Episode 16: The Fire


(11 January 1973)

Writer: Earl Hamner.

Director: Harry Harris.

Music: Jerry Goldsmith.


The Fire


"Most of us on Waltons Mountain prided ourselves on our friendly hospitality, our family's good name, and our dignity as individuals, but in a remote hollow lived a man named Lutie Bascomb with his daughter Lois May. If Lutie prided himself on anything, it was his cussedness".


Lutie Bascomb walks his daughter, Lois May, to school as he reminds her to walk straight home after school, to look away if a boy looks at her, and to tell him if the teacher tries to fill her with blasphemy. Lois May quickly enters the schoolhouse, late again. Miss Hunter has begun the lecture on aboriginal man, assigning Addison to collect ancient implements, John-Boy to keep notes and write the report, and Lois May to perform the research. At home, Olivia places new covers on the living room chair with Grandma’s help, just as the men arrive for dinner. They don’t notice the new chair coverings, much to the women’s chagrin. Back at school, John-Boy and Lois May perform a chemistry experiment when Miss Hunter suggests Lois May try some experiments at home.


After school John-Boy walks with Lois May, although she is uneasy that her father will discover them. She explains that her father doesn’t want her to turn evil like her mother, who left when she was younger. Soon Lutie comes up on the pair, telling John-Boy to stay away. John-Boy doesn’t understand. After father and daughter leave, John-Boy finds Ike beating old furniture with a chain after a city lady bought one of his battered tables saying it was a “perfectly divine antique table”. Figuring other city ladies would buy more tables, Ike has decided to quickly add to their value, and sell them tomorrow in Charlottesville. John-Boy asks if he would pay him to help so he could buy a needed dictionary at Jarman’s Bookstore.


The next morning John-Boy tells Jason to inform Miss Hunter that he is sick, as he heads to Ike’s store. But that night, when John-Boy returns, he finds that Martha Rose Coverdale tattled on him. John-Boy faces his father, mother, and Miss Hunter, explaining why he skipped class. John responds, “You know my heart’s cravin’ that all my children finish high school, even college if I can live that long.” Miss Hunter says that John-Boy can make up the lost schoolwork.


The next day while Miss Hunter explains about early man, Lois May asks if they knew of Jesus. Miss Hunter said that the people lived 45,000 to 100,000 years before Jesus. Lois May says that the Bible indicates that mankind is about 8,000 years old. When Miss Hunter says that the Bible is symbolic Lois May walks out, saying that her father told her to leave if atheism is taught. Miss Hunter continues with her lesson, after Lois May says the school will “burn in the fires of hell”.


John-Boy walks to Lois May’s house to talk about what happened. Lois May said her father was awfully mad when she told him. At school, Lutie confronts Miss Hunter by writing, “REPENT” on the blackboard. He argues with her, saying she is not a teacher when she talks about humans coming from apes. He pounds on the desk, breaking a human skull, then walks out. As Miss Hunter walks home, Grandpa and John drive by. She explains what occurred with Lutie, and Grandpa agrees about his strangeness. Later, John asks John-Boy what happened. John-Boy says that Lois May became mixed up in what Miss Hunter said, but that the situation could become like the “Scopes” trial.


Miss Mamie and Miss Emily listen to their Papa’s Victrola when they suddenly hear an intruder break into the Recipe room. They rush to Ike’s store. Inside, the hysterical sisters tell Ike, John, John-Boy, and Hawthorne Dooley what they just experienced. Scared to go back, John reassures them, saying they will accompany them back and check the house. Lutie breaks into the school with a jar of the Recipe in his hand. He throws over bookcases and lights a match after spreading the Recipe on the floor. After knocking down furniture, Lutie accidentally falls and knocks himself unconscious with flames all around. Later, the community gathers to battle the fire, but to no avail as the school burns down. Miss Hunter watches in disbelief.


Later, Sheriff Bridges and John visit the Bascomb house. After knocking on the door without an answer they suddenly hear a moan from inside. They find Lois May beaten up and half conscious. Back home Olivia and Grandma mend her wounds as John, Grandpa, and John-Boy ask her questions. Lois May says her father was roaring drunk when he hit her and left to “punish the heathens”.


The next morning John-Boy finds Miss Hunter looking over the destroyed school, ready to visit the County Seat to ask for supplies and a place for the school next year. They talk about Lois May’s promise in science and her unstable father. Suddenly John-Boy sees a pair of shoes in the rubble, that of Lutie Bascomb. Without school, Mary Ellen tells Grandma she has nothing to do. Grandma tries to teach her to crochet, but Mary Ellen says she is going to be a career woman. Grandma states that being married and raising a family is a career. John, Olivia, Grandpa, John-Boy, and Lois May return from the funeral. Olivia tells Lois May that she can stay to get her thought together. Lois May wonders if someone should contact her mother.


At the store Miss Hunter thinks Ike’s poolroom could hold school for the older children. The County Seat will rebuild the school in the summer, but six weeks are left in the current school year. Ike agrees to let the students use the space, mostly so they can make his tables and chairs more antique looking. During first day of class, Hawthorne interrupts the class, as do the Baldwin sisters, when they enter the store. Miss Hunter notices that Lois May is absent, deciding to visit her. Miss Hunter tries to convince Lois May that she recognized her abilities, but went about it the wrong way. Lois May returns home, hearing the harsh voice of her father, then hearing the affirmative voice of Miss Hunter.


As class starts the next morning, Lois May arrives with a positive look on her face. Miss Hunter begins the class with chapter nine of “The Living Earth”. After class Lois May’s mother and Olivia greet Lois May. The woman admits writing letters and wanting to see her daughter, but being scared of Lutie. Lois May is hesitant to establish a relationship with her mother. Olivia intercedes, and mother and daughter walk together, getting to know each other.


"I can only ask you to take my word for the end of the story of Lois May Bascomb for truth is far stranger than fiction. I was to meet her many years later when she had become not a scientist but the wife of a diplomat. She now lives abroad and I expect that sometimes her memories as mine do, return to those Depression years, and Waltons Mountain".


Grandpa: Esther you know that shoe Miss Emily lost? I found it today, and she offered me a reward.

Grandma: What did she offer?

Grandpa: A kiss, or some of the Recipe.

Grandma: And which one did you choose?

Grandpa: Both!

Grandma: You old fool! (Grandpa chuckles).


Extract from John Boy's journal:

The house is hushed now, the hour is late, the night is still except for a whippoorwill that calls from the crabapple tree. In the kitchen, I hear the voices of my mother and father as they speak quiet private things to each other. Sleep flows through the house like a silent river. Soon our sleep will join in the flow of that quiet river and each of us will dream our separate dream.



Lois May’s mother lives in Wilmington, Delaware.

The sign in front of the school states “Walton’s Mountain School—Jefferson Co., Virginia”.

Their Papa home taught the Baldwin sisters.

Lester Adams is mentioned in the class role, but doesn’t appear. Beaumont, Addison, and Jeanett appear as students.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford), Miss Mamie and Miss Emily Baldwin (Helen Kleeb and Mary Jackson), Miss Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello), Hawthorne Dooley (Theodore Wilson), Lois May Bascomb (Laurie Prange), Lutie Bascomb (Richard Bradford), Lois May’s Mother (Nancy Jeris), Beaumont (Scott McCartor), Addison (Mark Montgomery), Jeanett (Lisa Eibacher).


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