It’s November, 1963, and Thanksgiving on Waltons Mountain seems like a lonely place. At least John and Olivia, ostensibly cured of her TB, are back at home, and Grandma is too, tuckered out from “visiting relatives” in Buckingham County. But as for the others? We have a lot to catch up on. Here goes:
John-Boy, played again by Richard Thomas, anchors a TV news program in Washington, DC. He keeps asking an attractive co-worker, Janet, to marry him, but she believes his workaholic lifestyle won’t jibe with her family plans. It doesn’t help that, once they arrive back in Virginia for the holidays, John Boy is called back to work upon the news of J.F.K.’s assassination, but later returns for Thanksgiving dinner, when Janet accepts his proposal.
Mary Ellen is a full-time mother and has a child, Clay, whom she is raising whileveterinarian(?) Jonesy is off at Vietnam. No mention made of John Curtis, who is around 23 by now.
Jim Bob runs a private airplane company, but although he enjoys flying around (private charters, crop-dusting), it lacks stability, especially in the eyes of Mary Ellen, when he takes Clay up for an airplane ride.
Erin is a sub teacher. She is now divorced from Paul Northridge on account of his cheating and has partial custody of their children. She and the married assistant principal of her school strike up a friendship, but are clearly attracted to each other, setting the rumor mill on fire!
Rough times for Ben: Still working for his dad at the mill, he grows resentful of his overbearing authority, especially after John won’t spend the money to buy a newer truck. Considering finding work elsewhere, he also realizes he’s away from his wife, Cindy, too often, and that she needs him more than ever since their daughter, Virginia, died (we never find out why) and she may be infertile. Father and son reach an accord, once John remembers what Zeb once said about giving in to the “younger folk.” Ben and Cindy announce they will adopt a child.
Jason is married to Toni and have a few kids, with another on the way, but as an aspiring country singer/songwriter, he is also away from home far too often. Once he sells his song to Elvis Presley, he now has more time to spend with the kids.
Drew is back from the Marines, and still has feelings for Elizabeth, back from Europe. She announces she will join the Peace Corps.
Amid all of this, John is enraged when the assistant D.A., Al Sampson, locks the Baldwins up for illegal moonshining, ostensibly to garner votes in the upcoming county commissioner election. The solution: John springs the sisters from the clink and vows to run for commissioner himself.
Olivia’s just busy keeping everyone together, but wants everyone to come to her with problems. Despite their long-running plans to FINALLY build thart house on the mountain, she and John can’t bear to leave their home – and they don’t.
Whew! Did you get all of that? By all means, don’t skip the first 20 minutes of this one – that’s when you get caught up with everything over that past 16 years. As a true reunion movie, this effort does an excellent job of getting everyone back together – including longtime supporting characters Verdie Wilson, Rose, Yancy, and Aimee Godsey, played by original portrayer Rachel Longaker (she went off with a tattooed mechanic, to Corabeth’s dismay, but it’s overlooked when she returns with her child).
So no real central conflict, but like any family reunion, tons to get caught up on. Despite the newer hairstyles (Erin’s is best) and car models, everything here looks pretty much like business as usual. Also like a reunion, you get to see how everyone’s aged – some better (Eric Scott, Richard Thomas, Mary McDonough) than others (I won’t say). Just glad the gang’s all here!
The ratings for this one must have been pretty good; CBS would do another one two years later (see below). Remember, the late 80s/early 90s was the Golden Age for reunion movies, showing that old TV shows never die, they just get back together again for 2-hour telefilms.
Timeframe: Novembe, 1963, but John says that it’s been 15 years since Zeb’s passing. Really? Zeb died in 1941, making it 22 years.
Janet Gilchrist, John-Boy’s girlfriend, is beautiful but looks far too contemporary for 1963. You be the judge.