Lessons from Mary McDonough


I was five years old… My back four baby teeth weren’t coming out… My adult teeth were ready to come through… There was only one thing for it – rip them out!
One of my earliest memories of the dentist was this particular visit. I sat in the chair and the doctor asked if I had any pets. A strange question, I remember thinking.

“I have a turtle!” I replied, grinning away. He then produced a giant gas mask and proceeded to place it over my face. “Well this is turtle gas, Philip. Just breath in the gas like you would breath in air and count to ten.”

1…2…3…4…5…6… and I was away. Off to the land of nod, thanks to a huge dose of “turtle gas”. When I awoke I found my mouth full of cotton balls – wet cotton balls. I remember looking around the room and the faint figures of the nurse and the doctor slowly coming into view, slowly emerging through the blur… And then it was time to get up. The doctor took me by the arm and helped me up out of the chair. He stopped me briefly while he reached into my mouth and removed the wet cotton balls. It was at that point I noticed why they were wet. When his hands emerged from my mouth they were holding big wads of bloody cotton wool…

When I woke up again after fainting, I was in the arms of my dad being carried from the dentist’s office to the car. I remember having an odd fascination with touching the holes in my mouth with my tongue, feeling the giant fleshy gaps left by my baby teeth. After slowly managing to walk from the car into the house with knees a-wobbling I collapsed on the sofa while Mama Petrie turned on the TV and offered me some ice cream. Oddly enough for a five year old I turned down the ice cream, purely because I had immediately become engrossed with what was on the television.


People were dressed in old clothes, they wore tattered checkered shirts and were running around in the sun and having fun. There were a whole heap of children – brothers and sisters – playing together outside on the porch of a big old house, and their grandma wore an apron and shouted at them for having too much fun and getting dirty in the mud. This was a family show, about a family who just looked like they had fun all the time! I became engrossed in the lives of this family, frolicking around the countryside and laughing and giggling. It had a quality to it. A quaint, retro, vintage, loving feeling to it.

And after that day I made sure that whenever I was off school, or was on holiday from school, I would turn on Channel 4 at ten o’clock and watch “The Waltons”. The early morning lineup went like this – “Little House on the Prairie”, then “The Waltons” followed by either “Lassie”, “Black Beauty” or “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”.

Looking back on it now, it seems all these classic American programmes were probably the basis for my huge love of America and Americana. It seems all these shows were set, or made, during a classic time in American history. The Waltons were living during the great depression. Throughout the show it was mentioned several times, but as a child I never knew what it meant – and from the way the family lived their lives there was certainly no depression going around. The children were all happy and carefree, running around Walton’s Mountain barefoot, and then Papa Walton would come along and scoop them all up in his big lumberjack arms, and they’d all go inside to find Mama and Grandma Walton baking cookies and apple pie. And then Grandpa Walton would come in, with one strap of his dungarees falling off, and he would be singing an old folk song and snuggling up to Grandma (who was having none of it).

GrandpaGrandmaBWAbove: Two of my favourite characters, Grandma (Ellen Corby) and Grandpa Walton (Will Geer)

I could go on and on about the sugary sweet wholesomeness of the show that I enjoyed so much on all those sick days off school – but I won’t. As I grew up, there was always a fond memory at the back of my mind of The Waltons. The re-runs had vanished from Channel 4 but I could still vaguely remember how the theme tune went, and I could just about remember some of the characters names. But then when I was seventeen and off to University I became more independent. I got a job – I was earning money! Whooopee! And then all of a sudden I had an urge, I wanted to relive those mornings I spent frolicking on Walton’s mountain. So I stumbled onto Amazon.co.uk and did a quick search. The Waltons First Season was available on DVD. I clicked “Buy” and the rest is history…

Since that day I have bought each and every season of the show on DVD. Only Seasons 1-4 have been released in the UK, so Seasons 5-9 as well as all the Made-for-TV Movie Specials have been imported from America. I have purchased the very rare, and very priceless, dolls of The Waltons. If I ever end up in a great depression myself I’m relying on those bad boys to bail me out (that’s how rare they are).

As well as purchasing every piece of Waltons memorabilia I could, I wanted to express my love for the Waltons TO the Waltons themselves. I searched online for all the stars, and came across Mary McDonough‘s personal website. Mary is an actress who (if you haven’t seen The Waltons) you have probably been lucky enough to have seen elsewhere. She has been in “ER”, “Ally McBeal”, “The West Wing”, “Boston Legal” and “Will & Grace” to name but a few. In “The Waltons”, Mary played the very middle child Erin. After perusing her website for a while, I decided to contact her and gush like the Waltons fanboy I am, about what the show meant to me and how I appreciated her work on the show – and revealed to her that Erin was always my favourite as she was the most misunderstood family member.

MaryMcDonough_ErinAbove: Mary as Erin Walton

Within a week Mary replied, and since then I have enjoyed receiving messages from Mary over the years, we have discussed life and of course, The Waltons. I was truly honoured though when Mary asked if I could do her a favour. Mary was in the early processes of writing her autobiography when we first started communicating, and she needed some help convincing her publishers that there was a market for her book. So I wrote the Publisher’s a letter explaining to them how a book like Mary’s would certainly sell to the thousands of Waltons fans who would be honoured to read a glimpse behind the scenes at life on the Waltons set, let alone hear about life after the show and about Mary’s trails and tribulations through life. Mary read the letter and said it was perfect. Then a few months later her book was published and of course I was one of many to pre-order the book.

When reading “Lessons From the Mountain” it became apparent early on that this woman, this person whom, as a fan, I have admired for her contribution to a show that I have loved for many years, was so much more than just a Television star, so much more than a child-star who has been kind enough to be good to her fans and allow them to get in touch with her – she’s actually an incredible human being. I won’t spoil anything by revealing moments from her life (you can read the book yourself) but the things she has gone through are unimaginable, and yet she manages to keep that beautiful smile.

photo-18Above: Me with a script signed to me by Mary!

I could literally gush for another hundred paragraphs about how awesome Mary McDonough is. She has kept my faith in humanity, as she has shown me kindness and listened to me ramble on about The Waltons (as if she hasn’t heard it all before). She has supported me through getting my own book published and I can only thank her a million times for being so nice and kind to me, and to all her fans! Mary understands that talking to people and chatting about life is what it’s all about, about connecting and finding the wholesome sense of kindness that life is all about. From a diehard Walton fan to an incredible woman… Goodnight Erin! Goodnight Mary!

Earlier this week I was given the lovely opportunity by Mary to have a chat with her. I literally could not contain myself when she confirmed to do an interview with me. I was nervous, I could hardly speak, I was as flustered as Grandpa Walton after a sip of the Baldwin’s recipes (a little in-joke for you Waltons fans), but Mary made me feel relaxed and was so lovely to chat with.

Watch my interview with Mary right here!


Mary’s website –HERE!

Mary’s book available from Amazon –AVAILABLE HERE!

Mary’s IMDB page – HERE!

Feature photo by: David DeJonge