Be Good to Your Family: John Walton

This is the fifth of my Be Good Not Great blog series.  The idea for the series came to me in a dream of my Grandpop in the original blog: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/  and  a related poem: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/08/01/be-good-not-great-poem/.  In this series, I tell stories of people that fulfilled God’s purpose of being good while foregoing worldly greatness. 

To date, the series has included only real people with whom I have directly interacted.  In this blog I focus on a person that I have interacted with since the seventies, but only through TV– John, the father on “The Waltons”.

For those not familiar with the series, “The Waltons”   ran for 9 years in the 70’s and early 80’s with specials continuing into the 2000’s.  It covers the trials and tribulations of an extended of family of 11 (John, his family, and John’s parents) living through the depression and World War II in the backwoods of Virginia.    The Waltons make it through those hard years of poverty and personal tragedy with their souls intact largely due to the sacrifices of John and his wife Olivia (who is equally deserving of being the subject of this blog). 

One of my favorite episodes of the series clearly demonstrates John’s focus on being good while foregoing opportunities for wealth and fame.  In the episode, John is uncharacteristically anxious and short with others.  His high school reunion is approaching and one of his fellow classmates want him to organize the reunion.  The classmate came to John because back in high school he and his classmate Grover where always vying for the lead position in the class.  Grover went on to Washington to lead an agency in the Roosevelt administration, while John stayed on Walton’s Mountain eking out a living for his family.  John becomes even more anxious when the person who was supposed to host the reunion cannot and John’s wife Olivia  agrees to host the reunion at the Walton home.

When the seemingly successful guests arrive, they all have problems.  Grover, for instance is having marital problems and his wife does not attend the reunion.  Another one of his classmates, a rich car salesman, has kids who act spoiled and misbehave throughout the reunion.  In contrast, the Walton children are the epitome of hospitality and work together to make the reunion a success. 

The show ends with what I considered the greatest quote from the show and one that highlights the difference between being good not great.  Grover, John’s former high school rival says the following: 

“Six years in grade school, five years in high school-everything I ever ran for, I was always running against the same Johnny Walton… The greatest day of my life was when I beat John Walton out for senior class president. I don’t think he ever lost any sleep over it. Now I’m an ambitious man – some would say successful; probably it’s all John’s fault. I was always running; he was always going past me at a walk. And here it is, 25 years later-here I am, and there’s John. Then look at me… and some of you… still running, still wearing ourselves to a frazzle for all sorts of things that John Walton has accumulated while he was out walking – a happy home, a fine wife and children. We’re sitting here well fed at John’s table, and I’m still boy enough to be graveled at the sight of him. ‘John – the boy most likely to succeed.’ Well, he’s the boy who did.”

This ending always gets me because it shows the choices a parent makes for his family.  There are so many episodes where John demonstrates his love for family over that of money of fame.  Here are three examples:

In one of the later episodes, John demonstrates his ability to organize competing, local sawmills in Virginia to deliver a large order for a rich government contractor.  Noting his ability, the contractor offers John the role of Vice President of lumber operations.  This job holds the promise of wealth, travel and a fine home.  The only issue is John would have to uproot his family.  He declines the role for the lesser opportunity of running a co-op in his hometown for a lot less money and prestige. 

One of the key attributes of a good father is being humble enough to accept the sacrifice of your children.  In another one of my favorite episodes, John and Olivia use all their emergency money to buy their son John-Boy, a new suit for college.  The whole family participates in the joyful event.  John is proud that he can provide clothes for his son to fit in with the wealthier students not on scholarship.  Then the family’s milking cow Chance dies and John is humbled since he does not have the money to replace it.  John Boy takes it upon himself to sell back his suit to pay for a new cow.  This action shows the goodness of his father John in two ways.  First, John-boy is following the example of sacrifice he has seen modeled by his father.  Second, John is humble enough after initial reluctance to accept the money.  John does what needs to be done even though it eats him up inside to provide his son this simple gift.  

In the last example, a developer comes to Walton’s Mountain and notes the beauty of the nature and a hot spring on the mountain.  FDR with his affinity for Hot Springs has raised the demand for these resorts and the developer offers John a lot of money for the mountain and his home.  He at first contemplates selling the land and moving the family but decides against moving the family, especially his parents from the home.  This episode clearly illustrates the sacrifices many sons and daughters make to care for their parents in their older years.  A good father indeed must first be a good son.

I could list at least another 20 episodes of the basic goodness of John Walton and his love for family.  Caring for your family and your spouse is what a marriage is all about!  A good parent thinks of their family first and career second.  Money and fame disappear, but a love of a good parent lives on! So, when facing a decision, let’s be like John and focus on what’s good for the family, rather than what is great for you!

Be A Good Neighbor: TM

This is the fourth blog of the Be Good, Not Great series.  The initial idea for the blog series came to me in a dream about my Grandpop and resulted in a poem and a blog in less then an hour.  Read it hear. https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/

The series focuses on people that strive for goodness over greatness; who eschew money, wealth and fame to care for other people.

I still remember the first day at the first home my wife and I owned as if it were yesterday.  We moved into an established community in our then sleepy, now rapidly growing town.  The house was 70’s vintage and we were excited but a little daunted. 

We got the home for a good price.  But it did come with some things that we needed to fix.  The most urgent being a large bump in the sidewalk that led to our door.  The bump was due to a tree root that grew under one of the sidewalk panels.  It was a hazard especially for my wife who was pregnant with our second child and our 4-year-old.   I was ready to fulfill my duties as a husband, father and new home owner.

I had managed to lift the sidewalk a bit and was trying my best to cut off a portion with a small axe I had.  I was not making any headway and was sweating buckets.  When out walks a wiry, 60ish year old man with silver hair, from next door.

I stopped my work for a moment and greeted him.  he introduced himself and said, “I am TM your neighbor and son you looked like you could use some help!”  I said, “Hi Tim.  I am doing ok, but it is sure good to meet you”.    Which was wrong on two accounts. 

First because of his Texas twang, I called him Tim instead of TM.  This part was ok because he thought he heard TM due to my Jersey roots. Second, I was not Ok.  I had worked for an hour and made hardly a dent on the root.

After 15 minutes, TM returned with his own axe and said “Don, please let me help you out.  I have been doing this for awhile and we can knock it out together.”  Even though I was embarrassed I relented.  And I was glad I did.  TM immediately made more headway in 10 minutes then I had done in the last hour and a half.  When it was my turn to spell him, he let me use his axe and technique.  We got the root out and sidewalk level in less than 40 minutes together.  It was the start of a great friendship and mentorship.

TM was the perfect example of seeking goodness over greatness.  Born and bred in Leander, he moved to Cedar Park during its infancy to run one of the Cedar Yards for which the city was named. He was a great mentor, devoted husband for 68 years, loving father and a devout church goer.  You can read more about TM here. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/austin-tx/thomas-pearson-7060600

There are four lessons from the life of TM to follow as we strive for goodness:

  1. Be a Good Neighbor.  The help with the tree root was just the first example of TM being neighborly. He was always there with a ready hand and a kind smile to help my wife and I with our expanding young family.  With both of us working, we did not always have time to keep the yard up.  When he saw us struggling, TM would take the time to mow the side of our yard closest to him or water some of plants when we did not get to it.  He also helped us with some ideas on landscaping and brought over some vegetables from his garden.  We in return tried to help him out, but never could match his generosity.
  2. Be a Good Family Man. TM was a devoted husband and father.  His only daughter was confined to a wheel chair after she was in an accident.   He and his wife helped care for her.  To make things easier, his daughter and her husband lived with TM.  TM had a specially outfitted van and helped with the medical visits and care.  He was always cheerful and willing to help. I also never saw a harsh word exchanged between the two couples despite the stress of living under the same roof. 
  3. Be a Good Mentor. TM was also always ready to pass the lessons of fatherhood to me.  One conversation stands out.  I was playing soccer with my son in our backyard and we were getting loud.  My son kicked the ball and it sailed into TM’s garden.  Instead of a harsh word, he handed over the soccer ball with a smile.  I told him I was sorry and asked him if we were bothering him by being too rowdy.  TM said, “You do get a bit loud, Don. but I know what you ae doing and you need to play with your son.  It is what they remember and how they learn so have at it!”  I try to remember that lesson when the two boys that are our new neighbors kick a soccer ball against our car.
  4. Take care of your community.  TM also reached out to the larger community.  His yard was an example to the whole community.  He also put on the best Christmas light show for many years.  Showing pride in your home and community inspires the same in your neighbors.   TM also sang and played guitar at his church.  He used his talents to the joy and betterment of those around him and the world is better for it.

We moved to a new home about a mile away in 2007.  Up to the end of our time next door, TM remained a good neighbor and friend.  Even helping us with fixing up the house for sale. Unfortunately, I did not follow his good example.  I got caught up with work and growing family and despite living only a mile or two away from him, we did not go to see him that often.  When he passed in 2016, I did not know until quite a bit later.  This is something I will always regret.

Robert Frost writes in his famous poem “Mending Wall” see full at this link https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself.”

I now know what does not love a wall.  It is not elves, it is God and his love.  Be like TM and not me!  Break down the walls of cell phones, work, and a busy life.  Take a sledgehammer to that wall, much like TM took an axe to that tree root and make time for your neighbor.  And above all, love your neighbor as yourself!