Episode 18 - The Burnout

(two-hour episode) (22 January 1976)
Writer: John McGreevey.
Director: Harry Harris.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"As with most families everywhere, on Waltons Mountain we were faced with all kinds of troubles large and small, some growing out of personal weaknesses, others thrust on us by our changing world. Mostly when troubles struck we drew together, united against the common enemy, and came out of the struggle closer than before. But one year my family suffered a loss which rather than bringing us closer together, scattered us and threatened to destroy the fabric of our lives".


Part I


The children walk home from school as Jason practices the piano and Olivia reads the magazine Home Beautiful given to her by Rosemary Fordwick. Grandpa leaves his heating pad on after soothing his gout and lumbago. Olivia and Grandma remind him to disconnect it. The girls tell Olivia that Jim Bob has gone “girl-crazy” because he has a bunch of hair ribbons snitched from girls at school. They disturb Jason’s playing, and he leaves for someplace quiet. Elizabeth shows Olivia her butterfly, but it is dead. Elizabeth can’t understand why it died so suddenly. Grandpa says that parrots live a hundred years, but butterflies only live a short life. Grandpa turns on his heating pad again. Jim Bob and Ben tell Olivia that Erin is strutting upstairs showing off in her Sunday dress. Erin tells Mary Ellen that she doesn’t think showing off her attributes is wrong.


John-Boy shows Professor Parks his new pipe. Parks tells John-Boy that one of his friends has just been named the new editor of Roughen Brothers publishing house in New York City. Parks recommends John-Boy to Hank (who’s from Rutgers), the editor; telling him about the novel John-Boy is writing. The editor would like to see some sample pages, and Parks suggests sending him the first fifty pages. John-Boy agrees to have the pages to him by Monday (it is Wednesday, now). John-Boy is very excited, and appreciates what Parks has done for him. John-boy almost forgets to take his new pipe with him.


At Ike’s store, John buys a box of chocolates after making another payment on the house. Ike throws in some chocolate-covered cherries. Ike and John hear the racket that Corabeth is making in the back. John tells Ike that he is thinking of modernizing his house. Ike says he will let him have Corabeth to help with the work. John just walks out. Jim Bob gives Elizabeth another butterfly, but she doesn’t want it. She says that everything she loves, dies.


John-Boy tells the family about the publishing company that want to look at his novel. He brings out his pipe for the first time, and lights it. Olivia is horrified, Grandpa is amazed, and John and Grandma just stare. John-Boy says that many of the literary men on campus smoke a pipe. Olivia says this has gone far enough, and tells him to stop smoking. John-Boy says that pipe smokers do not take the smoke into their lungs. Grandpa is taking a bath as Grandma wonders how much longer he will be. Grandpa leaves the bathroom, but leaves the heater on. The family says “good-night” to each other (all but Elizabeth who is staring out into space as she holds her doll). John-Boy lights up his pipe as he writes. John-Boy finds Elizabeth standing in the hallway, saying she can’t sleep. John-Boy sits his pipe on the nightstand as he takes Elizabeth back to bed. He forgets to pick it back up when he returns to his room. It has fallen onto the rug in the hallway.


As the family sleeps, smoke and flames begin to make the family cough. Olivia is the first awake, and she and John awaken everybody else. John and John-Boy fight the fire while the others throw possessions out of the house. Erin grabs Elizabeth, who drops her doll on the floor. John-Boy tries to save some of his papers. Several windows break out from the heat. The family makes it outside but realize that Erin and John-Boy are still inside. John goes after them. John-Boy sees his novel go up in flames. The family is relieved to find Erin and John-Boy are safe, but watch hopelessly as the house burns.


Firemen soon show up and put out the fire, but not before much of the interior has been destroyed. Ike, Rev. Fordwick, and Yancy help with putting out the fire. John-Boy looks up to the house, remembering that he left his lit pipe in the hallway. He wonders if there is anything left of his novel. The family stares blankly ahead as they prepare to sleep in the barn, still unable to believe what has just happened. In the morning, the family looks over the house. Grandma says, “It’s just AWFUL!” Grandpa looks around and nearly cries. Elizabeth looks around in disbelief. John-Boy finds his pipe on the floor, along with a broken saucer filled with burnt matches.


Grandpa hauls out old boards while John and John-Boy remove the roof. Olivia and Grandma scrub the kitchen floor. John-Boy finds Grandpa coming out of the bathroom. Grandpa says, “Soot and ashes, and regrets.” John-Boy readies himself for class. Professor Parks tries to comfort John-Boy by telling him that Herman Melville’s first copy of Moby Dick was lost at sea, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s wife burned Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde because she thought it was vulgar, and Earnest Hemingway’s first novel was lost in a stolen suitcase. John-Boy says he is in good company. Parks tells him he is sure he can rewrite his novel. John-Boy drives home to find John constructing a tent and putting together several cots from the C.C.C. (the Civilian Conservation Corps). Jason and Ben bring in wood for the stove. Jason asks Erin why her face is so “long”. Olivia says that the dress she is wearing is drab, but Erin says it is just right. Elizabeth plays outside, and finds her doll blackened from the fire. John-Boy says he is sorry about her doll, and will buy her a new one. But, Elizabeth says she doesn’t want anything.


That night, a storm comes up suddenly. Inside the tent, the children find several leaks in the tent. Mary Ellen puts up an umbrella. Suddenly the wind blows down the tent, and the children run to the barn. They are all wet and cold. In the morning, the family ready themselves for another day. John says that they must send the children to friends and neighbors until the house is ready to be lived in. Over breakfast, Olivia wonders why John-Boy is so quiet. John makes the announcement about sending each away for a few weeks. Olivia is not happy with this, but must accept it. That afternoon John drives all the children to various spots: Erin and Jim Bob go to the Fordwick’s (where Rosemary says she’ll make sure they do their homework); Jason goes to the Baldwin sisters (he gets his own room, a wardrobe, and his own bath); Grandpa and Grandma to Mrs. Brimmer’s (where they find Zuleika Dunbar also staying at the boarding house); Ben to Yancy Tucker’s (where Yancy says there are no rule, just do whatever you dang please); Mary Ellen to Dr. and Mrs. Vance’s house (where Mary Ellen is excited about helping the doctor because she is going to become a nurse); and Elizabeth to the Godsey’s (Corabeth has fixed up the sewing room for Elizabeth, who acts very distant towards her mother).


John and Olivia get back to the house after dark. John-Boy is in the house with a flashlight when they return. Zeb tells Zuleika a story about a jackass that makes her laugh while Mrs. Brimmer and Grandma look on (without any laughter). Grandma says his stories run a little thin after hearing them for fifty years. Zuleika asks Zeb to call her “Zu”, what her friends call her. She is from Richmond, and is on her way to visit her sister in Wheeling, West Virginia. Corabeth finds Elizabeth still awake. Corabeth thinks Elizabeth is homesick, but she says she is just fine and doesn’t want her to sit up with her. Olivia tells John that she is upset about having their children “scattered to the winds”. John knows they will get through these difficult times, and tomorrow will look brighter. John reassures her that is has a strong back to put the house back together.


Part II


John-Boy is unable to write in his journal. He thinks, “It’s useless. I’ve tried and tried to rewrite the first page of my novel; the first paragraph, the first sentence. It always comes out the same: flat, empty. I feel as if there was a band of steel twisted, tied inside, of me shutting off the flow of words and feelings. Maybe that steel band is my guilt about the fire, me being the cause. Somehow, I have to find an answer to that feeling, somehow….


Jason is awakened by a knock on his bedroom door. Miss Emily and Miss Mamie bring him breakfast in bed on his first morning at their house. They weren’t sure what he liked better—bacon or sausage—so they fixed him both. They also want him to use their car to go back and forth to his classes. Jason agrees, and is enjoying his lap of luxury. At the Fordwick house Jim Bob comes down to breakfast late. Jim Bob wonders why Erin is wearing the same plain dress. Erin says that she has to check her vanity because she hurt people, especially John-Boy. Rev. Fordwick wonders what all the ribbons are doing in his schoolbook. Jim Bob says he took the ribbons (forcibly), but the girls didn’t mind it much. Fordwick says that the relationship between a man and a woman must be based on respect. Matthew wants some time to decide what should be done to remedy the problem.


John-Boy finds his pipe on the floor as they work in the hallway. John finds the heater that Grandpa left on in the bathroom, saying that Grandpa could never remember to pull out the plug. He tosses it to the floor. Up on the mountain, Olivia catches John daydreaming. He thinks maybe they should start fresh and build a new house on the Mountain. But, John knows they can only patch up the old day, just “making do”. At Yancy’s place, Ben finds out from Yancy’s time system that it is already about nine thirty (give or take ten minutes). Ben knows he should be in school, but Yancy feels he should cook him up a batch of eggs, grits, and ham. At Dr. Vance’s house, Mrs. Vance finds that Mary Ellen is rearranging all of his records and equipment in order to be more efficient. Mrs. Vance says Dr. Vance doesn’t take change very easily.


Ike says that they are getting along like “three sheep in spring clover”. It’s been especially nice for Corabeth who hasn’t had one of her headaches since Elizabeth has been staying. Elizabeth comes out but is still acting distant to her mother. Olivia says, “that child is not herself”. At Mrs. Brimmer’s boarding house, John-Boy is introduced to Ms. Dunbar. Grandma and Mrs. Brimmer pick up Zuleika so that Grandpa and John-Boy can speak alone. Grandpa asks if John found out if they found what caused the accident. Grandpa knows he left the electric heater on, but John-Boy also shows him the pipe that he left lit in the hallway. Grandpa says, ”it could have been me, could have been you, could have been anybody”. John-Boy says he felt guilt, and has hid his pipe from his Daddy. Grandpa says he must forgive himself.


The Baldwin sisters walk in while Jason (in his sports coat and shirt) plays their piano. They applaud at his music. They don’t find his music irritating, like the others. The sisters request he play a couple of songs such as Listen to the Mockingbird. Miss Mamie plays along on her flute.


At the house, Grandpa comes upstairs to find John-Boy and John painting. John-Boy admits he isn’t doing much writing lately. They laugh at Ben doing a lot of fishing and Jason in his fancy clothing. They decide to get the family together on Sunday. John-Boy surprises his mother by bringing in all the children. Jason tells about his upper class living, while Mary Ellen says that she has many responsibilities with Dr. Vance. Olivia is concerned about Ben’s appearance. Zeb talks about Zuleika. Erin quotes from the Bible, saying she may have the call to preach. Elizabeth continues being cold to everybody. John and John-Boy come in with food, but Olivia doesn’t care about it, saying, “We are not a family anymore!”


John and John-Boy continue work on the house. John-Boy wonders how he’ll support himself if he is writing for a living and has a period where he can’t write. John says he was trying to build the house exactly like it was before, but finally realized he can’t build the same house, only can get a roof over the family. John-Boy says, “You’re a better man than I am.” Grandma and Olivia sew and talk about the family being apart. Olivia says it is easier to be there with the children when changes occur. John-Boy tries to write, but is still unable to write. He goes to Professor Parks and explains why he can’t rewrite his novel. Parks thinks he is trying to hard and thinking too much. Parks says to stop romanticizing. Don’t be the person that is always “going” to write, but never does it. Just take the first step. Don’t let one defeat ruin your career.


John-Boy writes, “The dull and heat laden days of August, the endless leaden dog days vanished in a rain storm, and September dawned bright and sparkling and sunny. The foliage became to turn lemon yellow, watermelon red, russet, and gold and bronze, the woods were afire with color but clean and chilled by an autumn wind. And the fever which had been in the boy’s brain was swept away by the cleansing wind and every day laid before him with such beckoning and promise of adventure that his heart would nearly explode with the wonder of it all.


Rev. Fordwick sees that Jim Bob has even more ribbons that before. Jim Bob explains that he gave Angie’s, Norma’s, and Lisa’s ribbons back and did them favors but now the girls are putting the ribbons in his pockets and books. Fordwick says, “What man can pretend to know the riddle of a woman’s mind?” Jim Bob asks, “Bible?” Fordwick says, “Don Quixote.” Mrs. Vance is angry with Mary Ellen for making her feel guilty for even saying a word to her husband. Dr. Vance tries to compromise between the two women, saying that her internship is almost over, because the house is finished. Jason says his farewells to Miss Mamie and Miss Emily. He says that, “artists need their periods of solitude” The sisters are sad that Jason is leaving. Jason kisses both on their cheek as he leaves. Miss Mamie says they should not be greedy.


The children are happy to be back in their own room. Olivia tells Ben and Jim Bob to unpack, telling Ben he’s not camping out at Yancy’s. They agree they like it better at home. Olivia tries to get Erin to put on a better dress. Erin says she is punishing herself for hurting John-Boy. Olivia thinks she is actually being too humble, and bringing attention to herself. Erin agrees, and puts on anther dress. John-Boy helps to carry out his grandparents’ belongings. Zuleika says she will miss Zeb, and is leaving in the morning for her sister’s. Zuleika says that Esther is a lucky woman. Grandpa says that a little bit of sugar goes a long way. The new boarder, a man, tells a story to Zuleika and she laughs at it. Zeb listens on, and says, “Fragility, thy name is woman.” John-Boy finds out from Ike and Corabeth that Elizabeth doesn’t want to come home. John-Boy tells Elizabeth that the joke is over with, and to come with him home. She insists she wants to stay here, and will run away if made to return. John-Boy decides to see what her Daddy has to say about it.


John-Boy explains the situation to John, but Olivia thinks it is more than getting special treatment from the Godsey’s. Ike and John talk while Corabeth brings out Elizabeth. John says, “Let’s go.” At home, the family get on with their normal routine, but Elizabeth reads and tries to stay away from the family. John-Boy suspects something is wrong, as does the rest of the family. John-Boy writes, “As the old house fills once more with the people he loves, he felt a familiar and exciting fullness in his heart as well. It was contentment, it was joy, and it welled up inside him and overflowed inside him in words.” Grandpa says it is time to go to bed. They all agree it is good to be home. Mary Ellen comes down, wondering where Elizabeth is located. John thinks she has gone back to the Godsey’s. John-Boy goes to the tree house. He finds her there. She wants to be all by herself. Elizabeth doesn’t want her Momma to worry. She admits she doesn’t care about anyone or anything again, because whenever she cares terrible things happen: her best friend Lucy Arnold died, Calico, her momma cat, her raccoon, and her butterfly. She don’t want anybody in the family to die. Elizabeth is scared that one of them might die. John-Boy explains that people don’t die from being loved. It just happens because it is part of nature. A person can’t keep people safe by not loving them. As the family discusses Elizabeth, John-Boy brings her in and she goes to her mother and father with big hugs.


"After the ordeal of the fire and separation my family seemed to have a new awareness of life's unpredictability, and out of that awareness came a new and largely unspoken tenderness. Open caring, whatever the circumstances, was our shared strength and consolation".


Ben: Hey Jim Bob!
Jim Bob: Um?
Ben: How many hair rim you got now?
Jim Bob: Haven't got any.
Ben: Well what happened?
Jim Bob: I traded 'em all to Showy Lowerby for a genuine shrunken head!
Ben: Goodnight Jim Bob.
Jim Bob: Goodnight Ben.



Home Beautiful magazine can be found at: http://www.homebeautiful.com.au/.

Zuleika Dunbar is introduced in this episode. Her nickname is “Zu”, she is originally from Richmond, and has a sister in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Wilkes-Barre is in northeastern Pennsylvania. Its web site is at: http://www.wilkes-barre.org/.

Don Quixote is the book written by Miguel De Cervantes. Information can be found at: http://www.donquixote.com/. (Click on the “English” translation.)


Also appearing:

Ike & Corabeth Godsey (Joe Conley & Ronnie Claire Edwards); the Miss Emily & Miss Mamie Baldwin (Mary Jackson & Helen Kleeb); Rosemary & Matthew Fordwick (Mariclaire Costello & John Ritter); Professor Parks (Paul Jenkins); Zuleika Dunbar (Pearl Shear); Mrs. Brimmer (Nora Marlowe); Dr. Vance (Victor Izay); Mrs. Mady Vance (Dee Carroll); The Man from Wilkes-Barre (Loutz H. Gage); Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner).