I recently rediscovered "The Homecoming," the television movie that gave rise to the hit TV series "The Waltons." I was surprised by how much of it I remembered, since I probably hadn't seen it in 20 years. But when I popped in the DVD, it all came flooding back to me, from the bootleg whiskey (AKA the "recipe"), to the little doll with the shattered face, to the black nativity, to the scary Christmas tree in the Baldwin sisters' living room that had actual burning candles on its limbs. Yikes.
It was a pleasure to rediscover, and a heartwarming reminder of the real meaning of Christmas. Here's a family in the midst of the Depression with barely enough money to buy sugar for their applesauce cake, and yet they find ways to be joyous and thankful. I think that's something we could all contemplate as we think about giving and receiving this holiday season.
The best gift I ever received for Christmas was an old set of opera glasses that my brother found in an antique store outside of Harvard Square. Truth be told, they never really worked. But it was clear that my brother had put a great deal of thought into that gift: he knew of my love for theater, and he also knew that I would appreciate the faded beauty of those what were essentially a pair of mini binoculars, complete with a distressed leather case.
I was reminded of those opera glasses as I watched "The Homecoming." John-Boy Walton (Richard Thomas) receives a stack of writing tablets from his father for Christmas. Remember, this was the Depression, and writing paper was doubtless an extravagance in the Walton home, but the gift showed that John Sr. knew about his eldest son's passion for writing, and the tablets were his way of conveying his blessing. I think we would all get so much more out of Christmas if we could spend less but care more about what we give. Even by today's prices, those writing tablets would have set John Sr. back less than $10. And my brother, a student at the time, doubtless spent little more on those opera glasses. But the impact of each gift was exponentially greater than the actual price.
Enough with the proselytizing. I'll end the same way the movie ends, with the following voice-over narration from an older John-Boy Walton:
Christmas is the season where we give tokens of love. In that house we received not tokens, but love itself. I became the writer I promised my father I would be and my destiny led 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 with children of their own, live not far away. We are still a close family and see each other when we can. And like Miss Mamie Baldwin's fourth cousins, we're 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 or distance, we are united in the memory of that Christmas eve. More than 30 years and 3,000 miles away, I can still hear those sweet voices.
Merry Christmas, everyone.