Most mornings at my house, the television is turned on as background noise and mostly I ignore it, not really caring too much about Hollywood interviews and fashion trends. Recently though, I stopped in my tracks when an old familiar tune began playing and I heard the words, "Goodnight, JohnBoy." There on my TV screen was the cast of the Waltons, all grown up and celebrating the show's 40th anniversary. That's right, 40 years. Feeling old?
Although I had seen many re-runs of the Waltons over the years, I'd never realized until a couple of weeks ago that the series was based on a book called "Spencer's Mountain" by Earl Hamner Jr. I checked out a copy at my local library and have to say, what a delight.
Clay Spencer works hard, laughs hard, and is not a stranger to the occasional nip of whiskey. He and God-fearing wife Livi are raising their brood in the Appalachian foothills of Virginia. Although their house belongs to The Company, it is Clay's dream to someday build a home for his bride atop Spencer's Mountain, where his family has lived for hundreds of years.
It is also this father's dream for all eleven of his children to graduate from high school, beginning with eldest son Clay-Boy. Not only does Clay-Boy manage to graduate, but with the help of his teacher and a local preacher he applies to the University of Virginia in hopes of someday becoming a writer.
The story mostly revolves around teenaged Clay-Boy as he discovers the world around him and wonders about the world outside Hickory Creek, but it's also about the joys and struggles of the Spencer family. There are many interesting folks, including feisty grandparents Zeb and Eliza, (who refer to each other simply as Old Man and Old Woman), the elderly Baldwin sisters (who still make their Daddy's bootleg "recipe") and the feisty Claris, a rather forward girl who makes Clay-Boy's head spin and his Mama frown.
What I really enjoyed about this book is that Hamner's writing is very believable. His characters could walk right off the page and his account of life in an eastern Virginia town seemed very real. I did a little background research on the author and discovered with amazement that this story was written as a journal while Hamner was on the battlefront in Normandy with gunfire all around him. He's also written several other books and screenplays, including the animated Charlotte's Web, several episodes of The Twilight Zone, Falcon's Crest and, not surprisingly, The Waltons.
"Spencer's Mountain" is simply a good story. It's a blend of adventure, love, sadness, humor and good ol' salt-of-the earth country people and, like the TV show it inspired, should appeal to many audiences.
Recommended by Priscilla Garvin