Episode 13: The Air Mail Man


(13 December 1973) 37/2/13

Writers: Peter L. Dixon and Sarah Dixon.

Director: Robert Butler.

Music: Arthur Morton


The Air Mail Man


"The peace and beauty of the land and sky around Walton’s Mountain was a source of constant comfort to all of us during those difficult Depression years. Some of the changes that were going on in the world did eventually reflect themselves on our mountain, like the increase in the number of airplanes that spotted the sky. In particular, I remember an air-mail plane that used our mountain as a landmark. My mother especially liked to wait for the plane to go over, and sometimes watching she'd get the look on her face people have when they watch wild geese winging their way south to warm sunny days".


Olivia watches the sky for the airmail airplane as the pilot makes his trip between Atlanta, Georgia and Washington D.C. The family eats spaghetti for supper begrudgingly served by Mary Ellen and Erin. Mary Ellen says she will live a glamorous life rather than being a housewife. The children believe they have enough money to buy chocolate for the cake celebrating their mother’s upcoming birthday. But John doesn’t believe the Olivia is looking forward to this birthday. John-Boy walks outside to find from his Momma that the pilot is late. Just then the biplane flies over, waving its wings to Olivia with her waving back. When she walks inside she suddenly hears the engine again, but this time sounding in trouble. The family runs outside to find it preparing to land on the pasture road. They shine the truck’s headlights onto the road and light lanterns to guide the pilot. Olivia prays for a safe landing.


Grandpa helps the pilot out of the cockpit after he states that it was his “trickiest landing”. The pilot introduces himself as Todd Cooper, saying he knows one member of the family. The kids say, “It’s Momma!” He finds that the engine has a broken oil line. The kids carry the mail to the house as Todd finds that the nearest railroad stop is Rockfish, about six miles away. Cooper says this trip was his last for the post office, deciding instead to barnstorm and race. Grandma can’t understand why he would quit a regular paying job. Todd mentions he is a loner, with no family. John-Boy takes him to Ike’s store so he can telephone what happened. On the way Todd indicates that too many rules are taking the fun out of flying. John-Boy gives Ike money from the children to buy Olivia’s present. Ike gives Olivia a tortoise-shell comb, while Todd makes his call.


Grandma and Olivia tell John and Grandpa that they should “call it a day” at the mill. John-Boy prepares a bed for Cooper in the barn. Grandma is uneasy about the man, thinking he is hiding something. In the morning Olivia awakens before John. He tells her “Happy Birthday, Liv” and gives her a kiss. But Olivia doesn’t feel right, with unsettling and frighten thoughts, like she has lost herself. John reminds her that a house full of children have prepared for her birthday and are waiting outside. Suddenly the children rush in with her breakfast-in-bed. Elizabeth says “the real surprises are for later” and Jim Bob adds, “and more”.


Outside Cooper says that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to repair the airplane, suggesting they take the mail to the train. With the next train not due until tonight the Waltons suggest it would be faster to order the parts in Charlottesville, ship them to Ike’s store, and they will help with the repairs. Grandma and the girls make Olivia’s birthday cake while the boys help with the airplane. Olivia asks Todd what it is like to fly. He responds that it’s like “belonging to the sky”, feeling the air currents like “a hawk soaring on a hot, summer day”. Olivia dreams of what it must be like.


When Todd asks John-Boy to bring him some stuff from his flight bag, John-Boy finds a picture album of Todd and a woman, a team called “The Flying Coopers”. John thinks they are married, but feels it is none of their business as to why Todd doesn’t share this with them. John shows John-Boy the full-length mirror that he made for Olivia’s birthday. After Cooper walks away, Olivia climbs into the cockpit and dreams of flying through the clouds free and carefree. But she is brought down to earth when John-Boy asks what her “poor motherless children” will do without her.


Jim Bob shows Todd his model airplane, and asks him why he doesn’t like children. Todd confesses he has forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. Jim Bob tells him that “it’s a mess, everybody hollers at you, and everybody blames you for everything”. Todd now remembers. John-Boy and Grandpa ask Ike if the airplane parts have arrived, while Jason and Ben fill the gas can. Ike leaves for a gas customer, finding that the woman is looking for Todd Cooper. John-Boy recognizes the woman as the one in Cooper’s album.


At the house Sue Cooper, who is pregnant with their first child, pleads with Todd that they will not tie down his aviation career. He is not ready for the responsibility, and runs away. As he sits on the smoke house steps John talks with him. Todd asks if he ever felt trapped by marriage. John says he never did, but knew other men who felt that way. Todd recognizes that his wife loves their unborn baby, but he doesn’t feel like a father should feel. John assures him that he will feel better once he holds his child. John tells him, “Most people end up doing what they want to do”, indicating that he has an airplane ready to take off, but here he is talking about his wife and child. Todd runs to his wife, as John smiles.


Olivia looks up to the sky as she sits under a tree in the front yard. John-Boy gives his birthday present to her, quoting from the poem The Windhover by Gerald Manley Hopkins. He quotes:


I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!


Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!


No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.


She thinks the words are wonderful, but doesn’t know what they mean. John-Boy thinks the words say that the seemingly unimportant, plain things are just as important as the most beautiful things in the world. As they discuss the poem Jim Bob yells, “Hey, Momma, your birthday is ready, if you want it?” She runs to the house – a young girl going to her birthday party.


After the family bring her the birthday cake Jason sings her the song, “Dear Momma it’s your birthday, it’s a special day for you. We hope your day is happy and your wishes all come true. We think that you’re the greatest in every little way. That’s why I sing this birthday song on this your special day.” Olivia makes a wish on her twelve candles and John and John-Boy bring out her mirror. She thinks it’s “just beautiful”. The Coopers don’t have a present but Todd believes that she will enjoy a flight in his airplane. Olivia says, “Your Momma’s goin’ flying!!” In the airplane Olivia enjoys flying in the clouds as the family watch from below.


"Today great passenger planes plough through those skies above the Virginia mountains. Last year one of them brought my mother to see us in California where I now live. We're expecting her again soon, and no doubt our thoughts and our memories will return to those early times when that era we called 'depressed' was so very, very good".


Elizabeth: Mama, did you get your wish?

Olivia: Sure did.

Ben: What did it feel like up there, Mama?

Olivia: Oh, the air was cold and the wind whipped me in the face, and down below everything looked like tiny little specks.

Jim Bob: Did you see me, Mama?

Olivia: Uh hum.

Jim Bob: Did I look like a speck too?

Olivia: You made a very special speck, Jim Bob.

John: Allright you high flyers time to settle down!

Olivia: Not me, I'm still up there, flying.

John: Happy birthday, honey!

Olivia: Goodnight, John.



The side of Todd Cooper’s airplane states “U.S. Airmail”. Jim Bob knows that Cooper’s plane is a Stearman. Todd Cooper’s father was an aviator in World War I, and took him up on his first airplane flight.

John tells Cooper that he “supplies lumber, railroad ties, pulp for the paper factory, and cuts firewood”.

A brief life’s history of the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins can be found at: http://www.bartleby.com/people/HopkinsG.html.

The poem The Windhover can be found at: http://www.well.com/user/eob/poetry/The_Windhover.html

Michael Glaser was before long to play a lead in 'Starsky & Hutch'.

Jason (Jon Walmsley) plays and sings a short song for Olivia's birthday.


A little tidbit:

Grandpa (to John): Can you do without me for a while, John?

John: No.

Grandpa: Try!


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Todd Cooper (Michael Glasser), Sue Cooper (Julie Cobb).


(synopsis written by William Atkins and edited by Arthur Dungate)