Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Life On Walton's Mountain

By Cathy of Alex

One of my favorite TV shows is The Waltons. Yes. Really. I own the first season on DVD and I have a few isolated episodes from various seasons on VHS tapes.

Recently, I was rewatching an episode from Season One entitled "The Deed"

This episode follows the usual arc of a typical show: Intro, crisis, family pulls together or apart, family pulls together at the end, an outsider is converted to the Walton "way", a lot of food is consumed, Grandma is ironing using the outlet in the light bulb, lumber is cut, Mama is curt with someone, Grandpa sticks his tongue out-you know-the usual.

I love it. Can't get enough of it. This is family life. The Waltons is often accused, in a bad way, of being an idealized representation of family. Maybe in some cases it is as family "should be": elders are not thrown into a nursing home to die, no one is 'fooling around' outside of marriage, parents are not divorced or seperated. But what draws me to the show is the respresentation of family as it often is (in my family anyway): Wisdom and advice of the elders is taken seriously, crisis, whining, moments when someone says something hurtful that they regret, dreaming, longing, working hard, growing up, apologies, mistakes, God, prayer, love, trust.

In "The Deed" it suddenly occured to me how much of a self-sufficient world The Waltons is. The only time the Waltons venture off the mountain is when they have to-even Godsey's store, the church and the school are at the base of the mountain. Otherwise, they are hardly ever "in town". They grow their own food. They make a living harvesting timber from their land or selling milk and eggs.

The drama of this episode is their entire way of life is threatened (as it often is in the series) by the realization that their forebears never legally filed claim to the land. Now, a timber company wants to come in and log. Pa talks about how without the trees on the mountain the water will runoff and wash all their topsoil away. They will end up in a Dust Bowl like the people fleeing West (this episode takes place in 1933). The family needs to raise the nearly insurmoutable sum, for those days, of $200 so they can take their case to court.

John-Boy (See how true drama this is? How many of you have childish nicknames your family stuck you with that you want to forget!? LOL!), at the age of 17, decides he needs to help the family by going to "The City" (in this case Wheeling, West Virginia) and get a job. He will send money home to contribute to the court case. Of course, he's "fresh off the farm" and has some trouble. Jaded folks like us we'll probably scoff at the troubles he does have because they seem ludicrously benign to what would probably happen to him today. But, remember, this was Appalachia in 1933 not South Central Los Angeles in 2009.

The only interaction with the outside world the Waltons have is when they have commerce to transact. Otherwise, it seems, to us, that "life" is just passing them by. How backward and unenlightened they are to us now, right?

I was thinking about the family lives of my Dad and both sets of Grandparents growing up. My Mom was raised in Chicago. My Dad and my Grandparents all grew up on farms or very rural areas. My Dad's family did not even live in a house with indoor plumbing or more than one electrical outlet until the early 1950s, no telephone until the 1960s. Dad's family was very self-sufficient. Grandpa and my Great-Uncles went into the woods and logged, gathered berries, hunted and trapped for money. Some of what they did to earn a living would be illegal today. If you ever wanted to tick my Grandpa off tell him "you need a permit or a license for that" then run. Fast.

That's what they lived on. That's what they raised their families on. Work, reliance on each other, and the land. My Grandpa had 8 children who lived into adulthood. Sometimes, he was lucky to earn 5 cents in wages/day.

Now, today, how many have land to even work on or that they could use to survive on if they had too? How many even have the slightest clue how to do even the simplest task of gathering food? How do we raise our families? By the sweat of our own brow using the land God gave us to sustain us or salaried servitude to corporations we detest and despise? How many of us couldn't survive at all if it were not for some kind of government assistance?

What happened? Did people forget or lose connections to the land? Was hard work too unglamorous to be tolerated? Is farming, hunting and gathering work for a class that we flatter ourselves is not our own?

The economy stinks right now. I've heard more families are going back to the "old ways": vegetable gardens, canning, sewing, knitting, because they can no longer afford to pay someone else for the service of the goods.

In the U.S. we quit being a largely rural society decades ago. We are, primarily, urban dwellers. How many gardens do you think can be planted in concrete soil? How many people in cities are living in apartments where a sustaining vegetable garden is not an option? How much of the produce and goods in the stores are even from this country?

Is it time for a resurgance of interest in "Distributism"? I think there are aspects of that movement that may have applicability to us today and offer some solutions.

If you want to read more about Distributism. There is a blog called The ChesterBelloc Mandate that is a clearinghouse on the subject. Furthermore, Paul Likoudis, had an article in the March 12, 2009 Wanderer called "Is There A Bellocian Response For Today's Economic Crisis?" that is worth a read. The Wanderer is online but a subscription is required to read Mr. Likoudis' article.

I just wonder if we had to go back to reliance on the land and on each other would we be able to?

Even more importantly, if we had to kick it WAY old school and trust in God to provide how many of us would fail?

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