Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bear Story

Friends and Neighbors:

Here comes a bear story!

We had known for a long time that the bear was there. My father claimed they had once come face to face with each other when he was out hunting quail. My father was given to telling tall tales, and if the story wasn’t exciting enough he was not above supplying additional dramatic details. According to his version the bear was black, weighing three or four hundred pounds, that it was eating apples that had fallen from Old Man Withrow’s orchard, and that the two of them had passed a moment gazing at each other before my father stared him down and the bear disappeared into the woods.

There were other reports from witnesses with less imagination than my father. Owen Goolsby reported sighting bear tracks six and eight inches wide over on Wales Mountain. Cuss Gibbs had watched the bear wade across the Rockfish River down near Power House #l. Virgil Pugh had come across spore behind his barn that might have been bear but he wouldn’t swear to it.

And then came the day when my mother was alone in the house. All her children had left home except for Brother Jim who commuted to his job in Charlottesville and he wouldn’t be home until after dark.

The phone call came from Aunt Dolly Ragland who lived at the end of the country lane that ran in front of our house. Aunt Dolly lived alone and all the neighbors kept a watch over her because she was sometimes given to what the local folk called a touch of “dimension.” There were times when she would get lost in the house she had occupied for seventy five years until some neighbor would stop by and help her find her way home again.

My mother reported that she sounded as if she was trying to keep calm when she said, “Doris, would one of your boys stop by here for a minute? There’ a bear trying to get in my back door.”

With none of her boys at home my mother called to Uncle Donald who had retired from Sears and Roebuck in Charlottesville and who was out spading the garden to plant his early spring peas.

“She’s at it again, huh?” said Donald. “Last time she claimed it was a pole cat under the house.”

“Well, you just never know. Maybe you ought to take a look just in case.”

Donald went in the house and when he came back out he was carrying his 21 gauge shot gun and was followed by his wife, Aunt Alma. There was no way such a modest gun would stop a bear but it was the best Uncle Donald had. If nothing else it would pepper the bear’s behind with birdshot, make a loud noise and frighten him away. Aunt Alma and my mother watched from a distance but they had no clear view of Aunt Dolly’s back door because it faced the other way. They could hear Aunt Dolly shouting and there was fear in her voice so they knew it wasn’t just dimension.

“Watch out, Donnie,” she cried. “He’s just about broke the last plank through.”

Aunt Alma and my mother recalled what happened next. ”We saw Donald raise his gun and fire and then the skinniest, hungriest looking old black bear you can imagine ran away from the house and headed for the Rockfish River.” He had obviously been in hibernation all winter and it was desperation that led him to Aunt Dolly’s house. While Uncle Donald fixed Aunt Dolly’s kitchen door she invited every body in for a glass of buttermilk and the bear was never seen again.

I was reminded of this event recently when I too came out of hibernation. Unlike that old bear I didn’t sleep the winter away. I just spent it driving back and forth to solicitous Beverly Hills doctors who, even in the face of my extreme age, continue to try to piece together the many ailing parts of what I laughingly call my body. I won’t bore you with them except to mention, hoping for maximum sympathy, that the most recent curse I have suffered is with gout of the left knee. Superstition has it that gout is caused by too much red wine, too much rich food and
blood pressure medicine. I am thinking of giving up the blood pressure medicine.

So spring has come again and this old bear is out of the woods. Thanks to the shot Dr. Venturapalli injected into my knee and massive amounts of prednisone the pain has diminished and I can now walk without a cane. One of the other many medications I am taking is causing occasional hallucinations so if you will welcome a crazed old bear with hallucinations back into your life I’d appreciate the chance to get caught up.

First I want to send my sympathy to all you folks in the Midwest and east who have been hammered with all that snow. Many of you have shared photos of the stuff at depths hard to imagine and I have enjoyed the beauty of it without experiencing the inconvenience.

Out here we have had an unusual amount of rain. These severe storms come so rarely that nobody knows what to do. Hardly anyone owns an umbrella or a raincoat and when the drops start falling the natives call one another on the phone and say, “What does one do?” The smart ones move out of their homes if they happen to live below of the fire ravaged mountain slopes where the roads become rivers of mud frequently carrying boulders the size of basketballs. Jane and I live on a hillside, but fortunately the hillside above us is stable.

One of the burdens I want to get off my chest is the guilt I feel because I have not answered your letters.

I swell with pride as I read each one. What outpourings of admiration and gratitude and appreciation you so

generously send. The only way I can accept such adulation is on behalf of the Walton team. We were a remarkable group, every member of the team – actors, writers, directors, executive staff, and a remarkable crew were superior in their field, dedicated to project that each of us loved. Many participants in a television series will say, “We were a family.” On our set it was remarkably true.

So why this guilt? The answer is that there are just more letters than I can respond to. Which is painful to me when they express such sentiments as “Your show changed my life.” “The Waltons are the family I never had.” “The Waltons is the way I wish my family had been.” “Because of the show my daughter intends to become a writer.” ”The show is life transforming.” These are very humbling messages, and I apologize that they have not been answered with a proper response.

So spring has come again! In the east the daffodil and crocus are reaching up through the snow. The dogwood and red bud won’t be far behind. Here in California the magnolias and ornamental pears are in full blossom, the hummingbirds are already nesting, the temperature is in the eighties, and this old bear is out of the woods. I’m energized again. Watching Shaun White defying gravity of his snowboard in Vancouver I considered taking up the sport but Jane talked me out of it.

Many years ago there was a great gang of kids here on our street.. There was a nice kid in the neighborhood named Jeffrey Van Zanten. I was home a lot of the time and often they would include me in whatever games the gang was up to. One day, while I was flailing away at the typewriter, Jeffrey came to the door and asked Jane if Mr. Hamner could come out and play. If any of the kids from the present gang ask Jane to let me out, I’m ready!

So long for now.


  1. I loved your story, Earl. Good luck on the blog!! Keep them coming my way.

  2. Earl, I am so happy that you are out of hibernation, cuz I miss your wonderful stories. Thanks for coming out of hibernation!

  3. I love this story and this blog.

    I wish we had bears in Los Angeles, I really do. There IS a coyote in the neighborhood and I've encountered him on several pre-dawn walks. He keeps a half-block distance between us--or I do; I'm not sure which of us established the measure. He's lean and haggard and searching for a way back into the past, and I feel nothing but sympathy for him, although he's taken at least a couple of cats and I'm a cat lover. How can I fault what the cats themselves would not? The only ones breaking the rules are ourselves.

    I was a late bloomer and played with the local kids longer than was my due. I still would if we lived in a different kind of world. I stir up a good game of hide and seek occasionally with my girlfriend's nephews and neices. If the children knock--go! Let those Beverly Hills doctors work for their money.

    But seriously, don't break anything and do keep sharing your wisdom and insight.

    --Wm. Goodwin

  4. Earl, There are still bear in Schuyler, at least the Glade area. "I am thinking of giving up the blood pressure medicine."-You are too funny. You could use those hallucinations for fantasy material!Earl, You have touched many world wide with your words. Your impact on Nelson County has been incredible. I remember the pride of being inducted into Quill and Scroll (The Earl Hamner Chapter), and of course, your mom was their. I was the only inductee that she knew personally, and she referred to me as "her Girl". That made my day. Blessings to you and yours.

  5. Earl, so good to read another blog from you. My husband and I live in Chicago, and we're definitely looking forward to the warmer weather of spring :-)

    Thank you for making this world a little better with your stories. God Bless.

  6. Read your blog for the first time today (3-1-10). Thank you for bringing the best of mankind through our television screens. I believe, as long as you are OK, the fabric of this country is OK.

  7. Hello Earl, Susan Moore here. (One of the neighborhood kids.) My first comment, (which may be wrong--always the artist hardly the proofreader) is that referring to the neighbor's "dementia," not "dimension." I could try and say something funny about getting The Twilight Zone and The Waltons confused, but I am not that clever.

    Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, I, someone who is your son's age, is on blood pressure medicine, also. And I would hesitate to give up my red wine. Two or three friends of mine have gout. Such is life.

    Those carefree days playing in the fort with Stephen and Scott, getting poison oak, drowning lizards, getting socked in the stomach...ah, the memories. Facebook has reconnected me with some of the old characters, but I don't think I have thought of Jeff in some 35 or 40 years. He was kinda quiet.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. It's nice to have you out of hibernation. We should all get out and play more often. But if you can't, writing may be the next best thing. Your fans are waiting.

  8. Earl, I can relate to this old body falling apart. With that said, cherry concentrate (which you can buy at any health food store) will cure gout.

    I'm glad I moved out of the mid-Atlantic, as the last place I lived there was just a few miles from BWI airport, and a friend still living there told me they got 79.9 inches of snow. When all my friends still living there complained about it I tell them, "'tain't no sense gittin' yourselves all up in a tizzy over a few flurries." The photos they showed me, they might as well make snow caves and live under it.

    Be careful, if Jane lets you out to play with the new group of kids, you know how them youngins tire out so quickly.

  9. Welcome to Spring. (Although here in the northeast, spring has NOT yet sprung). So glad you are out of hibernation. We love hearing your stories on this blog. Please, Keep them coming. And thank you!!!

  10. Ah, there's that voice again.

  11. Oh how jealous I am that spring has emerged and brought you out of hibernation. Just today I found myself hang-dogged and fighting back tears of frustration over my lack of energy, my pale sickly appearance and the feeling that the "good years" have passed me by, (I am 43). My husband reminded me gently (actually out of self preservation) that I go through this every winter. Okay I've seen snow! I want sunshine, pollen, knats.

    How nice it was to be diverted from the ho-hum grey winter boredom, when we too had a bear sighting! My husband was the lucky witness. He too loves to exaggerate. But for once I was more than willing to become entranced by the feeling of wildness in the midst of a tame and predictable life. My Dad promptly grabbed a measuring tape and a camera. The tracks measured 10 inches! The kids were jumpy for a week or two and we all had a new story to tell among friends and passers by. God sometimes takes pity on me and sends me a distraction just when I need it!

  12. It's nice to see that kind stories. I can see you have a very kind heart.

    I see you have a very beautiful place... I'd like see that bear and the woods.. he he he


  13. You have such a wonderful way to stir the imagination. Thank you for your stories and your continued interest in the Waltons International Fan Club.

  14. Earl, Earl, Earl! What are we to do with you? I suppose now that you're giving up the blood pressure meds, and the doc has you pumped up with steroids,(even if it is in the knees)we'll be seeing your name added to the next winter Olympics team?? I should wish you well and add the customary "Break a leg"- I dare NOT go there.

    I too long for the fragrance and sight of a green spring earth! I miss the flowers! I need flowers! If only I knew how to make them bloom as beautifully as did my Terry! Never mind though. Reading your words, enjoying your stories, having you come out of hibernation, for now keeps me contented awhile longer. But then you have always had that affect on me. Thank you my dear friend. Hugs!

  15. Dear Earl, Thank you so very much for being and sharing yourself, for providing an example for all families to follow, and for teaching me that good writing is not an assignment or a task, but a conversation on paper with your own heart and soul. Bless you and keep writing! WE will keep reading and listening.

  16. How blessed we are to find you out of hibernation. Your stories continue to touch my heart...thank you for making my heart smile.

    Andrea Bowling Perdue

  17. The morning here in Michigan is gray, but we can still hear the songbirds telling us that spring is near. The snow is gone, and some early flowers have been showing themselves. How your many writings and shows have touched so many over the years, me included. As a young teen watching the Waltons, we tried to bring some warmth of your family life in ours by ending our evenings with the same "goodnights" you shared with your siblings.
    You remind me of another favorite author of mine, Jesse Stuart, who also wrote of home and family life in Kentucky. Perhaps you know of him. Please keep up the good work and may you have good health for a long time to come.
    Best regards, Marian

  18. Hi Earl,

    I have an award for you over on my blog, please go and grab it at


  19. Hello, Earl. This has nothing to do with the current blog, but just want to say what a nice mention of The Waltons in the current TV Guide. "Nice mentions" are something you've had plenty of - but it's gratifying to see it still ranks right up there in terms of ground-breaking family television.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Dear Mr. Hamner,

    What a blessing to find your blog!! I had no idea you had one. It truly is an honor to send this little message to you. Just today, I posted on my blog what an imaginary day would be like with your mother, Doris, or the character, Olivia Walton! Then I went online to do a bit of research, and I found your blog just now ~ I'm tickled pink! I have posted about your show "The Waltons" before on my blog, as well. There is just so much goodness there. A true television treasure. Thank you so much for documenting a bit of your family history and bringing it to life for the rest of the world. It has been a blessing to me and countless others, I'm sure!

    Blessings to you Mr. Hamner,

  22. Dear Mr. Hamner,

    I apologize for the duplicate comments above. Blogger was giving a bunch of "error" messages, and I didn't know if the comment was published the first time.

    Anyway, I would absolutely be privileged to be able to link to your blog for my readers in a post, since I've featured posts about "The Waltons" in the past. I hope it is alright if I do a feature post and direct my readers to your website and blog!

    Thank you again,

    Numbers 6:24-25

  23. I appreciate your feeling homesick for Virginia as you take in the natural beauty of southern California but how odd it seems to me that, as you do so, I sit at my south Georgia desk with a broken hear, brokenheartedly missing southen California, which is my native home!


  24. Thanks it was so nice to hear it all. Tauna Faulkner

  25. My church often takes bus trips to "Walton's Mountain". (We are in Martinsburg, WV). I just want to say that seeing the return of the Waltons on Inspiration TV has been one of my biggest thrills this year!!! (Actually, I got in on it in Nov. during the reunions). We record every eposide, and I go through boxes of tissues each time I watch. I'm 62 now, and watched the Waltons when my kids were little. I'd put them in bed with me (my husband worked nights), make popcorn, and Thursday was our big night togehter. (Watching the show). Back then I cried, and years later I'm still crying over the series. It's the most beautiful show in the world as far as I'm concerned, and I fell in love with John Boy many years ago. (Earl). What I'd give to meet the real John Boy some day. Oh, I'm not even sure my heart can take it!!! What a great writer he is, and I "feel" his heart and soul in everything I read and each show I watch. My husband and I are "so into it" now that we're retired and have time to enjoy shows together. I used to identify with Olivia. Now, I'm Ester! Gosh, how time flew. Too bad so many in this generation have lost the value of the family unit.

  26. Goodnight Mama.

  27. Dear Mr. Hamner,

    May I create a Walton's fan site? I was thinking about a website with pictures, quotes, video clips etc. I web design as a pure hobby not for any type of profit. I believe in what the Walton's stood for their wholesomeness and values. I wish there was more shows and people like the Walton's I wish I had friends like them. Thank you in advance for your consideration. Have a blessed weekend and thank you greatly for what you brought to the world. You have immensely blessed us with your words.

    Mark Vass