Episode 14 - The Birthday


(19 December 1974) 62-3-14

Writer: Nancy Greenwald.

Director: Ivan Dixon.

Music: Alexander Courage.


"The Spring of 1935 was a particularly good one on Walton’s Mountain. Peach blossoms exploded in a pink mist and the mallards built their nest early along the Rockfish River. Spring's arrival was so magnificent that it left us unprepared for anything that might in any way deny the beauty of life."


John and Grandpa work at the sawmill only to have a coil of wire break. Grandpa suggests quitting for the day to fish, but John knows they must continue working. Grandpa offers to retrieve wire off of the back porch; and while searching feels a sharp pain in his chest and nearly collapses. At the same time, Grandma asks Ike whether mail has arrived for them. Ike, however, is more interested in the quince jelly that Esther made and that he is selling for fifteen cents a jar (twenty-five cents for two jars). Ike finally retrieves a letter (surprisingly) addressed to Esther from Boatwright University. Esther makes Ike promise not to reveal her secret: she has been selling her jellies to buy two tickets for next week’s Fitzsimmon lecture on Tahiti for Zeb’s birthday. Grandpa returns with the wire, but doesn’t tell what happening, making the excuse that it was difficult to find it in the cluttered porch area.


Grandma returns from the store; announced by the barks of Reckless. Jim Bob and Elizabeth nearly run into Grandpa as they ride the new scooter. Olivia yells out that it’s time for supper. Esther walks into the kitchen telling Olivia that she lost track of time after Mrs. Brimmer invited her over for tea. Grandma wants some black bunting in order to mend Zeb’s jacket that he tore at their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Olivia tells John that supper consists of chicken and potatoes. Grandpa says an exceptionally long grace, and is finally interrupted by John.


During supper, John-Boy tells the family of his class where pictures from Paris were shown. John reminisces that he’s not been to France since the war. Grandpa compliments Erin about the deliciousness of the meal. Olivia suggests she help cook Zeb’s upcoming birthday supper, but Grandma sternly says they will not be eating at home. When Zeb counters that he “will” eat his birthday supper at home, Esther finally tells her secret: she has sold twenty-three jars of jelly for two tickets to the Fitzsimmon lecture, and has one dollar, seventy cents left over to take “your Grandpa” out to dinner at a restaurant. Grandpa is so excited about the lecture that he gets up to dance a Tahitian dance. But suddenly he clutches his chest and falls to the floor. The family rushes to him.


Doc McIvers comes downstairs after examining Zeb to announce that Grandpa has had a mild coronary. He tells Esther that Zeb can’t have eggs, cream, salt, or cake, but can have milk if the fat is skimmed off the top. The doctor says that Zeb is a “very spry 73”. McIvers instructs Esther to give him one pill every four hours (to make his heart beat regular and to help him sleep) and assures her that Zeb will be okay. Esther returns to their room, and while Zeb sleeps Esther begins to mend his jacket.


The next morning, Esther only has coffee for breakfast. She asks John-Boy to stop by Ike’s store for some black double-duty binding (about one yard), and looks into Olivia’s sewing basket for black mending thread. John-Boy says that his grandmother won’t admit anything is wrong. After Esther is hesitant to wake Zeb for his pill, John-Boy decides to give it to him. After Grandma tells John-Boy that the pills are in the top dresser drawer, he wakes Grandpa. He isn’t hungry for breakfast, and returns to sleep. That night at supper, Erin talks about Michael Murphy, a boy who wore a purple shirt to class today; and John-Boy tells a story about his French class where the teacher accidentally played the Russian language lesson.


After supper, Grandpa and John talk. Zeb is worried that John is working too much; and he admits that he’ll never be able to go to the lecture, but doesn’t want to disappoint Esther. John tries to get his father to eat. John tells Olivia that he’s worried about his father, who is wearing himself out trying not to look sick in front of Esther. In the morning, Olivia gives John some jelly to take to Rev. Fordwick, and John tells Grandma that maybe the reverend would like those two Fitzsimmons’ tickets in order to take Rosemary. Grandma still insists she is taking Grandpa. Olivia tries to explain to Grandma that Grandpa will not be out of bed in time for the lecture. Grandma finally breaks down and says “I’ve loved him for fifty-one years. How will I live without him?


Esther gives Zeb a sponge bath as Zeb remembers the time he borrowed a hacksaw from her Papa, as she sewed on the front porch, sitting pretty with her back so straight. Zeb says that he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her, seeing the glow in her cheeks. It was the first time that he fell for her. Grandma says it’s time to look forward, not back; and it’s time to pick strawberries because he’s never missed a year. Grandma asks John-Boy to help Zeb into the chair by the window. But he is too heavy. Zeb tells John-Boy that he’s been in bed for two weeks, without getting better. John-Boy counters that Doc McIver says he is getting better, and tells him a story about the gold finches in a wild cherry tree. Grandpa asks John-Boy to go to Henry Farris’ stonemason store in Charlottesville and to pick out a head stone for him. John-Boy is shocked at the idea and doesn’t want to do it. Finally, he agrees. John-Boy talks with the son about a stone, but in the middle of the explanation, John-Boy walks off, unable to continue the conversation.


Olivia and Grandma talk about Grandpa after praying at the church. Grandma thinks that Zeb should be taken outside in order to keep up his spirits. Grandpa finds out that John-Boy went to Farris’ store but did not choose a stone. John-Boy tells Grandpa that he’ll have to buy it himself, when he’s better. John-Boy is shown a picture that Elizabeth is drawing of Chance, the milk cow. She is making it for Grandpa but wants to finish it quickly because she thinks Grandpa is going to die. John-Boy reassures Jim Bob and Elizabeth that their grandpa isn’t going to die. Elizabeth suggests they carry Grandpa up to the Mountain. Jim Bob suggests using the old tent that the carnival people left. John-Boy talks with John, telling him of Jim Bob’s idea. John agrees to let John-Boy cut the grass in the meadow behind the barn. Esther and Olivia return, wanting to take Zeb outside in the wheelchair so he can see the Mountain. John tells them their plan, and the whole family pitches in to ready the tent for Grandpa.


Grandma thanks the family for their help. Just then Doc McIvers drives up, but when he hears of their plan flatly refuses to allow it, saying they don’t realize the seriousness of Zeb’s condition. As the doctor leaves, he tells John that Zeb has not gotten much better since his heart attack. John is noticeably saddened. After McIvers leaves, Esther insists they move Zeb, saying that she knows more of Zeb’s heart than the doctor. John agrees and yells for John-Boy to help him move Grandpa. As Grandpa is wheeled down the front steps, he comments on the neglected weeds. The family greets him at the entrance to the tent as he touches the flowers all around him. The family leaves to he and Esther can be alone. Grandpa sings to Esther “Tenting tonight, tenting tonight…”.


Grandma watches over Zeb all through the night. In the morning, John and John-Boy bring out breakfast and insists that Grandma go inside for some rest. She refuses breakfast, but does drink coffee, looking very tired. Esther is worried about Zeb; all night she blocked out all the sounds of the night only letting in the sound of Zeb’s breathing. It was the longest night of her life. Suddenly, John-Boy runs in to announce that Zeb ate every bite on the tray. Esther is relieved, and Olivia knows Grandma can now sleep.


Later in the day, the children place ten candles on Grandpa’s birthday cake and sing “HappyBirthday” as they bring him the cake. The children also turn down the flaps of the tent as John-Boy begins to narrate the Fitzsimmon lecture along with its slides that he borrowed from the university. Grandpa especially likes the picture of the fisherman and the woman bathers. Zeb says about the man who took the photograph, “Lucky feller!


"And so my grandfather was to recover, and to grow strong again. To savor the coming and going of the seasons, the blossoming of the peach trees in spring, the turning leaves of autumn, and always to enjoy the growth of his sprawling brood of grandchildren, as we were growing up on Walton’s Mountain."


Elizabeth: Grandpa?

Grandpa: Yes Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Is your heart alright now?

Grandpa: It's alright now it's beating like all thunder.

Elizabeth: Are you having another heart attack?

Grandpa: No, your grandma just kissed me.

Grandma: Oh you old fool!




It’s spring 1935.

Rance Howard (who plays Dr. McIvers) is Ron Howard’s father.

Zeb is seventy-three years old on Friday night, the night of the Fitzsimmon lecture.

Zeb and Esther have been married fifty-one years.

The sign outside Henry Farris’ stone mason shop states “Henry Farris and Son - Memorial Masons - Monuments - Statutes”.

Grandpa sings the War Between the States song Tenting Tonight on the Old Campgrounds. The lyrics can be found at http://www.civilwarmusic.net/display_song.php?song=tenting.

The family sings Happy Birthday to You to Grandpa. Some of the song’s history can be found at http://www.uselessknowledge.com/explain/birthday.shtml.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Dr. McIvers (Rance Howard). Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Henry Farris, Jr. (Brion James).