Good night, John Boy, from another generation | Whale

When I was growing up in the 1970s, like many others I enjoyed “The Waltons,” Earl Hamner Jr.’s televised account of his childhood in the fictitious Jefferson County of Depression-era Virginia.

To the kid I was at the time, tales about John Boy, Jim Bob Mary Ellen, ma and pa and rest of that huge clan seemed so far in the past, they may as well have been grunting in the caves of the late Pleistocene cavemen, chomping on bloody chunks of raw woolly mammoth.

“Wow, that was really a long time ago,” I remember thinking. “World War II is still in the future to John Boy, and Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini are still walking the earth.”

Well, a glance at the calendar tells me time has ticked on to early January of 2022. And, though I can scarcely believe it, that makes me 59 years old, teetering on the once unimaginable brink of 60.

I remember how old that once seemed. Dude’s ancient.

Now, I don’t know how many other people wake one day to the shocking realization of their own age, or who share my habit of measuring their lives by spans of time. But I suspect their numbers are legion.

And I wonder, how many of them feel old?

When I consider that, it hits me: the 1970s to the Waltons’ era was the same interval that separates 2022 from the 1970s. And that’s how today’s kids would look at the time span in which I grew up.

It all passed in the blink of an eye.

How did that happen? I ask myself. Wasn’t it just a moment ago I was playing Little League ball, and swimming and riding innertubes in the Green River and catching crawdads and riding my bike without a helmet and playing guitar in the Auburn High School jazz band?

Seems that way.

But then, I see the hard fact glaring out of eyes that never looked out on the town and area in which I grew up, with its plentiful fields and old barns, and its access to all those as-yet-unbuilt-upon lots around Lake Tapps with their long ropes to swing us out over the water on blistering summer days.

I see a kid’s reaction to a joke that was once funny, but now falls flat because the terrible crimes since committed by Bill Cosby have stripped away that part of the soundtrack of my kidhood.

And in my outmoded musical preferences, which would seem to kids like the tastes of that weird old cat in the old neighborhood, the guy under the fedora who was still stubbornly clinging to the stylings of Glenn Miller and his Big Band, or Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra: the music of our parents and grandparents, we sniffed.


My late father used to talk about how the span of his own lifetime measured up to the time span of the nation’s history, and how when he was growing up in the 1930s in Maspeth, a rough and tumble section of the New York City borough of Queens, old men were still walking about who’d fought in the American Civil War.

He marked the passage of each year with the anniversaries of two important events: tick, April 12, the day my brother died; and tock, the opening of the Puyallup Fair.

Thing is, I don’t feel like I’m 59 going on 60. But the calendar is not sentimental, it’s never confused, does not mislead.

So, to come full circle in this piece, here’s the truth I present to myself and to other members of my generation: we are the Waltons.

Not only are we the Waltons, but in a few years we’ll be gramma and grandpa Walton.

And that sobers me up.

Robert Whale can be reached at