"Sometimes life goes on in peaceful cycles like the seasons, a gradual blending of time and events that we scarcely notice, and just as we think we may have learned all there is to know about life, fate conspires to show us just how little we do know. Such was the case one especially beautiful day in early Fall. Our parents had told us that Olivia Hill had lost her husband in an accident and that she was coming to spend a few weeks with us".
John-Boy brings (Young) Olivia Hill for a visit with the family after her husband, Bob, dies in an accident. The family warmly greets her, with Elizabeth showing her cat Calico. After taking her inside the house, Elizabeth comments to John-Boy that she doesn’t seem to be hurting much. While preparing supper Mary Ellen, Grandma, and Olivia worried that one of the children will say something wrong. Mary Ellen dreams about the day Young Olivia was married at their house. Young Olivia tells that her mother was married in 1914, remembering traveling with her mother to Walton’s Mountain. She shows Mary Ellen pictures of Bob.
At supper, John asks Young Olivia to say grace. Jim Bob passes her the bowl of mashed potatoes, while Elizabeth makes up a rhyme “Peas, please!” Jim Bob responds with, “Pass the potatoes, pass the meat, everybody pitch in and eat!” Grandpa thinks that supper is like the feeding of the monkeys in the zoo. Young Olivia retells the story of how her and Bob first met, when she intentionally got her kite tangled up with his. But, upon finishing the story Young Olivia begins to cry, telling the family that if she had gone walking with her husband that dark night, maybe she would have seen the car and prevented his death. She runs upstairs crying. The children think they might have said something wrong, but Olivia says their hearts were in the right place. Grandpa says she is going through her “wintering” spell. Grandma adds that we must love her and just be with her. Upstairs, Young Olivia dreams about the day that John gave her away at her wedding to Bob. Olivia goes upstairs with a tray of food. Young Olivia says she doesn’t seem to be able to control her feelings. Olivia says that the “pain will pass”.
Grandpa, Grandma, John, and Olivia hope that the children will learn from this experience. John thinks that Young Olivia should be put to work. John remembers the time when he was about seven or eight and busted his (left) wrist. Grandpa made him go up on the Mountain to chop wood, and got a wood splinter in his hand. Grandpa had him think about something else while he took out the splinter. However, Grandma thinks Young Olivia needs a good cry.
John-Boy writes in his journal: “...happily I have not suffered the loss of a loved one first hand. Seth Turner’s death deeply affected me but at least Seth lived to the fullest of those days he had remaining and he left a recorder to Jason as a memento of his life. But Bob Hill seems to have bequeathed little except memories of kite flying and a widow who cannot seem to come to terms with a bewildering number of emotions struggling for order in her mind.”
Young Olivia comes outside in the morning to see everyone busy at work. John says “good morning” to her and asks for her help in gluing bunks that need to be finished and taken to the Rockfish Depot. She holds the side of the bench as John uses a screwdriver. Ben and Jason come along and Ben tries to take over for Young Olivia, telling her she is suppose to rest. She leaves, again in her bad mood. Jason scolds Ben for saying the wrong thing, but Ben says you can’t say anything without getting her upset.
John-Boy tells Grandpa that he’s taking a break. He writes in his journal: “Olivia’s presence has caused me to make a monstrous discovery about myself. There is a part of me that stands aside from the experience and coldly and dispassionately observes. I suppose it is the writer in me. Somehow the discovery is both delightful and terrifying.”
Jim Bob throws his knife into the ground as he sits on the front porch steps. Ben walks up, missing one of the knife throws. They both are upset and confused with Young Olivia. Elizabeth joins them feeling “sad funny”. They decide to make something for her, and head for the barn, after John Boy wonders what they are thinking about. John and Grandpa like the sounds of their laughter. John-Boy walks through the barn as the children hid the materials they are working around. John, Grandpa, and John-Boy load lumber onto the truck. Grandpa insists he is still planning on living to 100, but realizes that he or Grandma will die before the other. Later, John-Boy says the Elizabeth’s cat is really fat, and John says she feeds it too much. Grandpa says they shouldn’t feed the cat, because it can hunt for mice and rats. John looks over Calico, thinking she is pregnant.
John-Boy and Young Olivia stroll across the bridge of Druscilla’s Pond. Olivia remembers the spot where her and Bob went to be alone before their marriage. She tells John-Boy that sometimes she becomes mad at Bob for leaving her alone. John-Boy responds that he didn’t really have a choice. Olivia remembers the scent of his hair (like wind through pine trees) and the way he brushed his hair off his face when nervous. John-Boy remembers the night of their shivaree, but when Olivia remembers that night of her honeymoon she suddenly screams. John-Boy is unsure what to do. He throws her into the water, but realizes what he has done and runs in to rescue her. He tells her he is sorry, but she laughs out, eventually making him laugh, too. They walk back to the house, soaking wet.
John-Boy and Olivia talk about the mad feelings in which Young Olivia is feeling. At the mill, Jim Bob asks his father if he can take some scrape wood. John-Boy asks Jason what the children are building, but Jason doesn’t know. Olivia gives John his lunch. After the meal, the vet looks over Chance who got her hoof caught in some barbwire. The vet also looks over Calico, who is definitely pregnant. Because the cat is so old, he suggests a bed inside the house. He thinks this is one of the most beautiful falls days, but can’t go fishing because he needs to stop at the Johnson place.
Olivia and Young Olivia make cookies while Grandma snaps string beans (the last crop of the year). Olivia is concerned that Young Olivia will be alone in her apartment and suggests she get a job or move closer so she can visit. At supper, Grandpa says he is “a fine figure of a man” but admits his chest has slipped a bit. Mary Ellen wants to go to Ike’s store to look at new cloth for her new dress, but Olivia is busy. Young Olivia offers to go with her. Elizabeth, Jim Bob, and Ben all ask to be excused from the table, but don’t wait for an answer. Grandma doesn’t like their manners. They soon return with a surprise gift for Young Olivia. They present her with a kite so she can remember her kite flying days with Bob. She thinks they are very thoughtful, but she begins to cry and runs upstairs. Olivia hugs Elizabeth, telling her younger children that they did something thoughtful, but sometimes being reminded of something is painful.
Mary Ellen finds Young Olivia crying on her bed. She hugs her. Olivia says she feels terrible about the children. Mary Ellen says they didn’t realize it wasn’t the right way to help. Olivia comes in to say that Elizabeth’s cat is having her kittens. The family crowd around as the cat meows. Elizabeth is worried, but John says it will be okay. Grandma helps with the cat as the first kitten comes out; then the second one arrives. The cat has problems with the third one, and John-Boy rushes in to save the kitten. Elizabeth screams out “Calico!” The third kitten is delivered, but Calico dies. John-Boy wraps the cat in a blanket and takes it out so Elizabeth doesn’t see it. Olivia holds her daughter as Elizabeth asks why she died. Olivia says it was her time. Grandma says that the kittens won’t live long without food. Suddenly, Young Olivia asks if they have an eyedropper. Mary Ellen goes for one. Olivia takes over, asking Grandma to heat milk luke-warm. She tells Elizabeth that the kittens will need constant care.
Young Olivia feeds the kittens as John and John-Boy watch. Elizabeth calms down and walks over. Grandpa asks Olivia, “Where did you learn Cat Doctoring?” The children go off to write up a feeding schedule. Elizabeth stays to help. As Elizabeth feeds the kittens she asks, “Is this the way you hurt?” Olivia nods. Elizabeth says, “Does it stop hurting sometime?” Olivia says, “Yes, Elizabeth, it will!”
Zeb brings Young Olivia’s suitcases downstairs as she prepares to leave. She says good-bye to the family. Elizabeth gives her the only girl in the litter, calling her Calico the Second. John-Boy urges her to the car; afraid she’ll miss the bus.
"Our family learned a lot that Fall about life, about loss, but mostly about loving, thanks to Olivia and to Calico".
John: Yes Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: When I get married do I have to leave here?
John: Well you'll probably want to honey.
Elizabeth: No I won't. I'd be too lonely. Can I stay here?
John: If you still want to when you're married, maybe we can work something out.
Elizabeth: Goodnight Mama. Goodnight Daddy
John & Oliva: Goodnight Elizabeth.
According to the vet it is the fall of the year (1936), and the family ate string beans from the last crop of the year.
Olivia Hill (Deborah White); Bob Hill (Bruce Davison); Dr. Culler (Vernon Weddle).