Earl Hamner's philosophy of family can be boiled down to his love of turtles
When the Waltons creator rescued a dozen turtles, his wife had one question: "What are we going to do with them all?"
Before Earl Hamner Jr. became a top TV writer with his series The Waltons, he was just another guy who had left his family behind in New York to try to make it in Hollywood.
Renting a room in a hole-in-the-wall motel, Hamner brought only a turtle for company.
Even though the ratty motel put up with a lot from tenants who didn't respect the place, it turned out they had a strict no-pets policy. As soon as a maid discovered Hamner's hard-shelled stowaway, they booted him from his room.
Hamner wasn't about to get rid of his turtle, though, so he took this as a sign that it was time to bring his family to California. He rented a house and soon after got his start professionally, after submitting scripts to The Twilight Zone. Everything was uphill from there.
Perhaps the turtle knew it was time for them to move on?
You'd be surprised how much of Hamner's life can be boiled down to his love of turtles.
It's well-known that Hamner is a friend to all animals, and on The Waltons, we watched the family take in as pets a swarm that included Rover the peacock, Myrtle the goat, Calico the cat, Reckless the dog, Lancelot the fawn, Old Blue the mule, Chance the cow, and many others.
However, we think it's possible that in the whole animal kingdom, the turtle might be Hamner's favorite beast because he does talk about them an awful lot.
In Hamner's 1999 memoir, The Avocado Drive Zoo, he relates how his son warned him not to hit a bunch of box turtles when driving on a road trip. The father fondly likened the faces of the box turtles to Steven Spielberg's alien E.T. and wrote, "It was not a warning I needed. We are extraordinarily tuned in to animals in our family."
He then told a troubling story about how, further along the road, he and his son watched a motorist intentionally strike a turtle crossing, and how his son responded by wanting to save as many turtles as they could on the rest of the drive. They came back home to New York with a dozen turtles in tow.
"What are we going to do with them?" his wife asked, perplexed.
"We're going to release them in the garden," Hamner declared. "Give the place some character."
"They are kind of cute," his wife eventually admitted, especially fond of the smallest one.
To keep his brood of box turtles fed, Hamner planted a garden and fed them lettuce, carrots, spinach, and tomatoes, as well as a wild area for them to roam, with dandelion, pine trees, and flowers.
The turtles thrived in the home Hamner made for them, and you might be wondering if that turtle that he brought with him to California was one of them?
It sure was. In fact, it was his son's favorite turtle of the bunch.
The turtle's name was Hoaker and he seemed to be the most energetic turtle of them all.
Knowing that, you can see why there was no way that Hamner was going to let a motel’s "No Pets" policy keep him from holding onto the turtle he'd saved with his son, especially after he crossed the country so far from his loved ones. Hoaker was practically an extension of his family. Later in his life, Hamner told journalist Scott Holleran that his philosophy of family could be symbolized perfectly by a turtle.
"You come back to the family for sustenance and nurturing," Hamner said. "It's like a turtle shell; you do carry it with you—that sense of support. All of the Waltons really do intend and do get away [from the central family] — to marriages, to careers, to other parts of the world, but they're sustained by that early experience."
Do you think of your family as a turtle shell?