The Homecoming * * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Let me tell you a little about my thought process for selecting Christmas movies with an eye towards adding them to my permanent DVD collection. First there are the big guns, the movies that start appearing in theatres across the United States sometime in November. Then we have the made-for-TV movies that show up on regular network TV either as “specials,” or as expanded regularly programmed shows. Then there are the films that show up on cable etc. Back in my day, it used to cost a network major bucks to put together a Christmas show only to be seen just one time. It was always risky.
In 1971, I was 16 years old. My sweetheart had graduated in the spring and was now in the US Navy, up to his butt in BUDS/SEAL training and not able to get home for Christmas. I hadn’t been on a date in months. And it was Sunday. Dull, boring Sunday. I was blue and bored and everything nasty that a teenage girl in the early 70’s could be. It was a Sunday and it had been snowing.Most of the neighbors' yards were covered with white fluffy blankets of snow. My own front yard was a mass of brown muddy slush as my three brothers and a dozen of their friends had spent the day playing football in it.
On December 19, 1971 CBS aired a Christmas special called, The Homecoming – A Christmas Story. My mom had been watching the ads for the show for the past couple of weeks and was excited because, ”Patricia Neal is going to be in it and this is a pretty big deal because Patricia Neal is a movie star – not a TV actress, and Patricia Neal has won an Oscar, and she’s old time Hollywood. She used to be so gorgeous but lately she’s had some health issues and we never get to see her anymore. Do you want to watch with me?” “What’s it about?” I asked as if I had something better to do. “The Depression, I guess. Christmas in the Depression.” Now wasn’t that depressing.
A note here about The Depression: While I did not grow up during The Depression, that era lived with us and all of our friends' families. Our parents did grow up in The Depression when times were really hard. From them we learned not to waste ANYTHING from scraping the peanut butter jar clean to not dumping an inch of milk down the sink. Snacks were usually popcorn. We never had soda. And every single item of clothing usually came from somebody else. We used vinegar in our hair to soften it and we might have had an automatic washer as opposed to my boyfriend’s family who had a ringer washing machine, but very few people had a dryer. Clothes were hung on lines in the basement during the winter and on an outside line in the summer. We ironed sheets and pillow cases because the heat from the irom killed germs and that way you wouldn't get sick and have to go to the doctor.
The Depression was also used to constantly remind every single child born from 1945 on how rough it used to be in the olden days. The LAST thing I wanted to see was something about the depressing Depression. But, there was my mom. So excited. And she did kinda ask me to watch it with her, and usually tries to avoid me so … damn.
The Homecoming was written by Earl Hamner, Jr. and it was basically autobiographical. It’s a story about a family of six red-headed children ages 15 down to 3, three boys and three girls. They lived on a mountain in Virginia. Mama is a bible thumper and daddy is a rascal. Daddy’s aged folks live with them. Everyone is poor. They live on a small farm where most of what they eat they raised themselves. And the kids all have chores and responsibilities.
Daddy has gone to a town 50 miles away to work and only comes home periodically. Now, I know, there are many of you out there that drive more than that every day, but in 1933 with no money for gas and even if you had the money, you didn’t have a car – 50 miles was a loooong way. And this movie is about this family and how they occupy about 12 hours while they wait for their Daddy to come home.
Daddy. That word always choked me in the craw. Up in Michigan most of us stop calling our fathers, our dads “Daddy” but the time we start school. And here were these children – even the 15 year old – calling his daddy "Daddy." Since those years, I’ve lived here in the south longer than I ever lived in Michigan and Daddy rolls off my tongue just as easy as you please and I know longer cringe.
This is a small movie by today’s standards. But the characters are wonderful. It’s a reminder that we can be happy without a pot or a window if we have love and family. It reminds us that there have been times in the history of this country where an orange was a holiday treat and a hand knit scarf was a cherished gift. It reminds us that we are all just small pieces in a great big puzzle and SOMETIMES it isn’t about us at all. As an adult, it reminds us that what our children learn about family and relationships they learn from us.
The movie is rated PG because I believe the oldest bog says “bosoms.” But every single person in the family can enjoy this movie. And it’s a movie to watch, not just have on in the back ground.This movie was so popular that it was turned into a regular hour long drama for CBS called The Waltons. Even if you remember The Waltons and hate it, don’t judge this Christmas movie by those standards. The very best the writers and actors had are in this movie. A must have for your Christmas DVD collection.
From the Box:
"The Walton's Love and Courage Face a Difficult Test.
Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas, Edgar Bergen and Cleavon Little star in this award-winning drama that inspired the long-running, vastly popular TV series, “The Waltons.”
Set on a Depression Christmas Eve in 1933, this heart-tugging story centers around the Waltons. They’re a rural American family preparing to celebrate Christmas together. Though times are tough, love and sharing are abundant in this family.
An inspiring tale of love, hope and spirit, this deeply moving story goes far beyond the boundaries of time and place to reach out and touch everyone, every where."