"It was hard to think of my mother and father's marriage in terms of years. As far as we children were concerned, they'd always been married. But of course there had been a beginning to their union, and when their 20th anniversary was approaching, we decided to help them celebrate it in a very special way".
John and Olivia plan their twentieth-year wedding anniversary as they sit on the front porch. Upstairs in John-Boy’s room, the children wonder what type of present they should get for their parent’s important day. John-Boy suggests something that is homemade. Mary Ellen then suggests making a painting of the inside of the house, kind of like a dollhouse. They all agree to paint themselves somewhere inside the house. Olivia convinces John to say their vows over again, since they eloped the first time and didn’t have a formal ceremony. John agrees with a small, home ceremony with just the family and Rev. Fordwick in attendance.
At Boatwright, John-Boy and Gloria Webb walk to Dr. L. Parks’ office but find that he has been called away. Gloria shows John-Boy a picture of the woman poet who is giving a lecture at the university. Dr. Parks walks in to announce that the president of the college wants him to create a literary magazine so he will be unable to accompany Miss Madeline Bennett, the poet, during her visit to Boatwright. John-Boy offers to take his place, since he has a car. Later, John-Boy drives Miss Bennett up to her hotel, next to Edwards Men’s Shop, while explaining his viewpoint about one of her poems and its analogy with a flowing river. They inspect the hotel room. She wonders why she was given the nine o’clock a.m. train when her lecture is at two-thirty p.m. John-Boy remarks that the only other train is at nine o’clock p.m. John-Boy learns that Miss Bennett is originally from Rockville, Maine, a town of 11,500 people, but left at seventeen years old during her birthday party. Living in New York City, she wants John-Boy to show her a view of a spectacular hillside with cows.
John, Olivia, and Rev. Fordwick discuss the ceremony to be held Saturday evening. As the reverend leaves he comments how he is looking forward to a turkey dinner. Grandma comes downstairs after sewing new cuffs on Olivia’s Sunday dress, but Olivia says it will still look like the same old, tired dress. John hears what she says, and follows her to their bedroom. He learns that his wife is not upset about the dress, but thinks John doesn’t like the idea of them saying their vows again. John remarks that marriage is a very private thing between the two of them, but Olivia still tells her husband that he’s not going to back out of the ceremony.
At the Westin Public Library, John-Boy shows Madeline Bennett her book Summer Days and Other Stories on the library shelves that he has stashed behind the other books. She admits that after her first book was published she went into a local library and stole its catalog card. She also doesn’t like the look of her photograph on the jacket cover. John-Boy tells her that many students are looking forward to her lecture, and Madeline is pleased to speak with people interested in literature. She promises to send John-Boy her book that has been autographed. After seeing the entire town, John-Boy suggests going to the Malt Shop for some ice cream. Afterwards they go to the lecture where the sign says, “The Boatwright Literary Club Present Miss Madeline Bennett, Author, Thursday, 2:30, Room 201”. Miss Bennett talks about remaining curious throughout one’s life and quotes Edna St. Vincent Millay: “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, It gives a lovely light!”
John-Boy drives Madeline through town after the lecture. She walks into a shop, while John-Boy buys a red flower from an outside flower vendor. She comes out with food for a picnic, and John-Boy presents her with the flower They drive through the countryside, stopping at a lovely spot among the forest. John-Boy spreads out a blanket as she recites the lines “Your touch has words that speak to me. Its syllables speak to me.” that she admits just making up. Madeline asks John-Boy to finish it, and he says, “They say that beneath this tree, we were meant to meet.” They kiss.
Grandma and Grandpa are awakened early in the morning as the children show them the house picture they’ve painted. Grandpa decides he wants to be painted next to the radio, and Grandma decides to be next to the stove. John-Boy and Madeline eat breakfast at a restaurant as she talks about a story. John-Boy tells her that he loves her and wants to know everything about her. Madeline admits she buys shoes whenever a story sells. They kiss again.
Olivia asks John to loosen the top to a jar of peaches, and they kiss. John says he has to go to town on business, specifically, “monkey” business. Miss Bennett talks to Dr. Park’s class. John-Boy reads his story The Sailor: “When people asked Ned Stratten if he was glad to be home again he always smiled broadly and answered, ‘You betcha!’ Then, the one who questioned him would nod as if he had gotten the answer he expected and go away happy. But the minute Ned was alone again he stopped grinning for it wasn’t true. Will all his heart he longed to be back at sea. The sea was his home now. He was a stranger in this town that he had grown up , married,….”
John tries to select a dress for Olivia in a dress shop. He describes his wife to the clerk, calling her elegant. She leaves to find an appropriate dress, and as John looks out the window of the Margaret Lane Dress Shop he sees John-Boy and a woman walk by. John-Boy sees his father and at Madeline’s urging they go inside. He introduces his father to Madeline. The salesperson brings out a red and green dress, and John selects the green one. John-Boy is a bit anxious at the exchange, and they soon leave to get ready for Professor Park’s dinner party.
The couple walks to the Parks home. John-Boy tells Madeline that “I’ve got you in my blood”, saying that he’s never been in love like this before. She runs off toward the house, but John-Boy yells out that she doesn’t even know where the house is located. After dinner Professor Parks, his wife, Madeline, and John-Boy talk about life in the city. John-Boy and Madeline exchange private glances. Afterwards they return to her hotel room. At the doorway they kiss long and passionate kisses.
Olivia can’t find anything to wear for their anniversary ceremony so John surprises her with the new dress. She loves it, and presents him with a sweater that she made from the children’s old sweaters. John recognizes pieces of the children’s sweaters. John-Boy and Madeline argue about her leaving, John-Boy wanting her to stay. She feels that she would die living in a small town. John-Boy finally decides he’ll move to New York, attend school, and get a part-time job. John-Boy tells her that he’ll meet her at the train station after attending his parent’s ceremony.
Back home Elizabeth insists that John-Boy paint himself into the picture of the house. John-Boy lies on his bed as Mary Ellen wonders where he’ll paint himself, at his desk or in his car driving away. John-Boy looks out the window as the boys lead Chance to the barn, and he looks at the Mountain. He begins a letter, “Dear Daddy. This is a very difficult letter for me to write. I don’t know really where to begin. I suppose….”
Erin arranged the chairs as John-Boy enters the room. John asks him if everything is all right, but just then Olivia arrives in her new dress. The ceremony begins with Rev. Fordwick saying, “These rings are circles with no ends. They have not, and will not tarnish because they are of a precious metal signifying your love that is precious and untarnishable. John, do you continue to keep Olivia your lawfully wedded wife, to continue to love her, to comfort her, to keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others as long as you both shall live. Olivia, do you continue to….”
The family surround John and Olivia and congratulates them. While eating cake after supper John-Boy quietly walks to his bedroom. As he goes to his car with his suitcase John stands at the doorstep calling out his name. John-Boy drives off without answering. At the train station Madeline waits for John-Boy as he walks toward her. The conductor yells “All Aboard!”, they kiss, and he puts her suitcase on board the train. She enters the train without John-Boy. He stands and watches her from the window, and the train leaves the station.
"Madeline and I were to correspond, and we were to see each other again. In the meantime I remained on Waltons Mountain, continuing that life which prepared me finally for a place in the larger world".
Ellen: Mama, do you remember the exact moment you fell in love with Daddy?
Olivia: 'Fraid not, Mary Ellen.
John: I'm surprised at you, Liv.
Olivia: John, I've got a terrible confession to make.
John: Uh huh?
Olivia: I didn't marry you for love. I married you for your money.
John: Oh Olivia Walton.....
Olivia: That was a joke!
John: Hm. You're getting to be a regular Fanny Price!
Olivia: You want me to tell you another one?
John: Liv, will you shutup so I can kiss you goodnight?
Olivia: Whatever you say!
For more information about Edna St. Vincent Millay, go to: http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/millay7.html.
The license plates on John-Boy’s car are 63-982 Virginia.
Rev Fordwick (John Ritter); Professor L. Parks (Paul Jenkins); Mrs. Parks (Sally Kemp); Gloria Webb (Julie Rogers); Sally Barstow (Kathy Cronkite); Madeline Bennett (Laura Campbell); Saleswoman (Gloria Stuart); Railroad Conductor (Ernie Brown); Bellhop (Jeffrey Winner).