“As a family living on Walton’s Mountain during the '30s we were largely self-sufficient and had little dependence on cash money. Still, as I ventured out into the larger world, I realized that making ends meet was going to be a far greater problem than I had anticipated. I set about looking for a part-time job, one which would pay me an adequate wage, and at the same time, not interfere too much with my studies.”
Mary Ellen reads a book about Florence Nightingale, and comments how rewarding would be a career in nursing. John and John-Boy are fixing John-Boy’s car so he can drive to Boatwright. Mary Ellen asks about a note that says, “Genteel woman requires person with literary background two afternoon a week for two hours, will pay.” Finding the message on the college bulletin board, John-Boy wants to respond before other applicants because he needs money. With the car now working John-Boy drives off to the Westham address to inquire about the job.
No one answers the front door, so he knocks on a side door that enters into a garden. He hears a women criticize him for being so impatient, not waiting longer at the front door. Ruth Thomas informs him that her mother has arranged the job, and he must talk with her. Just then Mrs. Eileen Thomas walks in from shopping. Mrs. Thomas explains that the job entails reading out loud to the both of them. Ruth interrupts saying that her mother really means that he will be reading to her, because she is blind. Ruth is indifferent about the entire matter and excuses herself, obviously bitter with her blindness. Mrs. Thomas, now alone with John-Boy, confesses that her daughter is drawing herself into a shell, and she doesn’t know what to do. John-Boy tells her he will think about the job and call her back tomorrow.
Reckless has a splint on his leg and the children all possess an assortment of bandages as Mary Ellen earns her badge for Junior First Aid Assistant. Grandma yells out “Come and wash up! Supper is almost ready!” At supper Grandpa wants more piccalilli relish, but Grandma thinks it is too spicy for him, disturbing his sleep that night. But Zeb says that’s why he married Grandma, because she’s a “spicy thing”. John-Boy discusses the blind girl’s resistance to him reading to her. Mary Ellen thinks he should take the job, but John-Boy has hesitations. Mary Ellen places a towel over her eyes as she tries to bring dessert over to the table. She drops the pie on the floor, saying it must be terrible to be blind. John-Boy contemplates about what she says. Later, Mary Ellen tells John-Boy that when she doesn’t want to talk to anyone she reads a book because books make people less lonely. Mary Ellen says that Ruth must be the loneliest person in the world. John-Boy asks his sister, “What do you think she’d like me to read to her?” Mary Ellen answers, “Anything you choose”.
Olivia reminds John-Boy that it is now twelve o’clock. He is reading in his room, not having morning classes. Olivia comments that when he is in his room during these mornings, it makes the house seem calmer. When John-Boy enters the Thomas house, Mrs. Thomas tells him that she was relieved to receive his telephone call. She is concerned because her daughter, before her blindness, was a bright, energetic freshman at Boatwright. But, four years ago, she came down with scarlet fever that left her blind. Immediately after her illness, Ruth had planned to enter Richmond Institute for the Blind so she would learn skills to return to college. During these times Mrs. Thomas said that her husband would encourage, help, and support her. But he died suddenly, and his death was too much for Ruth. Ruth enters the room, stating that she will never to able to see again. She prompts him to begin reading. John-Boy begins with the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The children walk over the bridge that crosses Druscilla’s Pond on their way home from school. Elizabeth climbs on the railing, but is chastised by Jason and told he will paddle her behind if she ever does it again. At a small pond, Mary Ellen stays behind. She listens to the babbling of water over pebbles, birds bathing in small puddles, and other things that pass her senses. She looks at and feels several stones. John-Boy continues to read to Ruth. He asks if she would like to talk a walk with him. But, she sternly states that she never leaves the house, not wanting to make a spectacle of herself. Ruth abruptly ends the session, informing John-Boy he is expected to return on Friday.
The kids play baseball while Jason plays his guitar and John-Boy tells the adults how frustrating Ruth is to him. John suggests that maybe she is using her blindness to blackmail people. He remembers when Martha Anderson (Zeb’s second cousin) was involved in an accident on a runaway hay wagon. She didn’t try to start a new life, but only let other people wait on her. She died a mean and bitter person. John-Boy does not want that to happen to Ruth. On Friday John-Boy starts to drive off for his readings with Ruth. Mary Ellen, who wants to give Ruth a token of friendship, stops him. The smooth stone she has selected has a special feeling to her when she touches it.
John-Boy reads to Ruth the work by Oscar Wilde called The Importance of Being Earnest. Ruth tells John-Boy that he reads very well. John-Boy tells Ruth that he lives on Walton’s Mountain, a small town about twenty-eight miles away, with a Baptist Church, Methodist Church, and Ike’s store. He says people seem to like the area, and relates the story of the carnival people who stayed there several days while on their way to Chicago’s World Fair. When John-Boy suggests she visit them, Ruth refuses. John-Boy then gives Ruth the pebble that Mary Ellen found to be most interesting. Ruth turns his words around, saying it is very appropriate: a stone for a stone-blind person. John-Boy angrily tells Ruth that she doesn’t need to be reminded by others of her blindness, that she reminds herself every day of her life with her unkind, harsh words that most likely are her pleas for pity. After John-Boy has left, Ruth steps on the stone, picks it up, and quietly sits to think. While John-Boy drives home, Ruth places a call. When her mother comes in Ruth asks her mother some questions. John-Boy picks up his mother as she walks home from Ike’s store. She has a message from Ruth stating that she will be arriving tomorrow at noon by taxi.
The next day Olivia and Grandma make food for the picnic planned for Ruth’s visit. Grandma makes coleslaw. Elizabeth announces that the taxi has arrived. John-Boy runs out to greet Ruth, and says he is very glad she came. Ruth admits she came to apologize, to thank Mary Ellen, and to get her life back. John-Boy introduces the family to her, and is escorted to the truck by Grandpa. At the picnic site, Mary Ellen and Ruth talk about their reactions to sounds. Mary Ellen wants to be a nurse, doctor, or something so she can help people. Ruth had wanted to be a teacher, and Mary Ellen tells her about Helen Keller, special schools for the blind, and seeing eye dogs. Ruth thanks Mary Ellen for her energy and care. Jim Bob tells them that lunch is ready, and Elizabeth walks with her wanting summer to arrive so she can swim in the swimming hole. Ruth realizes that spring will indeed turn to summer again. After lunch, while crossing the bridge, John-Boy returns to the picnic site to retrieve Ruth’s sweater. Elizabeth jumps on the railing and when Ruth finds out pleads with her to return. Elizabeth, however, falls off the railing and lands in the shallow water next to the shore. Ruth screams for help, and then tries to find Elizabeth. John and John-Boy run to them, with John saving Elizabeth and John-Boy saving Ruth. While John-Boy checks on Elizabeth, Ruth walks off, blaming herself for the incident. John-Boy runs after her, and pleads with her not to throw away her life. Ruth asks for his help, hugs him, and calms herself. That night, John-Boy drives Ruth back to her home.
"The doctor said Elizabeth had nothing more serious than a bump on the head, and a bruised knee. Ruth returned to Westham, but she didn't remain hidden away as she had before. After some training at an institute for the blind she returned to Boatwright University, was graduated, and eventually became a social welfare worker for the State of Virginia.”
Jim Bob: Mama?
Olivia: Yes Jim Bob.
Jim Bob: Ben's snoring and he's keeping me awake.
Olivia: Maybe he'll stop if you turn him over on his side.
Jim Bob: OK.
Ben: Jim Bob what d'you thing you're doing you gone crazy or something?
Jason: Will you two pipe down, keeping everyone awake.
Jim Bob: Ben, you'd better stop hitting me.
Ben: Well you started it.
John-Boy: What's going on over there?
Mary Ellen: It's a fight in the boys room.
John-Boy: Oh, no.....
Olivia: You children behave yourselves before you wake your father.
Ben: You're gonna get it Jim Bob!
Jim Bob: Leave me alone, Ben.
Jason: Ben, Jim Bob, go back to bed!
Elizabeth: Who's winning, Jason?
John-Boy: Am I gonna have to come over there?
Jason: Ben's winning, Elizabeth.
Erin: It's a disgrace that no-one gets to sleep around here.
Grandma: You children want a spanking?
Grandpa: Esther what the –
John: Think I'd better go over there, Liv?
Olivia: Somebody'd better do something.....
Mary Ellen is sixteen years old.
For more information on Florence Nightingale, go to http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/.
For more information on Helen Keller, go to http://www.helenkellerfoundation.org/home.html.
Recipes for “piccalilli relish” can be found by searching the term on the Internet.
The poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson can be viewed at http://www.geocities.com/eranj2/shalott/
Information on Alfred Lord Tennyson can be found at http://184.108.40.206/victorian/tennyson/tennyov.html.
Martha Anderson is Zeb’s second cousin. She was critically injured in an accident on a runaway hay wagon. She didn’t try to start a new life, but only let other people wait on her. She died a mean and bitter person.
Information about Oscar Wilde’s work The Importance of Being Earnest can be found at http://www.hoboes.com/html/FireBlade/Wilde/earnest/.
On the way back from the picnic, the family sings My Darling Clementine.
Ruth Thomas (Elaine Heilveil); Mrs. Eileen Thomas (Peggy McCay).