Episode 12 - The Departure


(5 December 1974) 60-3-12

Writer: Joanna Lee.

Director: Ivan Dixon.

Music: Alexander Courage


"By the fall of 1934, people were beginning to hope that the worst of the Depression was over. Some jobs were opening up and there was an urgency in the country to get up and get going again. There was a restless feeling to life, we all felt it and my father was no exception. The fall of that year brought him the first real discontent we ever knew him to have."


John and Grandpa work in the mill, but John is uneasy as Zeb brings him some water. Grandpa has a toothache but calls it rheumatism (and gallopin’ gout). John-Boy walks up to hear about Grandpa’s problem. John informs his son that Zeb would rather think it’s a toothache because “rheumatism goes away, but a toothache means a dentist”. John-Boy goes inside to change clothes so he can stack the lumber. That night at supper, Zeb indicates to Esther that he doesn’t want any hot food tonight, but Grandma has no sympathy for him, telling him to see the dentist. But, Grandpa wants nothing to do with Doc. Whipple. John knows it’s Wednesday night because they always have clam chowder and apple fritters on Wednesdays. At bedtime, John wants Olivia to do something different with her hair (realizing she braids it on the right side every night. He wants to see a picture show in Charlottesville, make love in the forest, or have an adventure, but Olivia has been on her feet for sixteen hours and is exhausted.


In the morning, John and John-Boy discuss things to get while in Westham as they walk to the truck. Elizabeth wants John-Boy to get wire for Cindy’s rabbit cage, Erin asks John-Boy to return books that Mike Timberlake left at the house, Olivia wants John to buy baking soda at Ike’s store, and still unable to drive off, Grandma asks John to bring back something for Zeb’s toothache. At the Mid-Town Hardware store, John and John-Boy run into two girls. They strike up a conversation with John-Boy, while calling John “sir”. John thinks his son is growing up to be a ladies’ man, just like he “used” to be.


That night, John and Olivia sit in the living room as Mary Ellen and Erin listen to the radio. But Jason and Ben try to switch channels so they can listen to The Lone Ranger. With all this noise going on, Grandpa and Grandma argue about Zeb’s toothache. John leaves for the front porch to get some peace and quiet. Olivia finds her husband deep in thought, not listening to her. He doesn’t know what the problem is, but recalls the story about the two girls who ignored him, making him feel as old as Grandpa. Olivia tries to lift his spirits. But, John recounts later seeing a squirrel in a pet store’s window, running in a circle in a cage. John says he felt like that animal, never getting anywhere, the same thing day after day. John announces that he saw an ad about skilled machinists in the shipyards, paying seventy-five cents an hour. Olivia doesn’t want him to be away during the week, and tries to convince him against it. But, John has already decided to drive over tomorrow.


As John drives toward Norfolk, John-Boy tries to reassure his mother that maybe it will be difficult for his father to get a job. The kids gather outside, some liking the idea of beaches and ships, while others not wanting to move. Elizabeth brings out her pet rabbit Cindy, who is transferred to Grandma as the kids walk to school. John’s name is announced for the job of master machinists. He qualified, and starts on Monday. Later, at supper the family is not very excited about him being gone all week. He has found a boarding house to stay at during the week. Olivia walks to the kitchen, slams something down, and runs upstairs. John excuses himself, and follows his wife. As Olivia combs her hair, John tries to explain but she is mad at him for making the decision without talking with her first. John tries to tell her that this is all about his feelings about being a man. Olivia thinks all of it is a feeble excuse. John confronts her, thinking she may be having thoughts of him being in a big city all by himself. He reassures her that he loves her and would never let anything come between them. He wants to know that she is on his side.


In the morning, John prepares to leave. All the family (except Grandma, Olivia, John-Boy, and Elizabeth) is in the truck to take John to the Rockfish Station. Olivia finds Elizabeth inside thinking that her Daddy is never returning because he’s never left before with a suitcase. Olivia holds her daughter. The owner, Laura Sue Champion, shows John around the boarding house. She introduces him to Mrs. Hester White, the high school librarian of thirty years who is retiring at the end of the year, and Stavros. At supper, Mrs. White and Stavros rave about Mrs. Champion’s food. John says her cooking is almost as good as his wife’s. The family sits down to supper, without John. Grandpa is still uncomfortable, but Grandma says he’ll feel better on Wednesday after seeing Doc. Whipple at two o’clock. Grandpa decides to lie down, where upon Grandma wonders how a man who can hold off a herd of elephants, can turn so quickly into a quivering vat of jelly. John-Boy is worried about his Biology class, having just gotten a “C minus”; his lowest grade ever. Mary Ellen says it’s a relief to see that her straight-A brother isn’t perfect.


In the morning, John-Boy tells his Momma that today he only has one class and an appointment to see his advisor. He admits he might not be college material. Olivia knows he misses his Daddy. At work, John operates a drill press in a hot, noisy building. John-Boy’s advisor says that he is not progressing as quickly as other students. Mr. Gary suggests he drop Biology before Monday’s cutoff date. John-Boy thinks his workload will always be heavy, and taking it later will not help. John walks back to the boarding house after work. Stavros asks John to join him for a beer, and John accepts. A drunk bumps into John, blaming him for getting into his way. Stavros intercepts the near-scuffle. As they sit and drink Stavros asks John about his family life, wondering why a devoted family man is away. John says that the pay was good here, he felt like he was getting old, and that he might be missing something in life.


In the evening, Olivia sews as Erin and Mary Ellen enter the house. She asks them to join her in listening to Fox Radio Theatre. But, Mary Ellen promised to wash Erin’s hair. Olivia is feeling lonely, but says she is fine. Outside Jason and Ben discuss a school problem. If their Daddy was home, he could solve the problem for them (knowing their Momma is good in composition and their Daddy good in arithmetic). In the parlor, John watches as Mrs. Champion and Stavros play chess. When the phone rings, Mrs. Champion tells John that it is for him. It’s Olivia (at Ike’s store) who is missing her husband. John confesses that he won’t be coming home this weekend, saying he will be fired if he doesn’t work overtime. John tells his wife that he loves her, but Olivia is obviously devastated by the news.


John is also upset, asking Mrs. Champion if he can help her with the dishes. He tells her about his family, and she notices the glow that comes to his face while he describes his family. Mrs. Champion tells John that her husband Jimmy and her wanted a bunch of children, but now that she is alone she is glad she doesn’t have to raise them alone. Stavros asks Mrs. Champion if she wants to go with him to a concert in the park. But she feels sad, and would rather not hear the beautiful music. After Stavros slams the door, John thinks the man would prefer he not be around.


John-Boy writes in his journal, “The spirits of each member of the family were subdued by the absence of the father. The man had been gone four days, but the boy felt that an eternity had passed. His anxiety had deepened by the fact that he was failing one of his courses. And he had convinced himself that without his father’s guidance he might end his college career all together.”


John returns to his room, sitting on the bed to think. Olivia combs her hair in her bedroom. John can’t sleep, finally deciding to write his wife a letter. Olivia finally puts out the light. She looks over at the empty side of the bed. Over breakfast, Olivia tells John-Boy that his father won’t be coming home this weekend. John-Boy tells his mother that he needs to speak with him. Olivia abruptly responds that she also needs to talk with him. They hug each other, knowing each other’s pain. Later, John returns to the boarding house to find John-Boy in the parlor with the other tenants. Mrs. Champion invites John-Boy for supper, with hot apple pie. After Stavros recounts his tale of leaving his native homeland, Mrs. Champion says she is tired of each of their stories. Stavros stomps out of the room.


John then takes John-Boy to where he works. The last five days, John tells his son, has shown him his place in the scheme of things. John-Boy tells his father his problem with Biology class. John-Boy suddenly realizes he’s already made a decision, but was too afraid to admit he had done so. The go into the Seven Seas bar to have a beer, but two sailors sitting with Stavros make disparaging remarks of a father bringing his son in to drink with men. Stavros tells John that he loves Mrs. Champion, and that he has made her not like him. A fight breaks out, and John and John-Boy barely escape. John tells his son, “Let’s go home, home to Walton’s Mountain.” Mrs. Champion gives the pair some of the apple pie for the trip home. As she and John say goodbye a look is exchanged between the two.


Mary Ellen tells the family that John-Boy has returned with their father. The family is delighted that John is home, and Olivia kisses her husband. Grandpa comes downstairs with a big smile on his face. Grandma says that Doc Whipple pulled a tooth and he’s not been able to stop laughing for five hours. Mary Ellen says Grandpa was given nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. John tells Olivia, “Had me an adventure!”


"A house is more than paint and walls, ceilings and floors. A house is a history of all those people that it sheltered, and when we move away, we leave behind us the persons we were then. The prints of our fingers on a door frame, the marks on a floor we walked, the whisper of our voices, and all those things that were done, and said."


Olivia: John?

John: What?

Olivia: That woman you wrote me about, Mrs Champion?

John: Uh Hm?

Olivia: What was she like? I mean, how old was she?

John: Oh I don't know, she was - well she wasn't young, she wasn't old, I mean, she –

Mary Ellen: Goodnight Daddy.

John: Goodnight, Mary Ellen.

Olivia: You mean, what, John?

John: I mean, she was kinda unusual.

Olivia: Oh?

Erin: Goodnight Daddy.

John: Goodnight Erin.

Olivia: How was she unusual?

John: Well, she was –

Elizabeth: I love you, Daddy.

John: I love you too, honey. Goodnight! Where was I Livy?

Olivia: No place that can't wait 'till morning!

John: Liv? I love you.

Olivia: I love you too, John.



John-Boy is eighteen years old, and Grandpa is seventy-two years old.

John has taken a job as a master machinist at Norfolk for seventy-five cents an hour. He is staying at Mrs. Champion’s boarding house.

Jack Garner plays John-Boy’s academic advisor, Mr. Gary. Jack Garner, the brother of TV/movie actor James Garner frequently appeared in cameo and minor roles in such James Garner television shows as The Rockford Files.


Also appearing:

Mrs. Laura Sue Champion (Joanna Moore); Stavros (Panos A. Christi); Mrs. Hester White (Anne Loos); Clerk (Seamon Glass); Mr. Gary (Jack Garner); Lady #1 (Kelly Gilmore); Lady #2 (Colby Harnes); Bartender (Don “Red” Bealle); Sailor #1 (Bob Bralver); Sailor #2 (Louie Elras); Donovan (Jimmy Don Moore).