Katherine Reese Kusza
And So, The Stars Fell From Her Eyes (Or Is It Scales?)
I recently travelled to Schuyler, Virginia to visit the birthplace of Earl Hamner, Jr., the writer who created The Waltons. I was able to tour the Walton Hamner House, the home of the Hamner Family and attend a meet and greet with David W. Harper and David Doremus, the actors who played Jim-Bob Walton and G.W. Haines.
The event, held at the John & Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast Inn, was friendly and not too crowded and felt as if it was just visiting with the neighbors. Although I had brought the cold New England weather to Virginia with me, the day was sunny and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer drive to the small town that inspired the television series.
When my sister and I arrived (Thank you, Barbara, for humoring me), we had expected a formal arrangement for autographs. Instead, fans were simply gathered around in the B&B front room (which is set up to look like the Walton living room) and were waiting, patiently, to sit on the couch to take a photograph with the two Davids. I, of course, was wholly unprepared and reverted to my awkward 13-year-old self.
I managed to pull myself together long enough to shake their hands, compliment Mr. Harper’s red Converse high tops, “I like your sneakers. I wore ones just like those in college!” (what a dork!), sit on the couch between them, and get the world’s worst photograph taken. Mr. Harper and Mr. Doremus were, of course, perfect gentlemen and very gracious to the ridiculous, middle aged fangirl before them.
I then proceeded to have a massive hot flash and needed to go out on the porch.
I eventually recovered from the vapors and was able to peruse the small B&B gift shop, pick up a couple of postcards and, then, compose myself enough to go back and ask for the good sirs’ autographs. I am pleased to report that Jim-Bob and G.W. are very regular people, as my grandfather used to say. Mr. Harper, my middle school television crush, was reserved and probably thought I was a blithering idiot. Mr. Doremus, bless him, was a delight to talk to and made me feel quite at ease.
I am glad I attended and I learned several things: First of all, my sister is incredibly photogenic. Secondly, our childhood home is really small and the Walton’s is not. Third, the Blue Ridge Mountains look an awful lot like where I live now (Thank you, Barbara, for pointing that out).
I find that interesting, in fact, considering I grew up in a pretty urban area and ended up raising my own children in the boonies. My daughters keep bugging me about when am I going to hurry up and get out of my apartment and buy a piece of land and a farmhouse so we can all live together again and raise horses and cows and chickens and pigs and grow our own vegetables and whatnot.
I’m not going to say that I tried to recreate The Waltons in my own life because where I live was more my ex-husband’s idea 25 years ago than mine. However, seeing the place that inspired a beloved television series and finding out it is a lot like home makes you think a little. Also, there is something to be said for meeting the actor who played a favorite character and finding out he’s just an ordinary man getting older like the rest of us.
We are all just regular people, aren’t we, put on God’s earth for a purpose that might take us a lifetime to figure out? Who knows why I ended up in the New England version of Walton’s Mountain instead of a big city? Why did I start out working as a newspaper reporter like John Boy and then end up being a nurse like Mary Ellen instead of flying airplanes? Never mind my relatively short, unremarkable career as a call firefighter/EMT which was greatly influenced by another favorite 70s television show, Emergency!.
The funny thing is, our mother never really let us watch that much television growing up. We were city kids who were outside all the time (unless reading or doing homework). I played Star Wars and other made-up games until middle school (again, what a dork!). I suppose high school theatre was just an extension of that and, I would say, keeping a straight face sometimes as a nurse in the emergency room required a bit of acting skill.
Maybe I am a fraud, an actor. Shrinks call the feeling that your accomplishments aren’t really deserved “imposter syndrome”. It is a form of anxiety that causes one to live in fear of being exposed as a pretender no matter how experienced one may be in his or her field. If you do get any recognition, it makes you uncomfortable, because, you know, you probably really didn’t earn it.
I don’t know if that comes from being a girl, half-Irish, Catholic, or trying to work in the predominately male professions of journalism and the fire service when I was younger, but I have struggled with it for a long time. Even as a nurse, I’m not “warm and fuzzy”. I like to get things done and not mess about. That makes me good in emergencies, but not the person you invite to parties.
So, I understand why David W. Harper, aka “Jim-Bob”, was pretty reserved signing autographs. It must be annoying being remembered only for something you did 40 or 50 years ago and having no one ask you what you are up to now.
Had I not behaved like a socially awkward teenager; I might have.