloween are caving in and collapsing and the images of the Thanksgiving turkey in the windows at schools have been replaced with Christmas Trees and Chanukah candles. It seems that Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer has been playing on the radio since the Fourth of July but now it gives way to more serious Christmas music and in our cars we sing along to “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Because its daylight savings time we leave our jobs early. Even so darkness is falling by the time we reach home. We live on a country road and the coyote that usually doesn’t show up until after dinner is loping along in search of food. Peaches somehow knows he is there and announces his presence with hysterical barking.

My friends know me and forgive me for becoming sloppily sentimental during the Christmas season. Jane, who suffers the most from my compulsion to write stuff down, looks after me patiently when sometimes late at night , I put on a ratty old bathrobe, grab a Heineken from the refrigerator, and disappear into my office . The bathrobe is a long, brown, ugly garment of some strange but oddly warm comforting material. It is very old and has lengthened as time has passed so that it now almost reaches the floor and the belt has now stretched to such absurd length that it frequently trips me. Jane has threatened to burn it but I hide it when I leave the house and uncover it each night when I feel the need to write coming on.

Tonight I want to write about a very special man in my life. In my fifty years in the entertainment business I have met and worked with many actors. Some of them have faces and names that are known around the world. Others even thought they might have had talent, just never got that break that could lead to fame and fortune. Still I treasure having worked with each and every one and I am proud that most of them I still count as friends.

Actors are a special breed of folks. I once wrote an obituary for a well known actor. I tried to make it a tribute to all actors and so I wrote that actors are born while their parents are appearing on the road in some off Broadway production, that their first cradle is a dresser drawer, that without applause they will wither away and die and that they only come truly alive when the camera is rolling or at 8:30 on Broadway when the curtain rises.

There is one actor who holds a special place in my heart. Will Geer was born a Hoosier and went on to perform on every stage from provincial theaters to Broadway and eventually to a major career in films and television. At one period in his life, paying the price for of his political beliefs, he was blacklisted, unable to find work, and became a gardener, but reason prevailed and he was able to resume his acting career.

Will brought special gifts to the role of Grandma Walton. He was not so much portraying Zebulon Walton – he was just being himself and in that guise he brought humor, depth, empathy, dignity and a credibility to the role that enriched the entire production.

Will and I became good friends and I remember an occasion when I was back in my home county in Virginia to be honored at Earl Hamner Day. I should mention that there had recently been a negative review of The Waltons in which the critic called the show “corny.” Will was to remember the review.

The celebration was held on the football field of the Nelson County High School. My whole family was there. This was back when my mother and all my brothers and sisters were still alive and we were all there. There had been speeches, parades, and awards (I was gifted with a key to the Nelson County jail!) someone dropped from the sky in a parachute and it was all wonderful.
And then a dusty old bus drove into the area and came to a stop in front of the podium. Out stepped Will along with a troop of actors. He had driven all night from Alabama where he was appearing in a play. He was carrying a bushel basket of corn which he had stolen from some farmer’s field down the road. He came up on the podium and presented me with the basket and announced that he just wanted me to know that there was still more corn than concrete in our country.

Wherever he happened to be Will made a garden and it did not take long, once he became a member of the cast, for him to plant a garden on the Walton set. And there in the unlikely setting, a major movie set which had pioneered the industry and produced more than its share of film classics, Will set about raising a crop of onions, peas, squash and tomatoes. And being Will he took care to see that each of the young Walton actors was included in the care of the seedlings once they developed into young plants.

Sometimes he was so full of himself, so exuberant that he would break into spontaneous song without realizing that most music on the show had to be cleared with the publisher and paid for before using it, so we often were charged for Will’s unscripted serenades.

There were other times when at a dinner scene he would be saying grace; With the camera rolling, with the actors waiting for cues that never came, with the director pulling his hair, Will would depart from the script, improvise, extemporize and lengthen the grace until he had properly thanked Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, friends, neighbors and God Himself for the food and fellowship we were about to enjoy.
It was with those memories in mind and with my great love for my friend that I wrote the words that I believe Will would have said on such an occasion.

Grandpa Walton’s’ Christmas Prayer
What is Christmas? It is a time when some of your dreams come true. Every year it rolls around and takes you by surprise some of the time, especially when you’re as close to 100 years old as I am. You think, “It can’t be time for another one,” but here it is with all its hope and joy and the promise of the wishes that might come true.

You’re probably wondering what I wish for. What would an old man wish for? Maybe you think I would wish to be young again. But I don’t yearn for youth any longer. Being young is a painful thing. Being young and in love to boot, which most young people are, is even more agony. I’ll tell you what I wish. I’d wish for the power to return some of the love that’s been given me. I wish the time and place for all that giving could be commemorated like the heart I carved on the tree around your Grandmother’s and my initials. I wish too for more days to my life.

I wish for time - time to help children know some of the beauty of this Earth that has been revealed to me. A drop of water is a wondrous thing. A spade full of earth is a kingdom in itself. A cloud is worth watching as it passes from one horizon to another. A bird building its nest is as wondrous as men building the Pyramid, and any green thing that grows is proof that God exists. It all comes into focus at Christmas.

It is a tender time. We grow cautious because we open ourselves to love. We exchange gifts, but what those presents really say is "I love you." It makes some folks uncomfortable to say or hear these words. Maybe it’s because they’ve never learned the secret of the giving heart. There are more takers than givers in the world. Sadly there are people, communities, even countries spending their time grubbing and rooting for the goods of this earth like pigs after acorns in the fall of the year.

But ours is a country with a giving heart, and I pray it will always be so. It’s a good country and it’s part of our strength, something that we brought with us as pioneers that we can share with the fellow who is down on his luck, with those who suffered calamities: with the loss of their homes or jobs or their hope.

This is a family with a giving heart. You children may squabble and bicker among yourselves, but you’ve been taught to love and to give, and that’s the greatest present your Mamma and Daddy could have given you. So take pleasure in the trappings of Christmas. Be merry like the songs say. Revel in the tinsel and the glitter and the sparkle and sing the old songs for all the joy that’s in them and the memories they bring back. But to touch the real Christmas, to feel the true spirit of the season, look to your own heart and find all the secret treasures that they’re there to give.

There is one wish that I make every year. I never said it aloud before, but I’ll tell it to you now. I wish for all the seasons I have known, endlessly to come and go; the dogwood spring, the watermelon summer, the russet and gold of autumn. I wish for Christmas to come again and for each of us to be here again next year at this time...together, safe, warm, and loved as we are at this moment.

Merry Christmas to one and all!!

34 comments:

  1. I could almost here your voice when reading this...beautiful »-(¯`v´¯)-» »-(¯`v´¯)-»

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  2. Earl, do you believe in destiny? :)
    After a long day, I'm sitting here at the computer late, far past an old gal's bedtime, thinking about the right words for my Christmas column. All is quiet in this house, save the sound of the keys of my computer clicking through the barrier of silence. Toby is softly snoring at my feet, warm, cozy, and a bit put out that we aren't already in bed. (Schedules have little meaning to me since losing Terry. I make every moment my own) I checked my email one last time for the day.

    Goodness prevails. There I found the announcement of your lastest blog. A balm for my tired eyes. I read it with mixed emotions; all of them sweet and tender, of course. (You know all too well I drink in every word you write, like a thirsty plant in a desert drinks water.) As I read your tribute to Will, your words made me long for days of old, when my own family was together at Christmas. Those days are gone forever and yet my heart lingers a little while in yesterday. Your beautiful words were delicately piercing. You summed it up so brilliantly, "It all comes in to focus at Christmas. It is a tender time..." Those words jumped off the page.

    In the grand scheme of things, I know it is not about the presents, the twinkle of lights or the beauty of ribbons and wrapping. It is about our heart and what we give away. I was blessed to be loved by a Man who knew that well and gifted me with his own heart. He never hesitated to say "I love you." Now that he is gone, his words are a stronghold to my wounded heart.

    Thank you dear friend for the gifts of words that you have given to us over the years. They uplift me, give me reason to ponder, make me cry needful tears and remind me how words live on long after we are gone. It is a priceless gift you offer up. And you are a treasure.

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  3. Mr. Hamner,
    Will Geer has always had a special place in my life. I guess it's because he portrayed a different kind of Grandpa than I had in either of mine. As with many aspect of family life that you have written about and were portrayed in the Waltons tv show it is how I wished things could be. I spend my fatherhood trying to inject some of that in to how I parent my boys. Maybe when my boys are grown up and have forgiven me my many mistakes they can say of me the things I wish I could say of my childhood.
    I look forward to seeing Will every chance there is some offering of his on television, and when I watch another episode of The Waltons. This can be said of all the actors who portrayed your stories, but especially of Will.

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  4. Whenever I read your posts you always take me back home longing for my childhood. Merry Christmas to you and your family and Thank you because I have the Waltons to turn to which takes me back home again. For my best Christmas was when I was 7 years old and all my family was altogether, now I am 45 and family is no longer . Memories is what I hold onto now and with The Waltons which brings it all back again....Joey Callahan Toronto, Canada..

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  5. Dear Brother Earl,
    Next Saturday night is our Christmas Pageant, with the songs and play, and as we leave, our piece of candy and bright orange. Children will see Santa...great grandparents will see God. We will miss having you and your family here with us.

    Pastor Tom

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  6. Beautiful! As a young girl, I met Will Geer when he and the Walton cast visited Schuyler Elementary. What I remember about him, above the twinkle in his eye and his gentle smile, was that he had incredibly soft warm hands. I will never forget that handshake which was more like a "hand hug". Merry Christmas, Earl, to you and yours...and many more!

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  7. Another glorious post. Of course, you brought tears to my eyes again. As the first poster wrote, I could hear your voice as you read this aloud. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories and the hope that Christmas can once again be the most beautiful holiday as it was in days gone by.

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  8. Thank you for taking the time to share your gift of beautiful prose with your fans. What a wonderful Christmas present. May you and your family have a merry and blessed Christmas.

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  9. Merry Christmas to you and may all the gifts of the season say I love you to your ears.

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  10. Earl; Could I get your e-mail address. I would like to tell you a story about how your story has impacted my life. ken@kenpierpont.com

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  11. Amen and GOD Bless!
    Andrea Bowling Perdue

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  12. I am 26 and take care of my husband’s grandmother who has Alzheimer’s. When she moved in with us, my husband and I decided to buy the nine seasons of the Walton’s. You cannot imagine the joy she expresses when we turn on one of the episodes. She asks us every night to turn on the Walton’s. We just finished the last episode of the ninth season and I cried. So we began again with Season One. Thank you for the impact you have had with such a wonderful show. The show is so refreshing! As a 26 year old, I am encouraged by such a show with values. I will forever being thankful for your contribution. I don’t know if you read other people’s blogs, but I have a blog about my life with granny. The website is www.dayswithgranny.blogspot.com

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  13. Mr. Hamner, I happened along your blog today when I googled you. Ah, a sign of the times. I'm a 45 year-old mom, pastor's wife, and freelance writer who has taken to watching The Waltons lately on DVDs. Of course I watched the show as a young girl in the 70s, but didn't appreciate it then quite like I do now.

    Now that I'm a mom with responsibilities, trying to raise a family in a rather ungodly and unwholesome world, I crave the simpler times you wrote about. I know they weren't that simple to those who lived them; my own mother was a sharecropper's daughter during the 30s and 40s and I sometimes marvel that the Walton family as portrayed on the TV show had so much more than even she had. Hard times indeed for those who lived them, and yet so many things seemed richer and more bountiful then too. Things live kindness and generosity and good manners and neighborliness.

    And so, in the midst of all the mayhem of life in 2010, I am finding great respite in a daily dose of The Waltons. And today I am glad that I have found this little corner on the Internet where I can still occasionally hear your voice through, of all things, a blog post.

    One more thing. I'm sure many a writer has told you this, but you are indeed one of several voices that inspired me to become a writer. I received my journalism degree in 1986, but writing is so much more than just a profession to me. It is more like breathing. To write makes me feel like I have completely digested something, squeezed every bit of juice out of it. That is why I always supposed John Boy wrote at the end of each day - to get the last drop out of a well spent day.

    Blessings to you!
    Kay

    http://www.offthebeatenpathministries.com

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  14. Earl,
    You've probably been asked about this before, but one episode of the Waltons, always seemed out of place to me, the one concerning the youngest girl, Elisabeth, growing into adulthood and the strange paranormal episodes that occurred. Pictures falling off of mantles, objects moving of their own accord etc. It seemed like the Waltons had entered into the Twilight Zone for a little while. Did you write that episode, and if so, was there any particular inspiration for you from a real life event?

    Chip

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  15. Like many others who have contacted you, Mr. Hamner, I grew up watching The Waltons and have recently enjoyed this delightful family again, thanks to the DVD sets. My favorite character was always Grandpa. I cannot begin to express the deep feelings this post about Will Geer has brought to the surface; I feel cheated somehow that I didn't have a Grandpa Walton in my life. I am so glad that you have a blog - I will look forward to your next entry, and I hope you never lose your beloved robe.

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  16. Earl,
    Hey! You have an award over on my blog. come on by and get it you beautiful blogger!
    Peg

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  17. I loved watching the Walton's It was a show that taught me values of what I wanted someday when I had a family,I think everyone wishes they could have a mom ,& dad like that ,and have grand parents living with them too.I still watch the reruns,and have the series on DVD. I wish times were like that now ,families have drifted apart,this was a time when we all wish we could have lived.It may have been a rough time ,but everyone pulled together. Thanks Earl Hamner for giving us such a wonderful family program to watch. I also love your voice .

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  18. I hope that you will consider a DVD of the Walton
    Reunion, for those of use (man) who can not receive
    the Inspiration Channel.

    I share your admiration for Will Geer - I was hanging around Topanga Canyon, in the years he had
    his acting troupe there, and how I regret not taking a closer look at that time. But, I was young and ignorant of many things..... However, when in that area, I can still sense his presence in the areas around his old haunts.

    Sidney Orr

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  19. "use" = "us
    "man" = "many"

    ..... a spellchecker should've been used. Apologies.

    SO

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  20. I also would hope you make a DVD of the Waltons Reunion,we don't get the Inspiration Channel here
    in B.C. CANADA.
    I am so happy i found your link in my travels on my PC the Waltons have ALWAYS had a place in my heart from the start,i am still taping And watching re-runs daily right now and love all the series episodes.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE wALTONS
    yours truely Joan Fryer

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  21. Thankyou so much Earl, for all the joy you have brought us over the years words cant say enough

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  22. As a young man growing up in Virginia, I was not even born when the Walton's series began. I did however recently refresh my memories of the later Walton's episodes with the series being reprised on INSP. Every episode that I have recorded and watched including ones that I had never seen, bring back two sets of wonderful memories for me. Memories of where my family and I were during those episodes and memories of how the Virginia based Walton's family related to my own family, even though I was not born until the mid seventies.

    My grandfather was a splitting image of Grandpa Walton, my father the same in John Walton, we were only a two child family but as close as we were with our extended family of cousins, they served as the big family the Walton's had. We planted gardens, fields of potatoes, had big family dinners with my grandparents and worked till dark. My Grandfather loved to garden, my father was a truck driver during the week and returned on the weekends to help us garden, tote water, and cut wood for the winter. Those days for me now are gone. My Grandparents are deceased, my father also, I built a house on the same property of my boyhood home where my mother still lives and down the field from where my grandparents resided. But as stated in some of your blog material, with changing times, those old days have gone away and times have changed. Music, the way we communicate and family ties are some cahanges, but you are right also on our country, we are not the same country as we were. There is not enough pride in being American today.

    I have always felt that when my garandparents generation passed, so did those days and family values we knew when we were children, I miss those days and if not but for just one hour a night, I can watch a rebroadcast of your show the Walton's and once again be sitting in my grandmothers living room, or in my grandfathers field picking up potatoes behind a plow while watching my dad wipe the sweat off of his face and smile at me and say just a few more rows son and will be done. That's the good stuff! Thank you for the trips down memory lane and constant reminder of the values that I was taught but need to be reminded of daily to instill in my own growing family.

    Again Thank you!

    Your friend in Virginia,

    William S.

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  23. I loved watching the Waltons. This family favorite was so comforting especially to someone like me who never really had an intact family. Who always yearned to be a part of a family that had parents that stayed married no matter what. This was the ideal and in the beginning had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God and plunged the human family into crime, poverty, homelessness, corruption, war. old age, sickness, greed, death, and other sufferings, we would all be living a happy, healthy, perfect, normal life.

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  24. I love watching the Waltons. It relaxes me each and every evening, and it reminds me of a time we need to bring back to America. The love and complete trust in family members, fun times that do not require money, and most of all, the sound of your voice narrating. My 23 year old son watched my lineup of Inspiration Network shows one night and he admitted that he enjoyed them, after previously mentioning that the shows were "slow moving." Thank you for your shows, and also to INSP for their other family friendly, real life with values, shows.
    Karma in Michigan

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  25. The Walton Family has meant so much to me, not only while growing up, but even now. From the music at the beginning of the show until the ending, the show calls me back to my childhood. One of the few things that was different was that my Dad went to church with our Mom and the family. We ate around a big kitchen table, everyone did chores, we got into mischief, and on and on. I am thankful for a good Christian show that is great for our children to watch, a show that teaches right from wrong, respect for parents, love of God, love of our country. Thanks to Earl Hamner for presenting the "gift" of this television show to us all.

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  26. I love all the stories I've seen in your blog; and its admirable that you haven't lost your touch as a storyteller! I know several people who labored for years on a novel or two, and almost all can't get even a small run published on B&N or Amazon. Congrats!
    On a very different subject, I just don't like most modern movies. Far too violent, just to name one defect. However, tehre is a beautiful movie, which out-kubricks Kubrick, in its ver beautiful marriage of music and action. It more a ballet than a move, and its subtle and complex, but there are some of the most moving scenes I have ever seen or could imagine. Consider the trailers, although they certainly don't do it justice. I predict that it will
    bring back memories of the golden times with one's siblings in childhood, and that is just one of several levels the movie is presented.
    In any case, those of us who are susceptible to the marriage of classical music or fine music
    to movement and play, will find it irresistible.

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  27. Grace Combs DePasqualeJuly 14, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    I enjoy this Blog. Just wanted to wish you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY (two days ago)!!! Hope it was great!
    Grace

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  28. Grace Combs DePasqualeJuly 14, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Make that 3 days ago!
    Grace

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  29. dale (from the uk)November 4, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    i watch the show every nite on true movies 2 on sky

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  30. Just watched the Homecoming.....an annual Christmas event in our house. I love it every time I see it........it takes me back to my roots in Charlottesville, VA. Thanks Earl, for a beautiful story.

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  31. Question for all:

    A friend of mine put out a challenge to anyone who could name this book she is describing below. I think it might be one of Earl Hammner's books. Does anybody know what book this is? She is a political-type and is relating something that happens in the book to the Occupy political/social movement. Thanks! (I guessed Grapes of Wrath, but she said, "No, too obvious.")


    "Oddly, what got me thinking about it is a scene at the beginning of a 1930s novel where a young couple, involved with a farmer's movement to resist the banksters' depression era foreclosures, attempts to explain their position to his family. The similarity to Occupy is obvious, despite the differences, and the 80 years separation.

    In the novel, the activist couple meets almost solid hostility and the main reason seems to be that paying one's debts is the foundation of morality and virtue."

    Any guesses?

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  32. Mr. Hamner,
    Your gift just keeps on giving. Enjoyed leaning about the actors. What a reunion!

    I wish my people in North GA had something better to celebrate than the 40th anniversary of the worst 'hillbilly' flicks, "Deliverance" to ever hit the silver screen.

    Keep writing for us!

    Barbara Woodall
    itsnotmymountainanymore.com

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  33. Thank you Mr Hamner for all the joy and pleasure you have given over the years through your work.

    XXXXXXXX

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