Episode 22: The Bicycle


(1 March 1973)

Writer: Nigel McKeand.

Director: Alf Kjellin.

Music: Arthur Morton


The Bicycle


"Times were hard when I was growing up in the 1930s and many people tried to escape those times by living in other worlds created for them by glossy magazines and the movies. My own family was so close and we were so involved with our everyday lives that we didn't seem to need those dream worlds. So it came as a surprise when one day we discovered that our mother had a dream world of her own".


John-Boy fills the truck with gasoline from the store’s pump, while Ike paints an old bicycle a bright blue. Inside John-boy pays one dollar, twenty-five cents for eight gallons of gas and five pounds of sugar. Curtis Norton walks in wondering if any letters arrived. John-Boy and Curtis are surprised to find a response from Ann Harris, a secretary from Buffalo, New York, whom he met while at his Richmond high school reunion. John-Boy has been ‘helping’ Curtis write romantic letters to Ann, whom he has fallen in love. She has accepted his marriage proposal and will be arriving today at 1:30 pm. Curtis leaves to prepare for her arrival. John-Boy promises to meet Ann at the bus stop.


At home the children finish their pie, but Olivia is becoming upset with them as they fail to set their plates in the sink. She mentions that Everett Cooper asked her to become the lead singer in the church choir. John is too busy to really hear her and Grandma is looking for her purse, in a hurry to deliver a baby. Olivia finally says to herself that she is tired of always washing dishes and mending clothes. Later Olivia picks up the sugar that John-Boy forgot to bring home. She sees the bright blue bicycle, remembering her younger days wheeling down the road with the wind blowing in her hair. She realizes it’s been twenty-five years since that ride. Ike tells her to take it for a ride. She hesitatingly sits on its seat, and then rides the bike down the road without a care in the world.


Ann Harris departs the bus to find John-Boy waiting for her. On the drive Ann compares the mountains and trees on Walton’s Mountain with the scenery in the movie The Farmer Takes a Wife. She reminisces about the reunion where Curtis asked her to dance and swept her off her feet, just like Clark Gable. At his house, Curtis cuts his face while nervously shaving. He hears the horn on John-Boy’s car, and nervously greets them, knowing he is not the romantic writer that she thinks. They have trouble talking with each other, glad that John-Boy is there. Curtis shows Ann inside his house, saying he has moved himself to the shed.


Back home the family can’t find Olivia. Grandma has returned after delivering a baby boy, but can’t understand her daughter-in-law for eighteen years leaving the kitchen a mess for the first time. Soon the children see their mother ride up on the bicycle. At the Norton house Ann measures furniture for new coverings, wanting to redecorate like in the movies. Curtis says is rarely goes; with the nearest movie house twenty-eight miles away in Charlottesville. Ann is disappointed with the news, and then becomes frustrated with Earl, Curtis’ dog, sitting on the sofa. Curtis says it’s difficult to change habits of an old dog, and Ann realizes that Curtis is not quite the man who wrote those romantic letters.


John, Grandpa, and John-Boy work at the mill as Ann walks up with her suitcase. She says that it won’t work between her and Curtis, and is leaving on the bus. Grandpa says that the bus doesn’t arrive until tomorrow, but John-boy offers his room to her, saying, “it’s the least I could do”. Grandpa and John wonder why he said that. At the church, Olivia and the other ladies practice with the choir director. After practice Mr. Cooper leaves for work at the freight trains, as the women drink coffee and talk about radio shows. At home Mary Ellen samples food she is preparing while Erin burns clothing she is ironing and Elizabeth hides the mistake.


John-Boy talks with Curtis, who doesn’t want Ann to leave. Curtis believes one more letter will convince Ann to stay, so he can find the words to tell her how he feels. John-Boy reluctantly agrees to help. As Olivia prepares Ann’s room, Olivia suggests that she stay awhile longer to better know Curtis. Ann responds by saying her house is so warm, but Curtis’ house smells like “a smithy house”. Olivia states, “He loves you, doesn’t he?” Ann just stares at her.


John-Boy and Curtis compose a letter with the use of Shakespeare’s writings. The words state how Curtis feels, even though he can’t verbalize them. Later, Ann, John-Boy, Mary Ellen, and Jason leave the movies. Inside the truck, John-Boy gives Ann the letter from Curtis. At home Ann describes the movie Flying Down to Rio starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Grandpa dances with Ann, but Grandma thinks the old man is acting foolish. Ann states that her parents died when she was fourteen years old, and would go to the movies to escape and to feel a part of people’s lives. Olivia says, “Sometimes good feeling don’t escape. Sometimes they last a lifetime.” In her room Ann reads Curtis’ letter, and notices the paper is identical to the paper inside John-Boy’s tablet. She realizes that John-Boy wrote the letter. In the morning Ann confronts John-Boy, thinking he and Curtis were laughing at her.


After choir practice Olivia listens as the women gossip. Martha Sheffield talks about Cora May Merckel and the butcher at Carter’s Ridge. Olivia decides she has better things to do and leaves. Riding her bicycle home, Olivia finds the house empty, the burnt clothes and pot, but is glad to be home. Upstairs Ann packs her suitcase. Olivia and John find each other in the mill. She talks about her thoughts of being a famous singer at the Metropolitan Opera House and apologizes for leaving everybody to fend for themselves. John asks if that is what she wants. Olivia just laughs and hugs her husband.


Ann enters the mill to say goodbye. Olivia tells her that sitting in a dark theater dreaming of other people’s lives is harmful when you could be living your own life. Curtis drives up, frustrated and mad enough to finally speak his feelings. He tells Ann that he loves her and asks her to marry him. She swings, pretending not to listen. He tells her that he will drive off and never bother her again if she doesn’t answer him. As he drives off John-Boy tells Ann that they did not deceive her, comparing how actors read the words of writers. Ann reconsiders and borrows Olivia’s bicycle to catch up with Curtis. Curtis sees Ann’s problems with navigating the bicycle, and stops as she falls off the bicycle. As in the movies, they run to each other, hug, and begin their lives together.


"My mother never sang in grand opera but her voice never failed to fill our house with a glad song as she went about the job of caring for us all. I can still remember when the hour grew late, I would be writing in my room, and she would be working at some chore in the kitchen and her voice would drift upward".


John-Boy: Goodnight, Mama.

Olivia: Goodnight, John-Boy.



Ann Harris is originally from Richmond, Virginia. She is a secretary in Buffalo, NY. Her parents died when she was fourteen years old. Aunt Agnes raised Ann. Her first movie was seen at The Picture Palace for ten cents. Ann and Curtis met three months ago at their Richmond high school reunion.

The choir sings:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

As saved a wrench like me.

I was once lost, but now I’m found.

Was blind, but now I see.

Was grace that taught my heart to fear.

And praise my ears relief.

How precious it is that grace of years,

The hour I first believed.

Lou Frizzell plays the choir director Everett Cooper in this episode. Earlier in The Empty Nest (season seven, episode one) he played Joe Murdock, the owner of Murdock Lumber.

The characters of Curtis and Ann Norton appear again in Season 2 in the episode The Fulfillment.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Curtis Norton (Ned Beatty), Ann Harris (Ivy Jones), Everett Cooper (Lou Frizzell), Martha Sheffield (Ruth Warshawsky), Lady (Patsy Garrett), Sarah Tyler (Kathleen O’Malley).


(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)