Episode 6 - The Breakdown

(16 October 1975)
Writer: John McGreevey.
Director: Ivan Dixon.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"Suffering in silence was not a popular past-time with me nor my brothers and sisters. Feelings good and bad in the Walton family were customarily laid out for everybody remotely concerned to see and hear and hopefully to adjust to. Sometimes of course we did hide our true feelings, out of hurt, and once in the case of my brother Jason, out of a refusal to believe he could have such bad feelings against his older brother".


Jason makes noise leaving the house early one morning. He awakens the family just before 5 a.m. Olivia insists he eat some of her eggs, knowing he hasn’t been getting enough rest and food. But Bobby Bigalow’s horn sounds outside and Jason goes. Grandpa says that according to Grandma, she hasn’t sleep in 52 years of marriage. Grandma requests that Jason play I’ll Fly Away on the radio. At Boatwright University, John-Boy enters the library for a NYA (probably an acronym for National Youth Agency) job. He makes his application to Dr. Hoadley, but says he doesn’t have any experience, except as a customer. He gives Prof. Parks of the English Department, and Mr. Fletcher at the newspaper as his references. When John-Boy says that he is journalism major, Hoadley says that he would hire someone who was a library science major.


The kids run down for supper, and Erin says grace without Jason at the table. Jason soon appears, leaving to set up for the dance. Bobby Bigalow’s horn sounds again. Olivia is upset with Jason’s busy schedule. John reminds Olivia of the time John-Boy went to the marathon dance, saying that there are all sorts of growing up to do. Olivia says that she is going to have a talk with John-Boy. At midnight John-Boy writes in his journal: In the distance flowing over the pine trees from the swamp came the many-voiced choir of frogs. Once only came the saddest sound in the world, the single unanswered voice of the whippoorwill, but there was no one to hear it, for everyone in the house was asleep”. Suddenly, John-Boy hears footsteps on the stairs. Jason is returning home, unsure if he is coming or going.


Late the next morning, Grandma and Olivia are outside doing laundry when they see an exhausted Jason walking up. He says that he skipped his morning classes, after the radio show, so he could catch up with his work, such as responding to fan mail, mailing out Bibles, and writing music for Prof. Thaxton tomorrow. Olivia wants him to change into his pajamas and sleep, but Jason has no time. Grandma agrees with Olivia, saying he is “galloping in ten different directions”. Jason says he wants “this, that, and everything”, but both the women agree that he should give up playing with Bigalow.


Dr. Hoadley hires John-Boy, showing him his duties. Hoadley compares the librarian as the “custodian of the thoughts, theories, hopes, and fears of all man for the last three thousand years” and as the “pharmacists of the mind and spirit”. He tells John-Boy a quote from Emily Dickinson that every librarian should know: “There is no frigate like a book, To take us lands away, Nor any coursers like a page, Of prancing poetry. This traverse may the poorest take, Without oppress of toll, How frugal is the chariot, That bears a human soul!” Hoadley believes that John-Boy will make a good librarian, but John-Boy suddenly realizes that the professor may think of him majoring in something he has no intention of majoring.


Jason tries to play the piano for Prof. Thaxton, but becomes frustrated. Thaxton tells him that he is wearing too many hats, and that everybody has limitations. Jason responds, “Everybody? You’ve never met my big brother!” Later, Jason takes tickets at the dance. Betsy approaches him looking for Bobby Bigalow, whom she likes a lot. She leaves, but Ralph Shorely approaches, telling Jason to stay away from his girl. Jason says he is too tired even to think about anything like that. The band plays square dance music, Shorely continues to drink liquor in the corner. Betsy goes up to Bigalow and compliments him on his singing. Shorely tells her to stay away from him. Concerned with her safety, Jason intercedes and a fight breaks out. The police break up the fight, with them smelling liquor on Shorely’s breath.


Betsy thinks Jason is a hero, almost saving her life. After the dance, Bigalow drives them to Betsy’s house. She believes that she and Jason are dating again. Betsy informs Jason that she is afraid that Shorely might return, and that her “Papa-Daddy” is not home, probably with his girlfriend over on Route 29 near Wittsdorph. (She says her Momma went to heaven in July of 1931.) Jason sleeps outside on the porch swing, while Betsy sleeps inside. Jason doesn’t know what his family will think.


In the morning, Olivia worries about her son, and when Grandma comes downstairs says that maybe he was in an accident since Bigalow drives so fast. Grandma says that Jason is a “sensible boy”. John and John-Boy return after searching for him, but found no sign of him. They did talk with Sheriff Bridges who said that Jason was in a fight with Shorely who had a bottle of corn. Olivia doesn’t know why Jason would fight, but Grandma says that it was no doubt over a woman. Suddenly, Bigalow drives up to the house. John-Boy finds that Bigalow is also surprised to find Jason gone. He admits what happened last night, and will drive by her house to see if Jason is still there. Bigalow says that Jason’s “blue moon has turned to gold”, but will let the family know if he finds Jason. John-Boy smiles. He then tells his Momma that Bobby is 99% sure that Jason stayed with a friend. On the radio, Bigalow announces that the Walton family can rest comfortably now that their wooly sheep has returned to the fold. The family discusses Jason, with Olivia saying that Jason can’t fight all night and wash everything away in the morning with the hymn singing. Grandpa says grace at breakfast: “Forgive us o-Lord, Amen”.


Jason tries to get home but Bigalow says he must stay and work because he has a big deal in the works that will give them a lot more money. Betsy talks to Jason but he is in no mood to really listen to what she has to say. Later John and Grandpa see Jason walking up as they work in the sawmill. John tells Grandpa if he saw the man with the shotgun who was looking for the tall, lanky boy who kept his daughter out all night. Grandpa acknowledges the fact, making sure that Jason hears the response. Jason admits to them that he stayed with a girl, but she slept inside, and he slept outside on the porch, like the movie It Happened One Night. He is told that Olivia doesn’t know about Betsy, but is very mad at him. Jason mentally prepares to face his Momma.


Olivia is baking when Jason comes in to say, “I’m real sorry!” She checks the bruise on his cheek, wondering why he was fighting over a girl. Jason explains that the other feller was hurting her. Jason admits he has to leave for Prof. Thaxton’s class. At the library, Prof. Hoadley sees John-Boy working diligently. He gives John-Boy three catalogs on Harvard, Yale, and William & Mary, three of the best library science schools in the country. Hoadley theoretically plans out John-Boy’s graduate program for the next several years, much to the shock of John-Boy. Not wanting to disappoint him, John-Boy agrees to look over the catalogs. John-Boy drives an exhausted and starving Jason home. When Jason says that whatever he does nobody is satisfied with it, John-Boy acknowledges that he knows how he feels. But, Jason explodes in anger, saying he’s not following the leader anymore, but going his own direction. John-Boy pulls over so Jason can get out, but John-Boy reconsiders and asks him to stay. Jason says he shouldn’t have said those words.


Olivia tells Jason that he is going to stay home tonight, but John agrees with Jason that he has obligations to meet. Bigalow’s horn is heard outside, and soon the doorbell is rung. When Jason goes to the door he finds Betsy Morgan there. She barges in, wanting to meet Jason’s family. When Jason insists again that he is leaving, he suddenly faints. Later, Jason sleeps in his bed under the watchful eye of his mother. John comes in and puts his arm around his wife, and leads her to their bedroom. As they ready themselves for bed they talk about Jason stretching himself too far. The next morning, Grandma cares for Jason as he rests on the sofa. She tells him she’s going to make his favorite: deviled eggs. Olivia remembers that he was the child who tried to walk at the earlier age. One day, he struggled and finally walked across the room. Jason apologizes for his mistakes but asks his mother to trust him that he’ll learn from those mistakes. She asks him to be careful about Betsy, because some girls “try to maneuver”.


At the end of the workweek, John-Boy returns to Prof. Hoadley the three catalogs, saying he is “a writer, not a librarian”. Hoadley says it is a “great disappointment”, but realizes it would be awkward to break in someone else. He agrees to let him stay on until the end of the semester, saying he admires his honesty. Hoadley says he’ll reserve a place on the shelves for his first novel.


Bigalow and Jason talk about Jason returning to the group. Jason insists that he’ll do his fair share, but no more. Bigalow agrees that we’ll all pull together, and Jason agrees to return. Betsy is waiting for him in the car. Jason also insists with her that they must have a 50-50 relationship, and she is more beautiful when she is silent.


Later, the family sit around the radio as Bigalow announce the beginning of the Harvest Benefit Dance at the Elks Hall in Charlottesville. Jason’s banjo playing is featured in the first song. Grandma still likes their gospel songs better, and when Betsy’s name is brought up, Grandpa says that he’s a lucky boy.


"Out of that breakdown my brother emerged with a new maturity and he and I came to a better understanding. We stopped the old game of "follow the leader" and began to face things together. To my mother, Jason and all the rest of us would always be "the children". With my father's help she learned not to rush in and try to pick us up after every tumble. Still, we knew she was there ready to help if ever and whenever we reached out".


John: 'Night Livvy.
Olivia: I can't understand it.
John: Understand what?
Olivia: Why Jason would give a girl like Bet Morgan a second glance!
John: You got to remember honey, love is blind.
Olivia: But I felt boys looked for girls who put them in mind of their mothers!
John: Yeh. Well, (laughing) goodnight 'Liv.
Olivia (laughing): Goodnight.



Lyrics for the song I’ll Fly Away that Grandma requested Jason play on the radio can be found at: http://www.smickandsmodoo.com/aaa/lyrics/illflyaway.htm.

The Emily Dickinson poem Part I: Life XCIX can be found at: http://www.bartleby.com/113/1099.html.

Wittsdorph is mentioned as a town on Route 29, but it is not a real town in Virginia.

The license plates on John-Boy’s car are 63-982 Virginia.

Grandpa and Grandma have been married for 52 years.


Also appearing:

Bobby Bigelow (Mayf Nutter); Professor Hoadley (Ivor Francis); Professor Thaxton (Jay Robinson); Betsy Morgan (Doney Oatman); Ralph Shorely (Harry Moses); The Deputy (Dave Cass).