Earl Hamner acted very out of character after his daughter saw Born Free and uncaged a pet
Despite his message in the episode "The Last Mustang," the Waltons creator felt one animal did not deserve to roam free.
One of the most exciting quests ever taken on Walton's mountain happened when Grandpa, John-Boy and Jim-Bob set out to find "The Last Mustang."
This mythical wild horse was said to run free through the Waltons' land, and when they finally spot it grazing by a river, it's a breathtaking moment for the boys to see the myth confirmed with their own eyes.
For this 1976 episode of The Waltons, the moral of the story was that wild things deserved to roam free.
No doubt that in this episode The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr. was channeling the affecting message at the heart of a classic film from a decade prior — Born Free.
In that 1966 movie, a lion cub is adopted and then eventually set free to roam Kenya. In Hamner’s 1999 memoir The Avocado Drive Zoo, he told a story about how his daughter Caroline was so extremely moved by Born Free that she decided to set free a certain family pet.
It all started when Caroline trapped a snail inside a Mason jar and announced to the rest of the family that the snail's name was Susie Green.
From then on, Earl had his first pet snail, and that made him feel guilty about all the other snails outside in his garden, which he very much considered as pests, not fondly as pets. No matter what he did to rid his garden of them humanely, they just kept sliming their way back into his carefully hoed rows and nibbling his carefully sowed fruits and veggies.
Well, after Caroline watched Born Free, she decided she couldn't in good conscience keep Susie Green living in a jar, so just as it happens with "The Last Mustang" and the lion cub in Born Free, Susie Green was set free to roam her native lands.
Unfortunately, those native lands were the plots in Earl's garden. However, with Susie Green no longer a pet, Hamner no longer put the snail's needs above his own desire to have his garden harvests for his own meals.
He decided the snails had to go. Even if Susie Green was sacrificed in the slaughter.
So, he read up on how to best get rid of snails for good. The solution was beer and pizza. Really. He learned to lay out several deep-dish pizza pie pans filled an inch-high with beer.
"In the morning, a half dozen big fat fellows were floating in each of the pie pans," Hamner wrote. "In the days that followed, I found snails of all sizes in the boozy grave."
Soon, the snail population drastically diminished to the point where the damage they did to the garden was minimal, but in the book, Hamner cannot confirm or deny whether Susie Green escaped the "boozy grave." He admitted he's so ashamed, he never confessed to Caroline that he'd put Susie Green in danger.
"Only when she reads this will Caroline learn that I probably drowned Susie Green in beer," Hamner wrote.
This story seems very out of character for Hamner, whose wholesome family show discouraged deceiving your family or, you know, plotting to destroy a former family pet who's just been set free to live its best life. But Hamner said he thought his daughter would understand that even though he cared for Susie Green, he loved watching his garden grow more.
"She herself is a gardener of note with a very special interest in horticulture, and I have the feeling that she will understand and forgive me," Hamner said.