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Museum Dedication - March 1, 1997

"Good Morning. Welcome to The Walton Museum. Welcome to Schuyler and Welcome to Nelson County.

This is a very special day to me and my brothers and sisters and we thank you for coming to share it with us.

Just being in this building opens a flood of memories. I went to the fourth grade in that room. Mrs. Strickland was my teacher. Mrs. Ben Gianinni taught the sixth grade right over there, and I graduated from Miss Clyde Parr’s room there in the back. And I stood right here in 1940 when I graduated and gave a speech. It had a lot do with the promise of America and little premonition that the following year the world we knew would be changed forever by war.

Another memory of those years comes back from time-to-time. There was a graduation dance held here in the auditorium. I was desperately in love at the time with Miss Elsie Mayo who taught the seventh grade. Mostly my love took the form of adoring her from a distance, but I finally got to dance with her. The music was a song called "Careless" and the words went: "Careless, now that you’ve got me loving you." I remember singing the words as we danced but Miss Mayo didn’t seem to notice. I suppose she had no idea of the degree of my passion, nor did she ever know how broken my heart was when she married the math teacher, Mr. T. Dan Gusmerotti.

We are here today to honor my mother and father, but in so doing I would like us to honor all the mothers and fathers of their generation, especially those families of Schuyler who have come such a long distance in Schuyler’s history.

I have always wondered who the first settlers might have been to come to this part of Virginia. I imagine the very first were hunters and trappers who came even before the Revolutionary or the French and Indian Wars. People from the Tidewater who felt the need to push their way further into the continent. People who wanted to be near mountains. Later came the farmers, the preachers, the school teachers, men with families, and explorers. Certainly they were an adventuresome lot; they had to be resourceful; they had to be people with a strong sense of independence and self reliance; they had to be brave people who weren’t afraid of hard work or danger or the unknown. They had to be men and women of strong will and strong minds. We are their descendants, and we come from strong stuff.

In their names you can still hear the sounds of many countries, the accents of those hardy souls who sailed in small ships from the shores of Ireland. There are English names of those who left families and loved ones behind on the teeming streets of London and Liverpool. Even today the names are reminiscent of German names that remind us of those German Baptists who came here looking for religious liberty, along with Quakers and Mennonites, and even Italian names like my Gianinni forbearers. I wish I could say my ancestors came looking for religious liberty. Actually they came over here to grow grapes and make wine, and there’s been a noticeable thirst running in the family ever since.

Even today those of us who were born and raised in this area still carry the sounds of the Scottish people who settled here and left a strong imprint on our speech. We still say "out" and "house" and "mouse" and "about." It always surprised me when I left Schuyler to learn that I "talked funny."

At one time early settlers came to Schuyler looking for gold, and for a while a gold mine was actually worked here. But the real gold they found here was the generous earth, the beauty of our streams and rivers and the richness of our forests. The Cosby family came early, and so did the Eubanks and the Dwyers. They found friendly people, people who made good neighbors, people like themselves, people who had values. They had names like Shoemaker, and Walker, and Goolsby, and Beasley, and Kidd. The Hardings came early and so did the Tylers, and Thackers, and the Maupins, and the Ownsbys.

Soapstone was the key that opened the door to a flood of people. A large deposit of soapstone had been discovered as early as 1800 and soapstone brought the Belmore family, and the Rothwells, and the Carrols, and the Fortunes. The soapstone became commercially important when quarrying began and later when the Alberene Stone Company merged with the Virginia Stone Company we were on our way to the big time. Back in those early days, surprisingly, Schuyler had something in common with New York City. We both had a Riverside Drive. Thank God, the resemblance to New York City stopped right there.

I’ve always loved the names of the people who came to live in Schuyler. They had names like Tillman, and Drumheller, and Moore and Viah, and Bryant. They had names like Branch, and Dameron, and Purvis. Many of their descendants still call Schuyler home such as Gentry, and Banton, and Morris, and Norvell, and Burton, and Winebarger. The sound of their names is a roll call of those people who made Schuyler the good place it has always been - The Sprouses, the Gardeners, the Witts, and the Pontons. People who are the backbone of the country, the people I grew up with and went to school with. Phillips and Crists, and Raglands, and Halls, and Wades, and Mayos, and Gooslbys, Crickenbergers, Sprouses, and Wrays, and Allens, and Saunders. Good names. Good neighbors. Let us remember and honor all these families.

In every country around the world that has a television station, this community, this small village in the heart of Nelson County, has come to be synonymous with family values. I think I had something to do with spreading that news, and I’m proud of that. But I can’t take credit for those values themselves. They came from our parents, the people who nurtured us and who passed on to us the notions that there was dignity in work, satisfaction in having a job and doing it well, that we can and must be self-reliant and resourceful, that our country’s laws are to be obeyed, that we have a right to practice the religion of our choice, the belief that our parents and grandparents not only deserve respect, but are to be treasured for the rituals and stories and rules of conduct that we all need to know and to pass on to our children if we are to call ourselves civilized.

Someone once said to Will Geer that THE WALTONS was corny. To which Will Geer said, "There’s still more corn than concrete in this country." We didn’t corner the market on these values, and I think they are more prevalent throughout our country than books and television and the movies would have us believe. We would be foolish to deny that drugs and crime and scandal have taken their toll on us. But following Will’s figure of speech, I believe that there is still more Judeo-Christianity than crime in this country, that there is more hope than heroin, more virtue than violence, and more good than evil.

If those values have been weakened today, they sustained our parents and their generation through some often mean and troublesome times. Looking back on our parent’s generation it is striking how often their lives were shadowed by war.

Their own parents more often than not grew up in the shadow of those years following the Civil War. To my knowledge nobody around here owned plantations or slaves, but still the economic hardships and social upheaval that followed that war weighed heavily on our grandparents’ lives and were part of our own parents’ heritage.

Our mothers and fathers were children or in their early teens when World War I came about. A few of them were old enough to go to Europe and some of them didn’t make it back. But the young men of Schuyler and now the young women have always been there when our country needed them.

Again, in World War II, our parents were called on to send their sons and daughters to fight in Europe and in the Pacific. The first life to be lost from Schuyler in World War II was Goldman Moore, the son of Charles and Mabel Moore. Later Raymond Branch was killed in the line of duty. Raymond was the son of Billy and Maude Branch. Our country called again during the Viet Nam War and once again the people of Nelson County answered that call. Ronnie Crizer, the son of Arlene and Charley Crizer gave his life in that war as did Tinsley Bryant, the son of Tom and Eva Bryant. These wars gave a special and tragic meaning to our parents’ generation. Having fought for their country, having given their sons and daughters to their country, I think they came to appreciate the deeper meaning of love of country, of honor and of sacrifice.

Another formidable event shadowed the people of our parents’ generation: the Great Depression of the late l920’s and early 30’s. The Depression made them frugal and more often than not they passed that quality down to their children. The Depression called on our parents to be resourceful, and they passed some of that quality on down to us. Clothing was handed down from the oldest to the youngest. Sometimes a boy’s shirt landed on one of the girls, and the pants didn’t quite fit that younger brother, but if we complained my mother always said "They’re clean, and you’ll wear them!"

Our parents were resourceful in feeding us, too. We all kept pigs and had a cow out grazing somewhere. I am probably the only writer in Hollywood who knows how to milk a cow, not that I get called on much to use that particular talent. I dream of the day when my agent calls and says: "Twentieth Century Fox is looking for a writer who can milk a cow." Won’t happen.

Every family back in those Depression years had a garden, and during the summer our mothers and grandmothers put up vegetables and berries and fruit. I can still remember that wonderful vinegary aroma that permeated the house after the first frost when my mother picked the last of the tomatoes and made green tomato relish. My grandmother Gianinni’s peach preserves were probably the best in the country, and the sausage they made when we slaughtered hogs was so pungent and peppery, it makes me hungry just to think of it.

And while our mothers and grandmothers did the canning, our fathers shot quail and pheasant, venison, and squirrel, and rabbit. They brought back bass and catfish from the Rockfish River and at Thanksgiving there was never a store bought turkey, but one that came from the neighboring hills and woods. We knew it came from that flock over on Wales’s mountain because it still had bird shot in it.

This building was a beacon of light in this community. While many of our parents had had little opportunity for schooling most of them respected learning and yearned for at least a high school education for their children.

And I will never forget my father’s pride when I won a scholarship to the University of Richmond. He even gave me his one white shirt although he did say to my mother: "What am I going to be buried in if I die while he’s down yonder in Richmond strutting around in my good shirt?"

I want to tell you one of our favorite family stories about my mother and father. My mother’s mother, Miss Ora Lee Giannini, was Baptist. And she was about as Baptist as you can get. She disapproved of dancing, swearing, card playing, hand holding, overly long kisses or any public display of affection, and raised voices on the Sabbath.

The last person in the world she would have selected as a suitor for her sixteen year old daughter was our father. He was twenty at the time, a known carouser, a gambler, a drinker, a dancer, a crack shot and benefiting his Welsh ancestry, he was a singer of note. He thought nothing of going hunting on Sunday and even worse when he defiled the Lord’s day by fishing he had to go right past the Baptist Church to get to the Rockfish River. In the church they’d be singing "Shall We Gather At the River?" and going past he’d smile and nod in complete agreement.

My Grandmother forbade my mother to see my father, but somehow they managed to have a courtship. My father proposed. My mother accepted, and they sneaked off to Lovingston to get the license. That night, when she was supposed to be at choir practice, my mother met my father and they went to the Baptist Parsonage to ask Preacher Hicks to marry them. Preacher Hicks had a mild stutter which became intense if he was under stress. He was now under stress. He knew that my grandmother would have a fit if he married the two young people. When my father presented him with the license, Preacher Hicks said, "I cannot marry you." To which my father replied: "You’re not the only damn preacher in the country. We’ll find us another one."

At that point Preacher Hicks said, "Under the c...circumstances, I will marry you," and so he did.

Neighbors predicted that the marriage wouldn’t last six months. Her mother swore never to speak to her daughter again, but you know mothers. She came around and saw that gradually her daughter had tamed her young man. He mended his ways, he got himself baptized, joined the church and said goodbye to his fast friends. They had forty-five good years together and to his dying day, he called our mother "Sweetheart."

Our youngest sister, Nancy Jamerson Hamner, will unveil the plaque in their honor and I’ll ask Jim Hamner to read the dedication: "Dedicated to the memory of our Mother and Father whose love for each other and for their family is celebrated in this Museum."

So this day we honor our mother and father and all the other mothers and fathers from Schuyler of their generations. How fortunate we were to have had them. How rich we are because of them." Earl Hamner