Ep.19 - The Big Brother

  Original Airdate: January 29, 1976
Writer: John McGreevey
Director: Ralph Waite



John-Boy takes in a young girl who preys on his kindness and cons his family and friends out of their money. John and Olivia head of the Newport News for a short vacation when he there to bid on a lumber contract.


  "Being the oldest in a large family was in many ways a blessing, in other ways it could be a burden. For one thing it meant I gave up earlier some of the carefree and irresponsible joys of being young. It wasn't until I was spending some extra time at home during a break between semesters that I realised that I was not only being big brother to my own family but to the world at large."



John-Boy is feeling restless and needs a break from writing in his tablet. He hears hammering and walks into the boy’s bedroom to look at the shelf that Ben is building. Ben is not interested in John-Boy’s advice preferring to make all the decisions on his own. Outside he finds Jim-Bob using a model of a bird that he made for a girl he likes as a target for throwing stones at. John-Boy suggests that instead of trying to destroy it he save it for the next girl he admires who might like it instead. John comes home with news that they are building new docks in Newport News with a $1/2 Million dollar contract. He plans to go down and win on a bid. He decides to ask Olivia to go with him on the trip. John-Boy drives them to the Rockfish bus station. They run into Sheriff Bridges who has to tend to a faulty burglar alarm. When John-boy returns to his car he finds Bridgette “Muffin” Maloney. A 12 year old girl sitting on the running board. She says that she was waiting for her Mother to arrive on the bus. She says she is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then tells him an elaborate tale of how her Mother is trying to get away from her abusive step-father, Mr. Hapwell. John-Boy want to talk to the Sheriff but Muffin is evasive and doesn't want to involve the authorities. Without a place to stay or food to eat he offers to bring her home to stay with the family until the next bus comes in.

At home the kids are excited to learn more about her story but Grandma wants her to eat her meal in peace. Grandpa on the other hand is suspicious of her behavior and believes she is a runaway. Later in the privacy of the barn Muffin goes through her suitcase which is full of items like watches and fake bottles of medicine. Items she uses to run her cons. When John-Boy finds her in the barn and tells her that they have made her a bed inside the house for her she thanks him for being like a "Big Brother" to her. The next morning Grandpa tries to trip up her story but Muffin knows that he is testing her. Esther on the other hand has taken up the cause to help and defend Muffin, seeing her as a young innocent in need of their help. He tells Esther that “if you look into those baby blue eyes of hers you will see someone older than time.”

John and Olivia make it to Newport News and are surprised by how late everyone is out on the street. He says the the restaurants and dance clubs are still open and that maybe they should go dancing. When she asks if she will look okay I'm the same dress she has he replies friskily that she looked okay out of the dress. They fall back into the bed and while we don't know if they made it to the dance hall he does in fact win a large lumber contract.

The next day in Rockfish John-Boy and Muffin wait for the bus to arrive but her mother is no where to be scene. Despite Muffin’s protests John-Boy goes to see Sheriff Bridges to see if he can find out any information about Muffin’s situation. A con-man by the name of Nifty is locked up in his cell. Meanwhile Muffin cons the unsuspecting Baldwin sisters out of a few bucks when she convinces them that they;ve broken a bottle of medicine she desperately needs for her litle brother which cost her last $2. John-Boy returns to his car but sees no signs of Muffin. She has now circled back to the jail and pretends she is delivering Sunday School baked goods to the unfortunate. He lets her bring it in to Nifty but we learn that he is in fact her Grandfather. They secretly communicate to each other while she sings hymns to him. He needs $25 for bail or he’s stuck in the cell for 30 days. She says she has half the money and will have the rest in a few days after she gets the rest from the family of easy marks that she is staying with.

Back at home the family works to raise the money she needs for bus fare to Raleigh, North Carolina where she says she will be reunited with her mother. In truth though she will use the money to pay for her Grandfather’s bail. Jim-Bob is quite smitten by Muffin and offers her his carved duck. The children take a bucket of Mary Ellen's walnuts to sell to Ike and Muffin cons $7.50 out of Ike by convincing him that an Amethyst stone has been knocked from the setting of a ring she tries to sell him as a gift for Corabeth. Back at home the Baldwin sisters stop by to the "unfortunate girl" but realize that something is wrong when they recognize that Muffin is the same girl they paid $2 to the day before for the broken medicine bottle. Muffin realizes that she has been caught and runs off with John-Boy in pursuit. He catches up to her and demands the truth from her. She says the truth is what ever he wants it to be. She is in the business of selling happiness. She tells people what they want to hear and for that she hits them up for a few dollars. When he says they won’t be happy now when they realize they've been conned she replies that a few dollars can't buy a lifetime of happiness.

He takes her into the Sheriff but not before she hatches an elaborate plan involving Jim-Bob and the faulty bugular alarm down the street from the Sheriff's office to break her grandfather out of jail. They escape in John-Boy’s car while he is meeting his parents at the bus station. The Sheriff, John and John-Boy follow in pursuit but they find John-Boy’s empty car in the side of the road with a flat tire. The Sheriff hopes that they have made it into the next County and will no longer be his problem.


  "You would expect that after such an experience I would have given up trying to be a big brother to everyone I met. I did for a while, but it wasn't long until I had lapsed back into the comfortable and familiar role I had learned to play. In fact, I suspect that even today, if I found Muffin Maloney sitting on my running-board, I might say - Hi there, you look like you need a friend....."

Episode Notes & Interesting Facts:

  • Sheriff Ep Bridges sports a mustache and goatee in this episode.
  • This is the first time we see Sheriff Bridges office and holding cells.
  • This is the first episode that clearly identifies Rockfish with a sign that is hung over the "Rockfish 5 & Dime" shop.
  • This episode is directed by actor Ralph Waite.

Additional Cast:


Guest Stars: Vicki Schreck (Muffin Maloney), Bert Conway (Nifty Mulligan) with: John Crawford (Sheriff Bridges), JoeConley (Ike Godsey)


Music from this episode:

Theme heard to introduce Muffin's character
harmonica and piano theme
Muffin sings "Bringing in the Sheaves" to mask her secret discussion with her incarcerated grifting grandfather
Music heard as John-Boy chases Muffin after it is discovered that she is a con-artist


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