Every episode of the 1970’s television show “the Waltons” opens with a monologue by the original author, Earl Hamner, while the camera pans over a scenic mountain landscape.
At the start of the fifth episode, The Typewriter, a spectacle of sturdy pines marches across the screen as a deep voice says, “From the very beginning when I thought of writing it was about my family, our home and Waltons Mountain. This was my world, the only kind of life I knew well enough to tell people about. I remember a day in the 1930s when I finally felt ready to share one of my stories with someone for the first time.”
John Boy sits alone at a desk in the one-room schoolhouse while his teacher, Miss Hunter, reads one of his short stories.
Alongside some grammatical edits, she hands him the praise that she finds his writing very moving and she encourages John Boy to submit his work to a magazine.
At home that night, as John Boy is putting together a final draft, Grandma Walton enters his room with some advice of her own.
“My family were storytellers,” Grandma says as she sits at the foot of John Boy’s bed. “Long before we had luxuries like electric light and radio —all these modernisms— we used to sit around the fireplace at night and each one of us would take turns telling a story. Ghost stories. Witch stories. Long ago stories of Indians and wars and things that happened in the history of our family. And I’ve kept them, and now they’re mellow in my mind and ready to tell again.”
“All these stories I remember, I’ll tell them to you John Boy, and that will be my inheritance to you,” Grandma says.
This starts to hit at what I took to be the central message of this episode. There is so much value in storytelling.
Telling stories is how we teach our young.
Listening to the stories of others is how we gain understanding of the people and world around us.
Writing stories, like the ones printed in this paper, that’s how we keep each other informed.
But back to the story ...
Bright and early the next morning John Boy heads out, barefoot, toward Ike Godsey’s General Store, manuscript and six loud siblings in tow.
There is an amusing continuity error where all seven are barefoot when they leave the house, but the youngest, Elizabeth, is suddenly wearing sandals when they get to the store.
While they wait at home for news, John asks John Boy what exactly it is that he tells stories about.
“I don’t know. Whatever comes to mind I guess. Sometimes about Reckless, sometimes about Chance,” John Boy says.
“Oh, animal stories huh?”
“No, not always. I just kind of work them in when I can. Mostly it’s about us, the family.”
“What could you write about us? I mean, it isn’t like we do anything,” John says. “Shouldn’t you be writing about kings and presidents and generals and people like that.”
John Boy just laughs as he picks up another piece of wood to stack and says, “What do I know about generals and kings and presidents?”
“I don’t see how you could possibly find anything interesting to write about us,” Grandpa Walton says.
“Grandpa, it would take me a lifetime to set down everything interesting about all of us,” John Boy said.
That’s how a feel working here in Claremore. I get to tell the incredibly interesting stories of regular folk.
It may not have the pace and excitement of Washignton D.C., but it has genuine people, who make an effort every single day to make the lives of others better.
In the first few months I’ve worked in Claremore, I’ve gotten to tell the stories of a man who devoted his entire career to helping children succeed, a woman who built a business to help other women find hope, a man who beat cancer’s butt, several teenagers who are off to a great start in life, a man who built a sno cone empire to honor his mother’s legacy, and a man who was told he would probably never walk again and defied his diagnosis.
All of these individuals, all of these stories, happened right here in Rogers County.
Every single one of those stories is valuable.
And so are the stories left untold.
So is your story.
Use your experience to help others grow. And soak in the experiences of others so you can grow, too.
For the rest of this saga, watch The Waltons, a television series of seemingly simple stories, whose value, even today, is so clear.