"When I was growing up back in those distant Depression years I always seemed to be a year or two younger than I wanted to be, and a year or two older than my parents thought I was. It tried my patience for a long time, until one day something happened to my sister Mary Ellen that helped me understand those feelings in myself".
Mary Ellen runs home for supper when she collides with Jamie, a traveling minstrel writing down regional songs. John brings into the kitchen two sacks of apples, announcing that he has contracted with Old Man Pickett to pick his apple orchard. The family will receive a bonus of ten cents for every bushel, but will have to return fifty cents for every bushel left after three days. After supper Mary Ellen asks her father to go with two classmates to Virginia Beach. John refuses, saying she is only thirteen years old. When Mary Ellen tells her mother it will cost nine dollars, Olivia says that the family can’t afford it. Mary Ellen sasses her father, telling him that she wants to see new things. John warns her to think about what she just said. As Mary Ellen walks to the porch, Jamie walks up to John-Boy who is feeding Chance. He asks for hay for his burro, and says he can sing for his supper.
On the porch, John, Olivia, and John-Boy talk about the wanderlust inside Jamie. Mary Ellen walks out to apologize to her father. She gives him a hug and a kiss goodnight. Mary Ellen says the light from the stars take so long to reach them that the stars are already gone. Mary Ellen says that she feels similar: before getting a chance to see things, they will be gone. John-Boy suggested that she take Jamie to Maude Gormley’s house tomorrow so he can write down her songs. But John says they need everybody to pick apples. While Olivia convinces John to let Mary Ellen go with Jamie, John-Boy writes in his journal about Mary Ellen and Maude Gormley: “We’re going to be one short tomorrow at picking apples. Daddy is letting Mary Ellen show Jamie the way over to Maude Gormleys. Wish I were going to hear Maude sing. She’d sing all day if anyone would listen.”
The next day Jamie writes down lyrics to Maude’s song while Mary Ellen listens to:
I was born in east Virginia,
North Carolina I did roam.
There I met a fair and pretty madam,
Her name and age I do not know.
Her hair, it was a light sun color,
And her lips, a ruby red.
On her breast she wore white lilies,
There I long to lay my head.
Elizabeth, Jim Bob, and Grandpa box apples as the others pick more apples. But John-Boy reaches too far from the ladder, falls to the ground, and breaks his right wrist. Grandpa takes him to the doctor as Mary Ellen listens to Jamie sing another song:
Johnson boys were raised in ashes.
Didn’t know how to court a maid.
Turned their backs and hid their faces.
Sight of a pretty girl makes them afraid.
Sight of a pretty girl makes them afraid.
Johnson boys eat peas and honey.
They have eaten them all their lives.
Makes the peas taste kind of funny.
But it keeps them on their knives.
But it keeps them on their knives.
Jamie decides to sketch Mary Ellen, telling her that many people save for a rainy day, but forget about today’s sunshine. He shows his drawing to Mary Ellen, who thinks she looks pretty. That night Mary Ellen returns to tell her mother about her great day. Olivia says John-Boy broke his wrist. Mary Ellen frets over not being there for the family, but still feels that life is rushing past her. Olivia talks about her fulfilling life, but Mary Ellen says she doesn’t want it. John comes out to say to Mary Ellen that she shouldn’t be ashamed of her feelings, but suggests not rushing things. Mary Ellen asks her mother if she has ever tasted the ocean. Olivia nods “no”, and Mary Ellen wonders if “it tastes salt”.
The next morning while the family eats breakfast Mary Ellen asks John-Boy (while he milks Chance) if he is happy here. John-Boy says his parents took care of him when he was growing up, and he owes them a loyalty. He assures Mary Ellen that they will not be here forever. Mary Ellen wonders, “Is there something wrong with me?” John-Boy nods “no”. Picking apples again, the family talks about what they will buy with their money as Mary Ellen runs off. After discovering her missing, John, Olivia, and John-Boy search for her. Without finding her they decide to quit early and return home. Later, Jamie sings to Mary Ellen:
I want to see an ocean, know if it tastes of salt.
Swimming in a Maine river, running wild.
Living in a city of strangers, where neighbors don’t know my name.
Where I am “me”, and not my parent’s child.
Some need roots to grow on, but I’m a blossom man.
Never saw a firefly caught that smiled.
Rainbows die at sunset and laughter has no sea.
My name is “Now", won’t be tomorrow’s child.
Mary Ellen wants to see the ocean, and Jamie agrees to take her. He says other girls asked before her, but never stayed. Mary Ellen says, “Not me!” At home, Grandma says Mary Ellen did not return, thinking she is with Jamie who has moved on. John-Boy writes in his journal about Mary Ellen and Jamie: “Daddy went to notify the sheriff and he is not back yet. I guess he is checking the bus station and such places. If anybody is to blame for all of this, I think it is Jamie. Leading his kind of life I guess you don’t think too much about the consequences of what you do.”
John-Boy looks through his window at the stars, and decides to search for his sister. At the camp, Jamie sings and, afterwards, Mary Ellen kisses him, saying he will now be her family. Jamie states that he doesn’t want or need a family. Mary Ellen becomes upset, prompting Jamie to call her “just a kid”. She runs off crying.
John returns from searching unsuccessfully for his daughter. Olivia waits for him, saying he needs some rest. They walk upstairs to wait for dawn in an hour. John-Boy finds Mary Ellen where she admits making a fool of herself. John-Boy says that “whatever I do, or you do, you can always go home”. At five-thirty John walks downstairs to find John-Boy and Mary Ellen drinking coffee. Mary Ellen runs to her father and hugs him, saying she doesn’t know what came over her. John thanks his son for bringing her home, telling them that he is “real happy” with his children.
On the last day of picking apples the truck is loaded and the trees nearly empty. Old Man Pickett is surprised to find all the apples picked. That night, while Mary Ellen thinks on her bed, the family divides the bonus with the household money set aside. Grandpa states that the family’s hard working character is inherited like “red hair, freckles, and big blue eyes”. Jason announces that the thirty-one dollars, ninety cents is equally divided into two dollars, ninety cents each. But John says that everybody didn’t worked equally, but we all did our best, except for Mary Ellen. John thinks there is a lesson to be learned, “If we do our share, we are honored in the effort. But if we don’t, then we don’t deserve to share in what the rest earned.” John-Boy disagrees with his opinion, saying the family shares more than just money. Later, Jim Bob tells Mary Ellen to come downstairs. She apologizes for the hurt she caused, saying she loves them all. John announces that the family has agreed to send her to Washington, D.C. to visit Aunt Jesse. Elizabeth says she still has seventy cents left over for gumdrops.
"My sister Mary Ellen went to Washington DC and she saw enough new things to satisfy her craving for adventure for a long time. I looked at her with new eyes after that night because I realized she was no longer a child. I grew up too of course and left Waltons Mountain, but the love and warmth I knew in that special family was like a pebble dropped in water that ripples through my life to this day".
Jim Bob: Mama?
Olivia: Yes, Jim Bob?
Jim Bob: Where d'you reckon Mary Ellen is right this minute?
Olivia: Where do think she is?
Jim Bob: At the White House.
Erin: Having tea with Mrs Roosevelt.
Jason: I bet she's having tea with Mr Roosevelt.
John-Boy: Probably telling him how to run things!
John: In that case the country's in good hands! 'Night everybody.
Everyone: 'Night Daddy.
It is the autumn of the year (because the Waltons are picking apples).
Maude Gormley makes her first appearance.
Olivia’s Aunt Jesse lives in Washington, D.C.
Old Man Pickett’s apple orchard is located near Earlyville in Cumberland County. (In reality, Cumberland County is southeast of Buckingham County, which is southeast of Nelson County.)
Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Sheriff Ep Bridges (John Crawford), Maude Gormley (Merle Earle), Old Man Pickett (Regis J. Cordic), Jamie (Peter Hooten).
(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)