Episode 20 - The Choice

(6 February 1975)
Writer: Nancy Greenwald.
Director: Alf Kjellin.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"One of the things that I find distressing about life today is that people don't really seem to enjoy their work anymore. When I was growing up on Waltons Mountain my father and my grandfather loved their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us. But I recall one time when my brother Jason had to make a choice, a choice that was difficult for him, but even more difficult for my father".


Chickens scatter, as John and Grandpa walk out the backdoor on the way to work. Inside, Olivia and Grandma clean up from breakfast as Jason plays his guitar. Mary Ellen and Elizabeth comment that Jason is playing one of his songs for show-and-tell at school. Mary Ellen thinks it strange of her brother to sing to the class, but Olivia says that she should be proud that her brother has a special talent. Mary Ellen wonders when she’ll find her special talent. When Grandma begins to comment on a girl’s place in society Mary Ellen says she’ll scream, and Olivia says she’ll be sorry if she does. Elizabeth doesn’t know what her special talent is but is sure she’ll be “a something”. The boys come downstairs with little musical support for Jason, but his mother wishes him good luck.


Grandpa notices “long-legged” Jason as he and the other children walk to school, and remembers when Jason was only as tall as Elizabeth. John reminds him that time was ten years ago. The pair talks about how Walter Winchell says that the worst of the Depression is over, and they talk about building a “bigger and better” mill, suggesting a good site for a new building and buying a new motor. With Jason graduating they think it is time to form “Walton and Sons Lumber Yard”. After finishing the Stevens’ order, they decide to check into a loan.


After Miss Hunter hears Jason’s performance she suggests music lessons from Mrs. Breckenridge. After class Jason walks to her house, while Miss Hunter gets a ride to Ike’s store from John-Boy. She tells him of Jason’s wonderful performance. John-Boy tells her about the tons of homework that he has in college. He likes his writing teacher, Professor Parks, but is perplexed as to what to write for a big project. Miss Hunter suggests that his earlier short stories seemed limited, and suggests he write a novel about the people on the Mountain. John-Boy remarks, “a novel, like Thomas Wolfe?” When John-Boy confesses that he doesn’t think there is anything extraordinary with these people, Miss Hunter states, “maybe the bigness is the ordinary people”.


Jason performs for Mrs. Breckenridge, and she likes his music. She finds out that he picked up how to play the piano from listening to the radio and reads music a little bit. She decides to write out the first five scales as his first lesson after telling him that he has a natural gift of music. She plays a recording of Mozart (and later Felix Mendelson), as Jason listens intently. She comments how Mendelson wrote that piece when he was seventeen years old. She tells Jason never to think of any of his music as silly, only as a valuable stage in his development.


John and Grandpa return home before supper (after missing lunch), saying they have a surprise. John acts strangely as he gives Olivia a kiss, then kisses Grandma. John-Boy says grace, as Jason runs in late. John makes his announcement that he and Grandpa plan to expand the business and start a new company to make fine furniture. Grandma thinks that the idea will send them to the poor house, and Olivia doesn’t like the loan idea. John hopes to buy machinery from the Dackin place. When Jason learns that his father wants him to become a furniture maker so he will know a trade, he isn’t very happy but keeps his feelings secret.


John steps off the dimensions of the new building while Grandpa says they can use Luke Morgan’s tractor to expand the driveway. Later, John and Grandpa look over the new plans but are disturbed with Jason’s practicing on the piano. Jason tells them that Mrs. Breckenridge says he must practice at least two hours a day, and wants to get this beginning piece just right. Unable to continue, Jason abruptly leaves only to receive more criticism on the porch. John-Boy chases after him and finds that Jason wants to become a musician. John-Boy tells his younger brother that he knows how he feels, after feeling the same way when he first realized he wanted to become a writer. Like John-Boy wants to write like Thomas Wolfe, Jason says he wants to compose like George Gerswin. Jason admits that he doesn’t want to be a part of his Daddy’s new mill.


At Mrs. Breckenridge’s house, Jason plays the song he was practicing, receiving praise from his teacher. He then plays a variation that he made up, and Mrs. Breckenridge asks if he would consider applying for a scholarship to the Kleinberg Conservatory of Music. Jason says he must talk with his father first, who wants him to learn a trade. Later, Jason approaches his father while he works, and states that he wants to attend music school after graduation so he can become a working composer. John insists he must learn a real trade like John-Boy who will turn his education into a career as a journalist or teacher. John flatly refuses to let him apply to the school.


John-Boy writes in his journal, “If ever I had to describe my father I would have to start with his hands: What they do. The toil they are engaged in during the day is reflected in them and the skills in which they work has shaped them in a different manner than I’m sure a stonecutter’s hands would have been shaped.” Jason knocks on the door. John-Boy knows that he is upset, after seeing him and their father barely look at each other over supper. John-Boy tells Jason that the mill is important to their father, who doesn’t understand why his first two sons don’t want to be part of it.


Jason sees bits of paper on John-Boy’s desk. John-Boy says they are different things that he’s written, and that Miss Hunter thinks he should develop them into a novel. The two brothers dream of the day when John-Boy is a writer in New York City, and Jason is conducting his first concert at Carnegie Hall. The whole family shows up in their overalls to hear Rhapsody of the Blue Ridge by Jason Walton. John-Boy remarks that they both have a lot to look forward to in life. Jason says, “I can’t wait” and John-Boy says, “Neither can I!” John-Boy returns to his writings, deep in thought, and as Jason leaves he says “Thanks!!”


Mrs. Breckenridge and Jason fill out the form: “Previous Training: Music Appreciation—High school; Music Composition—with Mary Breckenridge; Band Experience—with Bobby Bigalow and the Haystack Gang” When Jason says it’s not much experience, Mrs. Breckenridge says it is a lot of experience for a boy his age. Under the category of “Financial Need”, Mrs. Breckenridge explains that Jason should ask his father what is his yearly income, and name all of the people he supports. Jason confesses that his father is expecting him to join him in the mill, and doesn’t know that he is applying. Mrs. Breckenridge reminds Jason that he must mail the application by tomorrow evening. Jason finishes the application in the bathroom, and after mailing it at Ike’s crosses the bridge over Druscilla’s Pond with his mother. Jason admits he mailed the application, but hasn’t told his father. Olivia insists that he know, and Jason acknowledges that he will tell him if he gets the audition. John drives up and tells them the loan was approved and they can pick up the equipment by week’s end. Olivia rides back, but Jason walks.


John relates all the news about their expansion plans at supper. Elizabeth thinks they’ll all be rich, and Grandpa believes they’ll be lumber barons. Suddenly, Jason blurts out that he applied for the music scholarship. John continues to insist that he will not allow his children to do things that will harm themselves. He states that music will not feed a family; telling Jason he can keep it as a hobby, but must learn a trade. Jason becomes mad, and storms off, now determined to run off to be able to accomplish his dream.


John walks near the barn and John-Boy wonders if he wants company. John responds, “doesn’t misery love company?” John-Boy remembers when he was about to graduate and his father was working at Waynesboro. He wanted to introduce him to the shop foreman in order to become an apprentice. John-Boy relates how John reacted when he told him that he didn’t want that type of work. John-Boy tells his father that he knows how Jason feels: angry, guilty, but still feeling love toward his father. John-Boy tells him that he always raised his children to make something of themselves, but he just never realized just how many different ways each would go. John says he just wants his children to be able to take care of themselves and their families. John-Boy says, “I’m beginning to understand you as a father.”


Grandpa and Grandma talk over coffee late that night. Grandma believes that Jason is wrong, and will see things clearly in the morning; and that John is acting too serious. Grandpa remembers when John returned from the war, and didn’t want to stay home. Grandpa was angry because he was afraid he would lose him and because his son didn’t want the same things that were important to him (the land, the Mountain). Grandma thinks that John-Boy and Jason love the land with their artistic talents, and Grandpa believes that eventually John will let Jason go to music school. Olivia hears Grandpa and Grandma, and wonders if they are restless. John wonders why Jason didn’t tell him of his music feelings until now. Olivia believes that he has only recently realized how much music means to him. Olivia asks John what is really bothering her husband. John says that his son doesn’t appreciate the opportunity that he is offering him. Olivia says that Jason is being his own separate person, just like he taught him (and all of his other children) to be. John wonders, “Why do you love me: I can’t write, can’t do music, can’t do nothing!”


In the morning, John knocks on Jason’s door, as he is packing. Jason tries to explain why he must leave; realizing things will only get worse. John asks his son if he will consider a part-time job at the mill while going to school. Jason asks, “Can it still be called ‘Walton and Sons’?” John-Boy hears what his father did, and says to his father, “You are an incredible man!” And suddenly John-Boy knows that he is going to write his novel; a novel about an astounding man, his wife, their children, and their grandparents. John wonders how the book will end, but John-Boy admits, “I don’t know. We’re still living it!”


"Almost all of us chose careers that took us away from Waltons Mountain, but no matter how far any of us traveled in later years we always came home, and while we were away my mother and father were always with us, in our hearts, and more importantly, in our attitudes toward life".


Jason practicing scales on the piano.
John: Jason, are you going to keep that racket up all night?
Jason: Sorry Daddy, I just started playing and I forgot all about the time. One more minute?
John: That's all.
Jason plays a tune.
Elizabeth: Goodnight Jason.
Erin: Goodnight Jason.
Everyone says Goodnight to everyone else.



John-Boy’s first book Walton’s Mountain is first seriously thought about in this episode, and at the end of the episode John-Boy decides to write his first novel based on his earlier writings within his writing tablets and bits and pieces of paper. Such writing tablets were first seen in The Homecoming when John-Boy received Big Chief tablets as a Christmas present.

The song lyrics that Jason first performs for Mrs. Breckenridge is “Her heart was broken to think of him gone. And she too died soon after to join her loved one. This very day you can stand on the hill where the sound of her singing is echoing still.”

Mrs. Breckenridge used to teach high school music in Charlottesville (before getting married) and currently teaches private music lessons.


Also appearing:

Miss Hunter (Mariclaire Costello); Mrs Mary Breckenridge (Adrienne Marden); Boy (Mans Kjellin).