Episode 3 - The Diploma

(4 October 1979)
Writer: Kathleen Hite.
Director: Gwen Arner.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"The intermingling of what had gone before and what lay ahead was a never ending process that touched our lives on the mountain. My father was not a man to live in the past, he honored it, but it was his way to live the time at hand. One early morning in 1943 the present was awaiting my siser Mary Ellen, and the past was ready to catch up with our father".


Serena and Jeffrey awaken to discover Nurse Nora's horse and mule standing in the front yard. Mary Ellen finds a letter on the saddle telling her than Nora has been called into service for the Army Nurse Corp due to an epidemic at Fort Lee. Nora asks Mary Ellen to take over her county nursing duties on the Mountain until a replacement can be found. Meanwhile, Olivia is substituting for schoolteacher, Miss Winfield.


Ben and John load an Army order of lumber for an officer of procurement who was a college professor in civilian life. While the two Walton's work, Lieutenant James Dodd Eller, G-2 Army Intelligence stationed at Camp Rockfish, drives up to speak with John. Eller questions the accuracy of John's security declaration that states he graduated high school. After finding no evidence of his diploma, Eller threatens to prevent John from doing military business at the camp.


Mary Ellen begins her rounds of visiting the isolated mountain folk deep in the hills, after being warned by Nurse Nora that she might meet suspicion and hostility, especially from Ronie Cotter. The first stop is Grandma Floyd's house. Mary Ellen explains what happened to Nora, but the old woman does not believe her. Outside the house, Sweet Billy is found feeding the horse molasses cookies. Mary Ellen asks where she would find the Beasley children. Grandma Floyd refuses to help but Sweet Billy says Sam and Lady are at his sister Ronie's place. He shows Mary Ellen the way but when she comes face-to-face with Ronie is told in no uncertain terms to leave. Mary Ellen attempts to examine the children but is denied. Mary Ellen tells Ronie that the children need cod liver oil every day because she suspects they might have rickets.


At Camp Rockfish, Lieutenant Eller refuses John entrance until he can produce a valid diploma. John returns home in order to search the house from top to bottom. Rose attempts to help John with the search but ends up only asking a lot of questions. John remembers that he went into the army immediately after graduation. Erin and Elizabeth find a graduation picture dated April 6, 1917 with John and Wilford Tullick in uniform. But Jim Bob says graduation ceremonies occur in June.


Mary Ellen brings roses when visiting Grandma Floyd in an attempt to be accepted. Grandma Floyd continues to keep her distance, but smells the roses once Mary Ellen leaves. At Ronie's house, Mary Ellen finds the children gone and the cod liver oil bottle unopened. She tells Sweet Billy that if the children do not improve she will be forced to take them to a hospital. Ronie and the children listen from the security of nearby shrubs.


Olivia unearths dusty records from 1917 to 1920 that were kept by Principal Horace S. Kindall. The Principal was suppose to complete the graduation process for John and Wilford but failed to carry it out. After John becomes frustrated with his plight, Olivia suggests that he study for his high school equivalency test. John finds that studying is more difficult than he imagined and does not understand why he has to study subjects that are not relevant to real life. Olivia says that an education means knowing basic things.


During another visit, Mary Ellen pleads with Ronie that the children need 'vitamin D, cod liver oil, sunshine, and hugging' before they die or become crippled. Mary Ellen states that she will bring the Sheriff if things do not improve. Mary Ellen learns that Ronie never taught Sweet Billy to read because she did not think he was smart enough.


In the morning, Mary Ellen prepares to visit Ronie again, this time with her secret weapon, her son John Curtis. Olivia announces that John is ready to take his test today but John is not quite so sure. Mary Ellen announces to Ronie, Lady, and Sam that they are going on a picnic. But when Mary Ellen turns around she discovers the Ronie has taken John Curtis. She finds the pair in the back yard playing on a rocking horse. Mary Ellen also notices three grave markers: two that are small and one that is large. Ronie admits she lost her husband, Roy, and two babies to small pox when medicine did not save them. Later, Mary Ellen gives Sweet Billy a book, saying that Ronie will help him learn to read. On the way home, Grandma Floyd gives Mary Ellen a bouquet of wild flowers and waves goodbye to John Curtis.


At school John takes his test while the children perform their own assignment. Afterwards, John admits to Mary Ellen that he is unsure whether he passed. But when they enter the house he is greeted to a family celebration.


"The past and present joined again that special evening in our home. And it was questionable who had learned the most - our father preparing for a Graduation over a quarter of a century late, or Mary Ellen, gaining new insight with each trip to those remarkable people who live in the backwoods hollows of the Blue Ridge".


Elizabeth: Daddy?
John: Yes honey?
Elizabeth: I'm real proud of you for passing that test.
John: Very proud, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Everybody's real proud of you.
John: No no, everybody's very proud, Elizabeth, we're using real as a synonym for very and of course it's not.
Elizabeth: You sound just like Corabeth.
John: Goodnight, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Goodnight, Daddy.



Lieutenant James Dodd Eller drives up in an Army jeep with 'US 7052121' stenciled on the side.

The mother of the Beasley's children recently died. Oray Beasley, the children's father, does not help raise the children.

Principal Horace S. Kindall's nickname was 'Horace-faced'.


Also appearing:

Ike and Corabeth Godsey (Joe Conley and Ronnie Claire Edwards); Cindy Walton (Leslie Winston); John Curtis (Michael and Marshall Reed), Rose Burton (Peggy Rea), Serena Burton (Martha Nix), Jeffrey Burton (Keith Mitchell), Ronie Cotter (Janette Lane Bradlury), Sweet Billy (Les Lannom), Grandma Floyd (Madeleine Taylor Holmes), Lady Beasley (Tamar Howard), Sam Beasley (Rick Slyter), Lieutenant James Dodd Eller (Leon Fricke), Guard (Joseph Justice).