Episode 11: The Substitute


(22 November 1973) 35/2/11

Writer: John McGreevey.

Director: Lee Philips.

Music: Arthur Morton


The Substitute


"When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain in those years of the great Depression, for me and my brothers and sisters it was a time of making do with the little there was; a time of stretching a nickel till it bought a dime's worth, often a time of doing without. In such times keeping children in school was just too much of a strain for many families, but for my father educating his children had almost the same importance as feeding and clothing us. I remember one day when the regular routine of our school life was threatened".


The children are given their lunches as they go to school, first kissing their father. At school, Miss Hunter asks John-Boy to take charge of the class so she can call her brother-in-law after receiving news that her sister has been in an accident. Afterwards, John tells the family that there will be a school board meeting tonight, hoping to find a substitute teacher. Elizabeth is scared that Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer will not get out of the cave. John-Boy reassures her that they safely emerge from the cave.


John returns home later after Mrs. Evelyn Richardson finds a teacher from New York City; Miss Megan Pollard, a daughter of a famous professor. John admits that since they have the most children in school, it was only right to house the woman. John-Boy moves to the barn.


Ben tells Grandpa that he is building a kite for the Sunday school class kite contest. Grandpa offers to show him how to build a good kite, and Ben hesitantly agrees. John-Boy kisses Grandma who tells him that a “big” envelope arrived. John-Boy knows that a large-sized envelope means another rejected article. When he becomes mad Grandma says, “Silk is beautiful but nobody could sell me silk if I’m looking for gingham.” Olivia asks John-Boy to pick-up Miss Pollard at the bus stop.


At the Rockfish Station, Miss Pollard is about to walk off when John-Boy drives up. Miss Pollard finds the rejected article on the truck’s seat. She agrees to tell him why it was rejected. At home, she is introduced to the family, but seems to stand off from the family. Olivia shows Megan to her room where she tells Olivia that she prefers her meals in the room. Elizabeth doesn’t think she looks like a teacher, while the others have their own opinions.


On Miss Pollard’s first day, Mrs. Richardson arrives to warmly welcome her. But Miss Pollard is cold to her. On the way to school Elizabeth picks wild flowers for the new teacher. As Miss Pollard calls the class to order, Jason and Elizabeth arrive late. She tells them that she will not tolerate tardiness, not allowing them to tell their reason. Elizabeth throws the flowers away. Miss Pollard gives the students aptitude tests so she can evaluate them.


At mid-morning, John-Boy tells her that this is their recess time, but she insists they continue testing. After class, the children complain about the tests and the teacher, but John-Boy says they really aren’t being fair to her. Miss Pollard walks alone behind the children watching all of their antics. She takes her shoes off and walks across a log, then sits and remembers back to her childhood. When she enters the house Miss Pollard refuses to take tea with Grandma and Olivia, saying she has tests to score. Ben shows Jason the kit he is building, but Jason insists he can help him build a better kite.


John-Boy knocks on Miss Pollard’s door. She tells him that his writing is completely undisciplined, a “jumble of raw emotions”. Miss Pollard suggests he read the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson to find the necessary balance and style. The next day Miss Pollard finds that many students are absent from class, including Adie Wilson. She tells the students (including Martha Bronson, George Talbert, Jane Poster, Arthur Halfgood, and Betty Andrews) to sit alphabetically. Lucile Younger asks to keep her seat, but Miss Pollard ignores her request. John-Boy tries to explain, but she also refuses to listen. Miss Pollard tells Ben that his test results show he should go back to grade five. Ben is shocked and disappointed, and John-Boy comforts him.


Miss Pollard shows John and Olivia the results of Ben’s tests. They request that she give him a verbal test, knowing he does better when he talks things out. But she refuses. As she returns to her room, Elizabeth walks down the steps dressed up as a grownup. Elizabeth tells her that her Daddy will laugh when he sees her. The next day Miss Pollard asks Lucile Younger a question but when the student doesn’t answer thinks she is not paying attention. She tells Lucile to write a 100-word theme on the importance of paying attention. Lucile runs out of the room, with John-Boy behind her.


That night in the barn Ben asks his father, “Do you think I’m dumb? John tells his son that he doesn’t allow dumb people in the family, and suggests he build his kite the way he wants. Miss Pollard finds John-Boy having problems with writing. She says he is surrendering to his emotions, like when he left class today. John-Boy tells Miss Pollard that Lucile Younger sat in the front row because she is hard of hearing. Megan asks John-Boy why nobody told her, and John-Boy says, “We tried to.


At class, Mrs. Richardson comes in to talk with Miss Pollard with the trouble involving her and the school board. At home, John tells Olivia and Grandma that half of the children are threatening to quit and all of the parents are upset. Miss Pollard enters to tell John that she will resign. John tells her that they need a teacher and they can work out the problems. But Megan insists she will leave, not able to make the children like her.


John-Boy thanks Megan for her help, now knowing that he must include his feelings in his writings. Miss Pollard says that he did the opposite of what she suggested. John-Boy remembers the Emerson’s essay on self-reliance that said, “Trust your emotions.” Grandma says the evening prayer, and afterwards Olivia tells Megan that is it okay for adults to cry and show weakness. Megan insists she can’t rely on anybody, but Olivia responds, “So you don’t get hurt. Megan says she feels younger than Elizabeth tonight, crying on Olivia’s shoulder.


In the morning, Miss Pollard asks the class if they can start over like it is her first day of class. They return to their regular seats and classes. Elizabeth walks to the front and introduces them to their new teacher. After school, the family and Megan attend the Sunday school class kite contest where Ben wins second prize for his kite. Miss Pollard gives John-Boy a book on collected essays of Emerson.


"Ben's own personal kite won Second Prize that day, the other three Waltons finished, as they say, "out of the money", but nobody cared. In due time Miss Hunter came back, and although everybody was glad to see her there were tears shed at the thought of losing Miss Pollard. We had learned to know and to love her, and we were all the richer for the time she had spent with us. I still have that collection of Emerson's essays on my desk, and whenever I open its pages I'm carried back again to those Depression years on Walton’s Mountain and the sound of those voices of the past".


Elizabeth: Mama?

Olivia: Yes, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: Do I have to wait until I'm 21 before I'm grown up?

Olivia: Well, that depends. Some girls grow up sooner, some later.

Elizabeth: Can you tell me when I'm a grown up?

Olivia: I won't have to tell you, honey. When it happens, you'll know!

Elizabeth: 'Night, Mama.

Olivia: 'Night, Elizabeth.



Miss Pollard’s father died while they were preparing his works for publication. She is twenty-four years old.

Miss Hunter’s sister lives in Norfolk, Virginia with her husband.

The son of John McGreevey, this episode’s writer, is Michael McGreevey who plays Hobie Shank in The Braggart (season two, episode eight) and writes the episode The Silver Wings (season eight, episode ten).


Also appearing:

Miss Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello), Miss Megan Pollard (Catherine Burns), Mrs. Evelyn Richardson (unknown), Lucile Younger (unknown).


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