Episode 21: The Scholar


(22 February 1973)

Writer: John McGreevey.

Director: Lee Philips.

Music: Jerry Goldsmith


The Scholar


"When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain the great Depression touched our lives in many ways. Jobs were scarce, new clothes were rare, food was simple and mostly home grown. What we had, we shared. My father taught us by his quiet practice that sharing was our first duty and happiest privilege. And on one occasion I had the opportunity to share an unforgettable experience with a lady who was trying to hide a secret".


Verdie Grant, a neighbor of the Walton family, is illiterate; a fact that she concealed because of being too proud to let anyone know. However, her daughter Sarah is about to graduate from college, and Verdie plans to visit her for the ceremony. Verdie wants to be able to sign her name on the hotel register, and to be able to read the menu when she goes to dinner. She sees how patient John Boy is when teaching Elizabeth to read and write and feels that he will be a good teacher for her. Her chance comes when Olivia and Esther visits relatives for a wedding and Erin becomes sick and needs her tonsils removed. Verdie is asked to look after Erin while the women of the family are away. John Boy begins teaching her how to read and write as part of a game of playing school with Elizabeth. Verdie eventually tells John Boy the truth, and the two continue with their lessons, with John Boy under strict instructions not to tell anybody.


In the barn Verdie repeats a passage from one of Elizabeth’s primers. John-Boy indicates that she is doing fine, after Verdie confesses she would never have learned to read or write on her own. While the lesson proceeds they are unaware that Elizabeth listens from outside. The youngster wonders why John-Boy is listening to Mrs. Grant read from her book.


Olivia and Grandma return home, thanking Verdie for her help. Verdie and John-Boy agree to work from her home, but she insists on paying him for his help. Erin informs her mother that she is still too sick to leave her bed. She says that Henry Ragland has brought her gifts, not missing a day to see her. Elizabeth is confronted by her teacher, Miss Hunter, who asks her why she is again not prepared for school. Elizabeth admits that John-Boy was using her books to teach Mrs. Grant to read and write. Miss Hunter excuses Elizabeth, realizing for the first time that Mrs. Grant has been illiterate all this time.


Verdie’s sister, Alice, observes her working on a dress for Miss Hunter. Alice notices the improvement in Verdie’s handwriting, and then admits she was wrong about her mistrusting view on John-Boy. While Verdie brings Miss Hunter’s new dress to the school, the teacher tells Verdie that she knows about her lessons to read and write. Verdie becomes upset and hastily leaves, thinking that John-Boy told Miss Hunter about their secret. Later, as John-Boy arrives at Verdie’s home for another lesson, Verdie angrily tells John-Boy that he did not keep his promise. John-Boy is confused and insists he did not break his word. Verdie will not listen to him, telling him to “Get out!” Alice does not feel her sister gave John-Boy a fair chance. Verdie decides not to attend her daughter’s college graduation, and burns her writing papers.


John-Boy writes in his journal a quotation from Charles Dickens, “There is nothing so finely felt and so finely perceived as injustice.” John, Olivia, Grandpa, and Grandma wonder what is wrong with John-Boy, but know he will work things out by writing it down. Elizabeth comes downstairs afraid that God may be mad at her. She confesses telling Miss Hunter that she was unable to finish her schoolwork because John-Boy was using her books to teach Mrs. Grant to read and write. Olivia tells her youngest daughter that God does not hold a grudge. In response, John-Boy asks his father if he could drive a truckload of firewood to Mrs. Grant’s house after school in payment for her taking care of Erin.


At Verdie’s house John-Boy insists his family fulfills their promise to pay for services. He then states his side of the story: that Elizabeth told Miss Hunter (not realizing the secret) about her learning to read and write. However, Mrs. Grant still insists she does not want to continue her lessons, after John-Boy offers to continue. When John-Boy leaves Alice tells Verdie that she is wrong, saying that John-Boy cares about her. As John works in the mill, John-Boy drives up in the truck. John-Boy is upset that Verdie still doesn’t trust him. John reminds his son about how things have been for years. John-Boy feels it was a simple relationship between two friends who trusted each other, and now he’s lost that friendship.


Olivia takes Erin’s temperature, finding it normal. Erin insists she is too sick to go to school, still enjoying her visits by Henry. Olivia then tells her daughter that Henry visited earlier to tell her about the school party that night. Erin suddenly feels better, wanting to go. But Olivia tells Erin that she can’t have it both ways, wanting her to think about what she has given up for her actions.


After school Verdie asks a favor from John-Boy. She asks him to read a letter from her daughter that she just received. Sarah has returned the money her mother sent, saying she doesn’t want the money, but only wants her mother to share her graduation: “the day our dreams come true”. John-Boy says her daughter “sounds a lot like her Momma”, with strength and determination to finish things that are started. Verdie asks John-Boy to finish the lessons, saying she was wrong, mean, and unfair. John-Boy says he also finishes things that he starts. At the bus stop in front of Ike’s store, John-Boy sees Verdie off to visit her daughter. They hug goodbye and as Verdie steps on the bus John-Boy declares, “Verdie, don’t forget to write!” Verdie laughs, and John-Boy joins her in the joy of the moment.


"How to get attention without playing sick, how to keep from getting hung up on the barbed wire of old prejudices and grievances. As we fumbled towards answers to these and a thousand other questions we were lucky to have the teasing of our brothers and sisters to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously, and, the unfailing love of our mother and father to reassure and sustain us".


Jim Bob: Daddy?

John: Yeah, Jim Bob?

Jim Bob: Will you wake me when you get up in the morning?

John: Sure thing. Big plans for tomorrow?

Jim Bob: Uh hum. Elizabeth and I are going to dig a hole straight through to China and I want to get an early start.

John: Goodnight, Jim Bob.

Jim Bob: Goodnight, Daddy.



Verdie Grant is introduced in this episode.

Writer John McGreevey won an Emmy for this story for best writer of a drama series for a single program.

Verdie Grant’s daughter, Sarah, is later mentioned with the name Esther in episode The Illusion, season seven, episode eight.

The license plate on John’s truck is 35-178 Virginia.

Alice is Verdie’s sister.

Henry Ragland is one of Erin’s classmates.


Also appearing:

Verdie Grant (Lynn Hamilton), Rosemary Hunter (Mariclare Costello), Alice (Royce Wallace), Henry Ragland (Kerry Mac Lane).


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