A routine plot in the 1970s television show The Waltons, is that of war.
John Walton’s stories of the Great War, and Grandpa Walton’s stories of the Spanish-American War before that, were a staple in the Walton home throughout the series.
Tales of young men gallivanting in foreign countries have a certain appeal.
But the stories soon become reality when a man John served with comes to Walton's Mountain.
The Waltons was a cultural icon in the 70s, for its ability to weave a topical life lesson into a dramatic narrative without being too preachy.
Admittedly, the episodes could occasionally be a bit heavy handed.
But with episode 10, the Legend, the lesson is hidden within a character. You have to tease out the difference between the man and the message.
Theodore Roosevelt Harrison, affectionately known as “Tip”, announces his visit to Walton’s Mountain with a telegram that includes the line “We’ll win the war all over again.”
Tip is not just an old friend. He is the stuff of legend around the Walton home, thanks in large part to John’s reminiscing.
“Everything about being a soldier came natural to Tip … In my whole life I never knew anyone quite like him. He wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody,” John says.
Tip arrives in style, larger than life in a baby blue Cadillac with white wall tires, bearing fancy candies and three bottles of champagne.
“You could feed this family for ten years on what that machine costs,” Grandma Walton says later in the episode.
The family is instantly won over by his charm.
However, when John Boy grabs Tip’s luggage out of the car, he notices the labels read Harold T. Harrison.
Tip sits around the house, enthusiastically telling stories to a gaggle of enraptured children.
“Will you listen to that? He hasn’t changed a bit,” John says.
“After all these years it doesn’t seem natural,” Olivia responds.
Again, John Boy picks up on the inauthenticity of it all when Tip won’t give a straight answer on what he does for a living, and uses Elizabeth to knock the board over before losing a game of checkers.
All is soon forgotten though, when the Waltons through a small party, belting WWI era staples “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” while eating candy and sipping champagne.
Grandpa Walton brags about not having time for shanties in the midst of the Spanish-American War.
Then Tip asks the kids to brag about their accomplishments.
Elizabeth reveals that she lost her first tooth. Ben tells how Mary Ellen pitched a no-hitter. And Jason reveals that John Boy killed a bear (see episode 4).
This last fact triggers a bit of jealousy, which manifests itself later as an invitation to hunt for “real bears” in Canada.
When John and Tip have a moment to just themselves, it’s clear that John’s rose-tinted goggles have nothing on Tip’s ecstatic remembrances of years gone by.
Tip clings to old times with the desperation of an alcoholic clinging to the bottle.
The moment he is left alone, the silence is deafening. A hunch appears in his normally statuesque shoulders, his face falls and he pulls a dark liquor bottle out of his suitcase.
In the other room, John and Olivia chat. “It must be hard for you, with Tip here, just as carefree and happy as in younger days, and here you are slaving away to feed and clothe a wife and kids,” Olivia says.
“You don’t hear me complaining,” John says, simply, planting a big old smooch on his wife.
There is a big difference between reflecting on the past and living in it.
Like most people, John is happy to reflect on good times. But Tip is stuck in the past.
He lives in happy memories to hide from the mistakes he has made since.
John Boy confronts John about all the happy-go-lucky stories the men tell.
“Whenever there has been talk about the war between you and Mr. Harrison, it’s always been happy stories about the fun and the good times you all had,” John Boy says.
“Those stories tend to get better and better as the years go by,” John admits, “But mainly they’re true.”
“I know that, but that isn’t all of it is it,” John Boy says. “Like the Battle of the Argonne that you’re always talking about all the time. I know that more than 40,000 men were killed in that battle. 40,000 men! That’s more than twice as many men as the whole town of Charlottesville.”
John responds, “Son. If a man was there, he doesn’t need to talk about it.”
“What I went through at the Argonne, Son … that’s an experience I hope you never have to have,” John says, ending the conversation.
The show presents two motivations for why we tend to only reflect on happy times.
Like John, we talk about the happy and avoid the sad because there's nothing to be gained by reopening healed wounds.
Or like Tip, we focus on the happy instead of dealing with the sad, because letting old wounds fester below the surface is a duller form of pain that throwing antiseptic on it and beginning to heal.
The problem with Tip’s solution, is that the pain you don’t deal with eats you from within.
Living in the past may help you avoid responsibility for the moment, but the consequence of time will eventually catch up to all of us.
And consequences do come for Tip. But I’ll save that part of the episode for you to watch.
Kayleigh Thesenvitz is a reporter for the Claremore Daily Progress.