The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (19 December, 1971) Pre-2
Executive Producer: Lee Rich, Producer: Robert Jacks, Director: Fielder Cook, Music Composer and Conductor: Jerry Goldsmith, Teleplay (based on the book “The Homecoming: A Novel About Spencer’s Mountain”): Earl Hamner, Jr.
Olivia Walton (Patricia Neal), John-Boy Walton (Richard Thomas), John Walton (Andrew Duggan), Grandpa (Edgar Bergen), Grandma (Ellen Corby), Jason (Jon Walmsley), Mary Ellen (Judy Norton), Erin (Mary McDonough), Ben (Eric Scott), Jim Bob (David Harper), Elizabeth (Kami Cotter).
The afternoon of Christmas Eve 1933.
Introduction by Earl Hamner, Jr.:
“My grandfather used to say that nobody owns a mountain. But getting born, and living, and dying in its shadow, we loved Walton’s Mountain and felt it was ours. The Walton family had endured in that part of the Blue Ridge for over 200 years, a short time in the memory of a mountain; still, our roots had grown deep in its earth. When I was growing up there with my brothers and sisters I was certain that no one on Earth had quite so good a life. I was fifteen and growing at an alarming rate. Each morning I woke convinced I had added another inch to my height while I slept. I was trying hard to fill my father’s shoes that winter. We were in the middle of The Depression and the mill on which our village depended had closed. My father had found work in a town fifty miles away, and he would only be with us weekends. On Christmas Eve early in the afternoon we had already started looking forward to his homecoming…”
The children retrieve Chance, the milk cow, who has wandered away from the barn on a snowy Christmas Eve. Inside the barn the children feed Chance, and John-Boy says Christmas begins when Grandpa rings the church bell at midnight. He reminds his younger siblings not to worry their Momma because she is concerned about their Daddy’s late arrival home.
Olivia is in the basement selecting apples for her Christmas tradition of applesauce cake. While Grandma ladles soup, she and Grandpa argue over FDR’s depression programs. Mary Ellen wonders how Grandpa’s bones can predict the weather, while Grandma desires a yellow canary bird for Christmas. Just then Olivia returns with her Christmas cactus in full bloom. She tells the children how her family did not approve of their Daddy, because he was not a churchgoer. They eloped to Preacher Hicks, the Baptist minister. When he refused to marry them John said, “Mr. Hicks. You are not the only ‘blankety-blank’ preacher in the world.” Rev. Hicks reluctantly agreed to marry the couple. Olivia then asks the children to crack walnuts for her applesauce cake, while she walks to the store for sugar.
Sitting on the barn floor the children crack walnuts while talking about Santa Claus. Elizabeth says she wants dolls from the Sears and Roebuck catalog; Bens wants a train set; Jim Bob, a teddy bear; and Jason, a piano. Mary Ellen says she doesn’t believe in Santa Claus but is quickly swatted by John-Boy. The kids laugh at Elizabeth when she says she’ll grow up to have puppies. Jim Bob and her climb into the hayloft, talking about staying young forever.
At Ike’s store Olivia finds Hawthorne Dooley and his son Claudie loading packages for the Baldwin sisters. Olivia shows her disapproval of the ladies who make bootleg whiskey. Hawthorne, a local minister, reminds her that the sisters call it the Recipe, thinking it is a harmless concoction. Inside the store, Miss Mamie and Miss Emily tell Olivia that they need John’s help with the repair of their Recipe machine. Olivia observes the toys, knowing that the children won’t have Christmas presents until John returns. Ike offers to sell her toys on credit; but Olivia refuses. She asks for two pounds of sugar. On her way out Olivia asks Sheriff Bridges if she saw John Walton between here and Hickory Creek. He didn’t. The sheriff tells Ike that he is looking for the ‘Robin Hood Bandit’ who steals hams, turkeys, and canned goods at Christmastime and gives them to needy families. As they speak, Charlie Sneed is driving his car and singing with a backseat full of hams and turkeys.
Grandma and Grandpa argue about the poor radio reception until Grandma locates a clear signal from Charlottesville. They learn that a bus has overturned on Route 29 near Covesville. Olivia responds to the accident, wishing it was spring again. Grandpa reassures her that John is okay but Olivia asks them not to tell the children. Grandma is concerned about John-Boy locking his bedroom door. Olivia yells up to him, wondering what he is doing behind a locked door. John-Boy says he only wants privacy. She asks Grandpa and John-Boy to cut down the Christmas tree. On the way to the tree the pair discuss the history of Walton’s Mountain. Grandpa says that the land is “fought for land”, but “we don’t own the Mountain, just hold it in trust, live on it, take life from it, and once you’re dead, you rest in it”. Grandpa points out the tree and John-Boy chops it down.
At the house John-Boy places lights on the tree while the children impatiently wait to decorate it. Jim Bob accidentally knocks an ornament from Elizabeth’s hand, causing a fight. Olivia warns the children and tells John-Boy to make them mind. Mary Ellen places a blue jay’s nest on a branch, but the children think Santa will smell bird poop and not come to the house. Elizabeth begins to cry, but her mother reassures her. Suddenly the door opens, everybody hoping it’s their Daddy. But Charlie Sneed appears in the doorway with a turkey, knowing John would not have time to hunt. Olivia says it’s an answer to her prayers.
While John-Boy milks the cow, Mary Ellen asks him if he has ever kissed a girl. He tells her he has kissed a few girls, some on the lips. She wonders what it would be like, feeling growing pains. Mary Ellen runs into the house, asking her mother if she thinks she is pretty. Olivia says, “No. I think you’re beautiful.” Mary Ellen kisses her mother. John-Boy joins the family as they listen to Fiber McGee and Molly on the radio. Suddenly Claudie knocks on the door, telling them that a missionary is handing out presents at Ike’s store. The children want to go but Olivia states that they do not accept charity. Grandpa convinces her it would do no harm to watch. In front of the store, the woman requests a Bible quote from each child who accepts a present. The children first go to Mary Ellen who tells them an appropriate verse. Elizabeth is allowed to accept a doll, but is scared when she finds the doll’s face broken. John-Boy writes in his journal about his father being away, his sister’s experience with the doll, and his belief that he is growing out of control. Just then Olivia confronts John-Boy, thinking that he is smoking cigarettes.
Olivia: “I don’t understand you, hidin’ things under a mattress. Is it something you are ashamed of?”
John-Boy: “What’s in that tablet, Momma, all of my secret thoughts, what I feel and what I think about; what it’s like late at night to hear a whippoorwill call and hear its mate call back, or just watching the water go behind the creek and knowing some day it will reach the ocean and wonderin’ if I’ll ever see an ocean and what a wonder that would be. You know, Momma, sometimes I hike on over to the highway and I just sit and watch the buses go by and the people in them, and I’m wonderin’ what they’re like, what they say to each other, and where they’re bound for. Things stay in my mind, Momma. I can’t forget anything. And it gets all bottled up in here and sometimes I feel like a crazy man. I can’t rest or sleep or anything until I just rush up here and write it down in that tablet. Sometimes I think I really am crazy.”
Olivia: “I do vow.”
John-Boy: “If things had been different, Momma, I could have done somethin’ with my life.”
Olivia: “You will John-Boy. You have a promisin’ future.”
Olivia tells John-Boy that he must search for his father. She gives him his Christmas present, a black and white striped scarf, knowing he will need its warmth on the cold trip. He finds Charlie Sneed at Ike’s store handcuffed to a chair, after being arrested by Sheriff Bridges. Charlie insists he found the meat and goods after they apparently slipped off of someone’s truck. John-Boy says he was sent to find his Daddy. Charlie becomes concerned, knowing John would never stay away from his family on Christmas Eve. He tells John-Boy to take his car. John-Boy drives off into the dark of the night thinking about the advice his father has given him and remembering some of the activities they shared. John-Boy is torn between wanting to be like his Daddy and trying to be is own self. Suddenly the car stops, out of gas. Off in the distance John-Boy hears Christmas songs being sung from Rev. Dooley’s congregation. He enters the church and joins in the singing. The children then reenact the birth of Jesus. After the service Hawthorne offers to take John-Boy to the Baldwin’s house, hoping to find extra gasoline.
The Baldwin sisters are trimming their Christmas tree as Miss Emily reminisces of her lost-love Ashley Longworth. In the middle of the story Miss Mamie hears a knock on the door. As Miss Mamie shows Hawthorne and John-Boy into their Papa’s quarters, Miss Emily remembers when all the relatives from Buckingham County came for Christmas. The two travelers are invited to share some of their ‘Christmas Joy’ but John-Boy thinks they are crazy. Hawthorne relates the nights Judge Baldwin appeared at their house with a jug of the Recipe and sang all night with his father. After singing a verse of Throw Out The Life-Line Hawthorne announces the need for gasoline. Without extra gas, the sisters take them in their horse and sleigh down a snow-packed road on a cold night. Along the way they are forced to stop by a fallen tree across their path.
With the children in bed, sleigh bells are heard outside the house. Thinking Santa has arrived the children sneak to the stairs. The sister’s bring John-Boy home without finding John. Olivia jumps to the conclusion that he has been joy riding. He tells his mother that they helped him search for his Daddy. She then mistakes a jug of eggnog for bootleg whiskey, telling John-Boy to pour it out because she has impressionable children. Grandpa announces he is going to the church in order to ‘ring in Christmas’, insisting that the Methodist’s and the Episcopal’s will be doing the same. He wishes ‘Merry Christmas’ to the family and kisses his wife. Esther says, “Merry Christmas, you old fool!” The children want to see the miracle of Christmas, but Olivia says she only wants to see her husband safely home. John-Boy tells the children the story of when the dumb animals first laid eyes on baby Jesus. Ever since that night, animals all over the world kneel at the stroke of midnight on Christmas and speak in human voices. Suddenly, something is heard on the roof. The children run to the door with Erin yelling, “It’s Daddy!” They swarm around John as Olivia, relieved that her husband is safe, makes coffee. Mary Ellen sees her mother cry in happiness. John comforts his wife saying, “I picked a peach when I came a-courtin’ you!” He explains that he missed the bus, hitchhiked all the way to Hickory Creek, and walked the rest of the way home. The children find the Christmas presents inside a sack and John tells them the story about how he got them.
John: “Well, you see, I was walkin’ across the yard. I didn’t want to make any noise cause I figured that you kids would be all asleep, you see. All of a sudden I saw somethen comes flyin’ straight across the sky and landed right on top of this house.”
Jim Bob: “We heard it!”
John: “You did? Well, I waited a second and saw this team of some kind of animals, looked like about the size of a year-old calf, you know. Had some kind of little pointy things comin’ out of the top of their heads.”
John: “I think so, Ben. I think so. Now I never seen reindeer before, I don’t know for sure, but that’s what it must have been. Well, I looked and saw this little, old man get out; little, old man dressed up in black boots and a red coat with some kind of white fur all around here (pointing to his neck).”
Elizabeth: “Santa Claus!”
John: “Sure it was but I had never seen that old son-of-a-gun before, Elizabeth. Didn’t know who he was. I thought maybe it was somebody tryin’ to break into the house, so I looked around and got me the biggest rock I could find.”
Ben: “You hit him with a rock?”
John: “No, I didn’t hit him, but I scared him. I scared him so much that the sleigh started slidin’ off the roof and landed out there in the yard (laughing). You should have seen the old man crackin’ that whip and tellin’ them reindeer, Ben; reindeer to take off, but I was able to grab ahold before he left the ground.”
Erin: “You talked to him?”
John: “No, I didn’t talk to him, but I wrassled him, and got me a whole big armful of stuff from the sleigh before he got away. (long pause) And there it is.”
The children open their presents, delighted with what Santa gave them. John asks John-Boy to open his present, where he finds tablets of writing paper. John says, “I wonder how news got all the way to the North Pole that you wanted to be a writer.” John-Boy responds, “I guess he’s a right smart man.” John doesn’t know much about the writing trade but tells his son that he must give it his best. Olivia then opens her present, flowers in full bloom; knowing his wife was wishing for springtime in winter. Then John announces that he has quit his job and will stay at home cutting timber for fence posts and railroad ties. Olivia wonders what they will live off for the rest of the week. John softly says, “Love”, and looks deeply into the eyes of his wife.
Concluding remarks by Earl Hamner, Jr.:
“Christmas is a season when we give tokens of love. In that house we gave not tokens, but love itself. I became the writer I promised my father I’d be, and my destiny lead me far from Walton’s Mountain. My mother lives there still, alone now, for we lost my father in 1969. My brothers and sisters, grown now with children of their own, live not far away. We’re still a close family and see each other when we can. And like Miss Mamie Baldwin’s fourth cousins, we are apt to sample the recipe and then gather around the piano and hug each other while we sing the old songs. For no matter the time nor distance we are united in the memory of that Christmas Eve more than thirty years and three thousand miles away. I can still hear those sweet voices…”
Elizabeth: “Good-night John-Boy”
John-Boy: “Good-night Elizabeth”
Jason: “Good-night Daddy”
John: “Good-night son, Good-night Mary Ellen”
Mary Ellen: “Good-night Daddy, Good-night Momma”
Olivia: “Good-night Mary Ellen, Good-night Jim Bob”
Jim Bob: “Good-night Momma, Good-night Erin”
Erin: “Good-night Jim Bob, Good-night Ben”
Ben: “Good-night Erin, Goodnight everybody”
John-Boy is fifteen years old. Mary Ellen is thirteen years old.
John is working in Waynesboro, coming home on the weekends. He travels on the bus from Waynesboro to Charlottesville, on to Hickory Creek, and home to Walton’s Mountain. The total distance is about fifty miles. (Waynesboro is west of Charlottesville on Interstate-64.)
Olivia’s Christmas cactus is seventeen years old. She started it in the year 1916, the year her and John were married. It is now Christmas 1933.
The baby doll in Ike’s store that Elizabeth wants costs eighty-nine cents (retail) but Ike is willing to sell it to Olivia for sixty-five cents (wholesale).
Covesville, Virginia, mentioned on the radio, is on Route 29 north of Schulyer and south of Charlottesville.
Grandpa tells John-Boy that John-Boy’s great-great-grandfather first settled Walton’s Mountain in the year 1789.
Charlie Sneed tells Grandma that he shot the sitting turkey up on Wails Mountain from thirty-six paces.
Charlie has been the “Robin Hood Bandit” since 1929. This year he has stolen from the J & B Produce Company.
John-Boy tells Mary Ellen that he once tried to kiss Gwen Foster on her front porch after walking her home from prayer meeting.
John-Boy learned to drive in his Daddy’s old Desoto.
Ashley Longworth first kissed Miss Emily on her nineteenth birthday (October 19).
Ike Godsey (Woodrow Parfrey), Sheriff Ep Bridges (David Huddleston), Charlie Sneed (William Windom), Rev. Hawthorne Dooley (Cleavon Little), Miss Mamie Baldwin (Josephine Hutchinson), Miss Emily Baldwin (Dorothy Stickney), City Lady (Sally Chamberlin), Claudie (David Livingston), Emmarine (Betty Carter), Shepherd #1 (Kent Williams), Shepherd #2 (Roderick Bingley), Shepard #3 (Rodney Bingley), Angel (Miyoshi Williams), Santa Claus (Clarence Landry).