Episode 4: The Thief


(4 October 1973) 28/2/4

Writer: Robert Malcolm Young, Director: Harry Harris, Music: Arthur Morton


The Thief


"Looking back across the span of forty years the sharp edges of the great Depression have worn away, in memory the period seems a happy time. Yet when we lived them they were trying years, and I remember a time when our family's pride, and our integrity were challenged in a manner that was new and shattering to all of us".


John-Boy returns with groceries as Reckless greets him. At the Claybourne house John works on an electric refrigerator, finding it needs a new part. Mrs. Claybourne and daughter Amelia watch him finish as son Stuart Lee pays him, and then offers John a ride home after hearing that his truck tire is flat. At home the children play the game “Go Fish” but Grandma thinks it’s the “evil of gambling”. Grandpa can’t hear the radio with Grandma making a racket. He hears about food lines in Charlottesville, commenting how fortunate they are during this depression. Stuart Lee tells John that he is on his way to see the Witherly girl.


At supper Olivia finds only a dollar inside the sealed envelope that Stuart Lee gave her husband. John hopes the rest will be paid upon completion of the job. John-Boy tells his father that the flat tire is past fixing. That night John goes over paperwork, telling his wife that three customers haven’t paid him and he is past due on eleven bills. He is concerned about paying the houses taxes and the insurance premium. John knows he must have good tires in order to make deliveries. Olivia thinks John looks like a little boy as he sits in front of the fire. John says he couldn’t imagine not having his wife and children here. Olivia wonders why he doesn’t wear his wedding ring, but John says he forgets to put it back on after working. They kiss and John goes back to his books. After midnight John looks at his wedding band, knowing he needs money.


Back at the Claybourne house John installs the new part. Mrs. Claybourne joins him for coffee as John admires her silver. She tells John that she wishes she had someone, now that her children are almost grown. Dewey, the butler, shows John out. At a Charlottesville garage John buys two tires. Later, Mrs. Claybourne is unable to find some goblets. John returns home to find Olivia waiting for him. He explains that Stuart Lee didn’t pay him and that the spare tire and front tire gave out forcing him to buy new ones. John also gives Olivia a present. She wonders where he got the money. John won’t tell her.


Back at the Claybourne house Stuart Lee returns to find his mother frantic. She can’t find two Paul Revere goblets that his great-grandfather left to his Grandmother Claybourne. Stuart Lee believes the antiques are misplaced, but Amelia thinks they were stolen. Mrs. Claybourne realizes that only John Walton has been inside besides the family. She forces Stuart Lee to call Sheriff Bridges. Thereafter, Ep drives up to the Walton house and asks John where he went after leaving the Claybourne place. The sheriff wants John to clear himself after being accused of the theft. John refuses to tell Ep where he went, becoming mad at both Ep and John-Boy.


Grandma tells Olivia that Grandpa once left for three days, then when he returned simply hugged the children, kissed her, and went to bed. She learned later that he went to Richmond to try to join the Spanish-American War. Suddenly Olivia thinks John won the money in a poker game. Grandpa tells them that George Anderson has a game going on. Olivia asks John-Boy to tell the children that their father minds his own business. The children are upset that the father is acting so mysteriously. (Ben is off selling magazine subscriptions). John-Boy explains that their daddy would never do anything wrong. Erin and Elizabeth say that they hate the Claybourne’s. Mary Ellen says Martha Rose made faces at them because of their father.


Sheriff Bridges tells Mrs. Claybourne that John would never steal and states that he can’t arrest him without evidence. In front of the school steps John-Boy confronts Stuart Lee and Amelia, saying his father never stole those things. The boy asks John-Boy to look after his sister who is attending the Walton Mountain School after years of private girls schools. At supper John thinks the mood of the family is like a funeral, wondering why John-Boy is not at the table. Mary Ellen tells him that he got into a fight over him. John finds his son in the barn. John-Boy knows his father never stole the silver, but doesn’t understand why he won’t talk about it. John-Boy defies his father. John asks Olivia to be patient with him, and she agrees.


At the store, Ep, Ike, and Dodge Evenhauer play pool as Ep defends John’s character against Dodge’s attack. Soon John enters and asks Dodge if he can pay his past due bills. Ep stands between the men as tempers rise. After Dodge leaves Ep relays a message to John, that he was seen in Charlottesville the day the silver was stolen. John-Boy and Ben watch from across the Claybourne house, deciding to find out what happened. Amelia lets Ben inside but Mrs. Claybourne says that his presence is inappropriate. Stuart Lee explains to Ben that his mother is upset. Ben tries to sell him four magazines for five dollars but Stuart Lee says they “can’t” but quickly changes the word to “don’t” need the magazines. Ben notices their shoes. Later Ben tells John-Boy what Stuart Lee said; and that their shoe heels were worn out. John-Boy thinks this means something.


He waits for Stuart Lee to return, who says he is marrying Blanche Witherly. John-Boy tells Stuart Lee that sometimes pride is difficult to swallow, and sometimes it hurts people. Suddenly Dewey announces that Mrs. Claybourne went to the Walton house to retrieve her silver. As Mrs. Claybourne confronts John her son enters to tell his mother that he took the silver. He confesses that their money ran out, and that he has been selling their valuables to protect her. He apologizes to John, as does Mrs. Claybourne. John tells Stuart Lee to make sure the Sheriff knows what happened. After they leave John tells Olivia that he went to a hockshop. Olivia checks his desk to find his wedding ring missing. John promises to try to get the ring back that she loves. John apologizes about how his pride and stubbornness hurt the family. Elizabeth asks if her parents are still married without a wedding ring. John-Boy says the supper prayer.


Later John-Boy writes in his journal:


The Depression lingered on, and there were other bad spells, but we lived through them too. And as each year ended, it was difficult to recall the hard times we'd come through. Looking back, I realized now that the real bounty placed before us each day was the love we had for each other. It shaped our lives, fed our souls and crowned our happiness.


John: Lights out soon John-Boy, electricity costs money.

John-Boy: Just another minute Daddy.

Mary Ellen: It's not fair John-Boy's getting to staying up later than anybody else.

Jason: Spoiled 'cos he's the oldest.

Grandpa: Did somebody call me?

Grandma: Oh go to sleep.

Grandpa: Huh. Good night Old Woman.....

Grandma: Good night Old Man!



Amelia Claybourne is nearly sixteen years old.

George Anderson is mentioned having a poker game going on. He appears in The Calf (season one, episode three) as the farmer who buys the Walton’s young calf Bullet.

Mrs. Dockstedder used to be the Claybourne’s cook before returning to Georgia.

Stuart Lee is to marry Blanche Witherly, daughter of Creighton Witherly. Creighton Witherly owns the biggest house in the area


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley), Sheriff Bridges (John Crawford), Stuart Lee Claybourne (Dennis Dugan), Mrs. Claybourne (Diana Webster), Amelia Claybourne (Janit Baldwin), Dewey (Davis Roberts), Dodge Evenhauer (Vern Rowe), Garage Man (Frederick Downs).


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