Episode 12: The Dust Bowl Cousins


(7 December, 1972)


Writer: Paul Savage.

Director: Robert Butler.

Music: Jerry Goldsmith.

The Dust Bowl Cousins


"Whenever I look back to those days when I was growing up in the great Depression I'm always convinced that I came from a remarkable family. It wasn't that my brothers and sisters and I were sheltered from the realities of those difficult times, it was simply that our mother and father had a way of making more of what we had and less of what we didn't have".


Around the breakfast table Grandpa talks about a bee hive located on John-Boy’s Meadow. Mary Ellen wonders why it’s called that, since John-Boy will be too busy as a writer to ever farm the land. Grandpa says that he named the land the day John-Boy was born, and remarks that writers also farm. While they talk a rickety-old truck approaches Walton’s Mountain. It nearly collides with Yancy Tucker’s car when its driver does not stop at a stop sign. The drivers exchange words appropriate to each locality. At Ike’s store John-Boy and Jason find that their mother’s order comes to one dollar, twenty-nine cents. But John-Boy was only given a dollar, so asks Ike to remove the peaches from the list. Ike allows them to pay later so they can take advantage of his special of two free jawbreakers with an order of one dollar, twenty-five cents or more. But, John-Boy knows his mother’s position on credit, and declines Ike’s kind offer.


The old truck approaches as the brothers exit the store. A man and boy quietly enter by preventing the bell from ringing over the door. However Ike hears the two and asks if he can help. The man says they will take cheese, crackers, and two bottles of orange soda. While this happens the boy steals apples. The man says to Ike that they “just blew in from Kansas”, referring to the drought. When Ike announces the total comes to thirty-four cents, the man wonders why so high. Ike tells him that it includes the nine cents for each apple inside the boy’s pockets. The man and boy apologize and pay the price. Back outside the man admonishes the boy for being caught, but the boy shows him bacon and two cans of peaches that he also stole.


Mary Ellen wonders if she can visit Aunt Bea in Washington, but Olivia says the family can’t afford it. Mary Ellen is upset about never having been further than Charlottesville. Just then the old truck is heard driving up to the house. Olivia realizes that it’s Cousin Cora Denby, her husband Hamilton ‘Ham’, and son Job. They ask to stay at the house until a job letter arrives from Newport News, and Ham presents the bacon and peaches to Olivia. Job will be sleeping with John-Boy, while Cora and Ham take John and Olivia’s bedroom as John sleeps with the boys and Olivia sleeps with the girls. Job asks Jason the age of Mary Ellen, but when Jason asks why he wants to know Job only swaggers out of the room. After supper, the two families listen to “George Burns and Gracie Allen” on the radio. With laughter in the background John-Boy writes in his journal: “Seems to me that using past failures is the seed for tomorrow’s defeats is a poor waste of the garden of life that God has given us. As far as I can tell he has just wandered from one place to another and never made a go of it anywhere, and Job is just following in his footsteps.”


The next day John-Boy catches Mary Ellen and Job smoking “rabbit tobacco” cigarettes in the shed. Soon, Olivia also finds them and punishes Mary Ellen with ten Bible verses. Job thinks John-Boy tattled on them, giving him a hostile look. John, Ham, and Erin walk into the store where John tells Ike the bacon Ham gave them must have came from his store. But, Ham says he got the bacon in Tennessee, telling them they must have Ike’s smoking secret. Yancy tells John that he just shot quail on John-Boy’s Meadow, as Ham steals a tobacco pouch while Erin watches. Off to the side John tells Ike he will do electrical work at the store in exchange for groceries, in order to pay for some bacon. As John and Ham walk out, Ham presents the tobacco to John. Ike and Yancy talk about how generous John and Olivia are to friends and relatives.


Ben works on a model airplane when Ham asks to show him John-Boy’s Meadow. Cora combs her hair as Olivia comments on its beauty, while Cora says how lovely her quilts look. Erin asks John-Boy what to do when she sees someone do something wrong. John-Boy irritably tells her to confront the person. John leaves in Ham’s truck in order to work at Ike’s store (waiting on his truck parts). Ham looks on while Grandpa hoes the garden. Zeb suggests he shovel manure onto Olivia’s petunias. Mary Ellen fishes as Job walks up, suggesting that they “fool around”. Mary Ellen tells him that she’ll hit him with a rock. Erin tells Ham that she saw him steal tobacco. Ham states that she is being disrespectful and threatens to tell her parents. Job reads the passage in John-Boy’s journal about his father and confronts him about it. John-Boy tells him that he has the right to say or write anything. Job calls him a “panty-waist” for not fighting him.


That night John returns home after rewiring at Ike’s store. Olivia says that something is wrong and wonders if the employment letter will ever arrive (with the end of the month already past). In the bedroom, Cora asks Ham if he has thought what they will do if the letter doesn’t arrive. Ham suggests that they farm John-Boy’s Meadow, but Cora says that they need to go someplace else and not give up when times get rough.


In the morning Ham walks downstairs after sleeping late. Grandma tells him to pick up groceries and (strongly) implies to check the mail again. As Grandpa and the children pick berries Zeb tells John-Boy that fighting Job would not have solved the problem. John-Boy says he didn’t fight him because of being afraid. Grandpa states, “there are some things that you have to fight for”. As Olivia wrings out clothes John and Ham return with groceries, but without the letter. As the children return John-Boy walks to milk Chance. He overhears Mary Ellen resisting Job’s advances. John-Boy intervenes, and fights with Job. As Job swings a pitchfork toward John-Boy, Grandpa pushes the pitchfork away, grabs both boys by the scruffs of their necks, and walks them into the house. When John-Boy and Job refuse to talk Grandpa says he believes the fight had to do with what John-Boy wrote in his journal. With everything out in the open, Cora decides it is time for her family to move on. Ham tries to convince his wife that she inherited part of John-Boy’s Meadow when her father died. Cora says her father had “sand in his shoes” like him, and sold the land to Zeb. Cora tells her husband that they are through begging and will succeed on their own. While Ham and Job pack belongings onto the truck Cora talks about making a life similar to the one Olivia has here. She says goodbye to John, telling him that they helped more than they know.


"We heard from Cora a few times after they left. They settled finally in up-state New York in a place called the Mohawk valley and they did all right farming. Grandpa used to say that Ham must have learned one of the Walton secrets in spite of himself - that the world wasn't like the song said "just a bowl of cherries" but that you had to go out and climb the tree, and bark your shins a few times doing it, and pick those cherries yourself".


Mary Ellen: John-Boy?

John-Boy: Huh?

Mary Ellen: I'm much obliged to you.

John-Boy: Goodnight, Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen: Tonight I stuck my pin in my geography book and it came down on Larkspur California. Wouldn't that be a fair place to see?

John-Boy: I guess so. Goodnight Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen: Goodnight.



Charlottesville is said to contain twenty thousand residents.

John-Boy is seventeen years old, Jason is fifteen, and Mary Ellen is thirteen.

Cora is John’s cousin. Her father, Matt, was Zeb’s brother. Matt Walton was mentioned in The Typewriter (season one, episode five).

The Denby family lost their Kansas farm to the “Dust Bowl”, and then settled in Upper New York State, at a place called the Mohawk Valley.

Matt Walton sold his share of Walton’s Mountain (including the land now called John-Boy’s Meadow) to his brother Zeb.

The Walton’s have an Aunt Bea in Washington DC. It is not known what side of the family she is on.

More information on George Burns and Gracie Allen can be found at: (television show) http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/G/htmlG/georgeburns/gerogeburns.htm and (radio show) http://40sradio.us.nstempintl.com/burnsallen.htm.

NOTE: This episode was won an award given by the Directors Guild of America for the Best Direction in a Dramatic Series.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Yancy Tucker (Robert Donner), Cora Denby (Joy MacIntosh), Hamilton ‘Ham’ Denby (Warren Vanders), Job Denby (Ken Wolger).


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