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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothers Are Like That...

[From a draft previously titled "John Boy and Me."]
I'm sitting here watching TV with the whole family. It's been a great day. My wife is sitting beside me in our reclining love seat, and I have just enough time to post something for Mother's Day.

There are two one-hour television shows from years ago that struck a lasting chord with me. Both used a narrative format from the first to the last episode. Both titles start with four letters T-H-E-W: The two shows are The Waltons and The Wonder Years.

The Wonder Years, of course, grabbed me because it was in perfect chronological synchronicity with my life. I was the exact same grade and age as Kevin Arnold (played by the young Fred Savage). Watching the turning calendar pages of each season was like reliving my days at Burton Junior High School. Even his chronic crush on Winnie matched mine with [name goes here], except I did not kiss my girlfriend as Kevin did in that heart-warming episode. Thought about it. Wanted to. Practiced the moment in my mind… but never overstepped the conviction I held at the time that it’s not good to kiss girls just to be kissing girls, a “code” that saw me from adolescence to young adulthood with few regrets.

This Mother’s Day post, however, is about The Waltons. This show was not only a narrative but it included the narrator-as-writer in the storyline. The character of “John Boy,” played by actor Richard Thomas, is a semi-autobiographical portral of Earl Hamner, Jr. [Hamner circa 1980 at right.]

The series pilot "The Homecoming" aired the Christmas of my first year in high school. From that special on, my family ran into the living room at the sound of that theme to watch The Waltons every week for the first five seasons. (John Boy left after that and it wasn't quite the same.) My mom especially loved the show and often said that I was like John Boy. I had begun “writing” at the time (though I had no clue what I was doing).

Mom didn’t miss any of the “mystic” signs along the way. My name is Thomas Richard, and John Boy was played by Richard Thomas. Hamner’s novel upon which The Waltons is based is called Spencer’s Mountain. My family name on the maternal side of my family tree is Spencer. In Spencer's Mountain, the father is building their own home, as were we with our father during these same years. Mom used these details to inspire me to remember things and to write "our stories." As the Bayer commercial from the same era used to say, “Mothers are like that, Yeah, They are.”

I’m no Earl Hamner, Richard Thomas, of "John Boy Walton." Just the same, hearing my mom's encouragement through the years made the fact that I liked to write a very acceptable pastime and influenced my choice to become an English teacher.

It is most remarkable to me that Hamner himself was the actual narrative voice at the end of each show. That may seem only natural, but not all writers are effective at reading their own words. (e.g. recorded readings of Frost and Sandburg). Hamner’s voice, however, is an inseparable part of that long-running show.

To me, narrative writing requires the human voice, but it is not commonly held that “good writing” must read well aloud. I’ve read somewhere that “writers” who read their work aloud tend to include too many prepositional phrases. It's because prepositional phrases (beginning by definition with a preposition and ending always with an “object”) create a natural rhythm like the three heard in “Over the river... and through the woods... to Grandmother’s house we go.”

Keeping that caution in mind, I write with the assumption that narratives are an oral tradition. As I write and especially as I re-write, I read aloud. I narrate the words. It is only then that I know my “voice” is in them. I don’t know whether this approach to writing is a cause or an effect of my fondness for Earl Hamner. I only know that when I hear Hamner read the lines of his life, I'm drawn to his tone and style and rhythms. I feel the same winds, see the same colors, and ache with the same sense that family is the strongest tie that binds.

Words strike wonderful chords of music all their own—words like meadow and autumn and sorrow and kept contain their own blend of notes that becomes inseparable from their meaning. The music of words is what blurs the line between poetry and well-crafted narrative voice. Listen to Hamner read these lines from the last episode, and you’ll see what I mean.

"I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers. Back in time to where the first one trod. And stopped, saw sky, felt wind, bent to touch Mother Earth and called this home. This mountain, this pine and hemlock, oak and poplar, laurel wild and rhododendron. Home and mountain. Father, mother, grow to the sons and daughters to walk the old paths. To look back in pride in honoured heritage. To hear its laughter and its song. To
grow to stand and be themselves one day remembered. I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers. I saw yesterday and now look to tomorrow." Earl Hamner, Jr.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! Thanks for all the great stories and for bringing out whatever "John Boy" was in me. =) Because of you, I sometimes here that quiet exhaled chord of a harmonica at the end of things I've written. G'night...

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Blogger SusieQ said...

The Waltons was a favorite of ours too. The show started in 1972 just one year before we bought a few acres out in the country so that our children, who were quite young at that point, could experience country living. We were not farmers in the true sense of the word although we had chickens, a milk cow, a few goats, some rabbits and several vegetable gardens. Actually my husband was employed by the State of Illinois as a rehab. counselor during that time. But we were able to relate to the Waltons partly because my husband's parents lived with us on our little farm in their trailer which was parked behind our house. I mentioned that earlier in another comment.

I can just picture you as a budding John Boy back then. It was sweet of your mom to find signs (Spencer's Mtn.) that meant you should become a writer.

I have always read aloud to myself whatever I have written even if it is a letter to someone. It has to sound good to the ear for me. I didn't realize my narratives possessed rhythm naturally until one of my writing teachers used a piece I had written to demonstrate to the class how a narrative can be rhythmic like a poem. Is that something that can be taught though? I wonder.

13/5/07 11:25 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Strange but The Waltons was a big hit in Malaysia oh, so many years ago. Your post revived quite a bit of memories. I suddenly remember that John Boy's character made it sexy to be a writer and a scribe of daily life. I guess, I started writing and poems after watching the show. Nice memories. Thanks.

14/5/07 3:55 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

You must be about the same age as I am Tom. I grew up in that very time period. The clothes, the ideals, and the changing of moral standards as with the older Sister is something I can remember very clearly. They used to run the reruns when I was on the 2:30p to 11:00p shift in the late 90's and early 2000s and I probably saw most of the episodes then.

The Mother reminded me of my Mother quite a bit with the large dot polka dot dresses, hairbands the stretch calf length capris with flats and trying to be "hip". My Mom was "cool" though, all my friends like her because nothing flustered her and she was always very pleasant to them.

My Dad was like the Father, he worked hard came home,tried to do things with us kids but work made him grouchy alot. I now know what he felt, I have a similar job now as he did at that time.

I remember the Waltons but I had no interest in the story at that time. I think most of the TV I watched were the sitcoms like Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan's Heroes, and of course Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. Intellectual stimulation wasn't real big at our house. I was actually the first to graduate High School in my family but my Father went on later to get an Engineering degree after I went away to the Navy.

My Mother died about 5 years ago but my friend that now lives in New Mexico lets me borrow her Mom. I went there yesterday for Mother's day. The youngest son and his wife took her out to dinner Saturday but I went over to her apartment on Sunday with a nice card and some very wonderful Jasmine and Sandalwood scented soaps for a gift. Mom and I just gab about all kinds of things and it's just like having a second Mom. I call her Mom because she insisted upon that, she is my "other" Mom. REAL COOL!!!

Your Mom looks like she is very nice and reminds me of my "other" Mom a lot. Moms are very cool and they certainly have earned having their own very special day.

14/5/07 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These past two posts are what makes your blog you. I never thought of the Waltons comparison, but some of your things do seem like that. You should record your posts like that link at the end. Is there a way to do that. I have not heard the Waltons all saying "Good night" in years. Thank you for including that and for the thought you put into your posts.

14/5/07 1:48 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Sounds like the acres were an excellent investment in much the same way ours were. I talked to my mom last night after I hit "post." It was a nice chat.

I am amazed as I visit with you and our Canadian friends that American television is such an influence beyond its borders. That's kind of a scary thought--since we've come such a long way from the plots of The Waltons. Oh, how I hope we're not spreading "South Park" and the like around the world.

My mom is a lot like the lady you're talking about. She has been "Mom K" to many of our friends through the years. In fact, she really never meets a stranger. Glad you were able to spend time with a special friend on Mothers Day.

Glad you listened to that link. The "G'nights" really brought back memories for me, too. You probably also remember that eventually the show was "spoofed" and those closing lines were mocked by some, but hearing them again made me think back at two eras: the one depicted in the show and the one that had millions of Americans watching it. Sad to say, a show like that may not "make the cut" for today's TV audience.
As for recording "readings" of posts. I like the idea, and would do it if I knew how. J_G, knows how to get music to play when you open her posts. I suppose I could figure it out when I have some time. Got a School Board meeting tonight.

14/5/07 4:48 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I also enjoyed the Waltons but it didn't inspire me to become a writer.

14/5/07 7:52 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

We watched the Waltons too. I must admit that I like the Wonder Years more but they were both good.

My mother died at 49. I never really got to know her as a friend.

15/5/07 9:56 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Dang you all must be young un's i was 17 and in the navy in 1972.

yet a very nice post to your mom.
My mother was so singularly unique in my life that when she passed a year ago next week I knew I would never need a replacement because so much of her is in me and so much of me was never in her.

And also Tom when you talk about the technical aspects of writing, let's just say I am glad I never paid attention in English class, but got through just by writing the papers I was told to write. One of the few grade school and HS classes i actually got B's in.



15/5/07 11:31 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I loved the Waltons too and I think we would all be better off if there were more TV shows like this today. Your mom followed through with that great parenting rule, "watch the TV show with your kids and then discuss it with them". This discussion time makes for great family bonding and it sounds like your mom did a great job in all areas of child rearing. G'night John Boy, I mean Tom!

15/5/07 7:36 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
It was actually my mom and a few friends who kept prodding me along, but I did like that show in the early years.

Sorry you were without your mom so early in life. That is very hard.

Sounds like you're a couple years my senior and believe me... in high school I preposition from a participle. In the 70's the public schools had thrown out the technical aspects of language. It is possible to be a good lone mechanic without knowing the names of tools; it’s possible to be a great artist without being able to explain “art.’ In an educational setting, however, it's helpful to know the names of tools and how things "snap together" as you’re working with others in the writing process. Telling a student,“There’s something wrong with that sentence, but I don’t know what. The doo-hicky might be in the wrong thingy” isn’t much help.
You are correct though that some "artists" do not know what they're doing right, and their gift trumps all else.

15/5/07 7:41 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

We used to make "popcorn night" around good shows and specials. After the fifth season, there were more and more episodes that seemed like the producers were trying to be more relevant to the late-seventies and less true to the Thirties.

15/5/07 7:44 PM  

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