Last week I was writing about Michelle Duggar; the mother of 16 children. This got me thinking about motherhood in general and other big families. Like The Walton?s. When I was growing up, I loved The Walton?s. The solidity of them all. The family standing firm in the background just like the mountain that bore their namesake.
You never once saw Olivia grab one of her young, fine, red headed children and shake them until their eyes bugged out. You never saw her run out to the barn and tell the cow that she just couldn?t take it anymore. That she wasn?t going to iron another shirt or peel one more @#%* potato. The worst thing she might do was frown and cross her arms over her chest in a firm manner, but that was about it. Even then there was always a twitch of a smile lurking in the corner of her mouth and a sparkle in her beautiful eyes.
Then I bought the first season on DVD. Watching the show as an adult, and now as a mother myself, I discovered that Olivia made me feel a tad uncomfortable. She was just so…well, so perfect. Thoughtful, loving, not a selfish bone in her whole slim body. Until Episode 22, when Olivia spots a freshly painted bicycle at Ike Godsey?s General Merchandise. The moment when that happens is nothing short of pure magic. Olivia looking at the bicycle and saying to Ike, ?Oh my, I haven?t ridden a bike like that in ages.?
Ike tells Olivia to go ahead. Give it a try. His kind voice urging her on. Olivia hesitates, laughing self-consciously, before climbing up on the bike. Oh, the freedom of it all! Seven children, the depression, sharing a home with her in-laws; all of it just floats away on the summer breeze as she pedals along.
Olivia buys that bike and I am beyond happy. I am redeemed. Maybe it isn?t saying bad words to a cow, but it is very nearly the same thing. And it is wonderful. Wonderful knowing that even Olivia Walton needed to have something for herself, to keep her sane.
Soon Olivia is remembering her childhood dreams of being a singer. As well she should. She is a very good singer, God bless her soul. She starts pedaling her way to church choir rehearsals and lets Grandma and Mary Ellen iron the shirts and peel those potatoes.
Then, just like that, it all starts to go awry. The writer – obviously male – creates a series of events to make Olivia aware of how selfish she is being for wanting a couple nights a week for herself. When Olivia quits the choir and gives up her bicycle, because she is a mother and a wife first and foremost I am ashamed to admit that I suggested quite loudly she climb back on that bike before I slapped her upside her selfless head. She ignored me.
Please don?t get me wrong. I sincerely believe that being a mother – or a father – is the most important job a person can take on, but would it really have been so terrible for her to sing in the choir, or ride a bicycle in-between giving out motherly advice and doing laundry? According to the writers, yes, yes it would.
In the end, the old white farmhouse falls quiet, and the whippoorwill calls to its mate, as the last train from Charlottesville sends its lonely whistle through the pine trees and on up to Walton?s Mountain, where John Earl Hamner is busy giving voice to the young thoughts and dreams of John-Boy Walton – whose own dreams do matter – while Olivia peels potatoes, irons clothes and does without.
Well, until 1979. That?s when her contract expires and her character is suddenly given TB and shipped off to a sanatorium. Some say there was a contract dispute, but I know the truth. TB didn?t stand for tuberculosis. It stood for The Bicycle.
The moral? Better to ride a bicycle and be a happy mother, than to give it up and get shipped off for good. Or something like that.