Oh, for simpler, more trusting days, when people would actually invite a cold and homeless stranger into their home -- and offer him blankets and a bed without learning anything at all about him.
A time when one who needed medical care could just knock on a doctor's door and be treated, with no mention of payment. When a small-town physician would tell a patient, "You come back to my office or I'll come and find you."
When parents could ride off into town, possibly to stay overnight, and leave the kids alone together without fear for their safety.
When Mom and the kids would sit around the table singing together in the very picture of family harmony.
Did those times ever really exist? Maybe they did in 1918, the setting for CBS's movie airing Sunday at 9. Certainly they do in greeting cards.
Hallmark Hall of Fame's 202nd television movie is "Sarah, Plain & Tall: Winter's End," the third in Patricia McLaughlan's "Sarah" series of stories. All three have starred Glenn Close as the woman from Maine who married a Kansas farmer, played by Christopher Walken, and all have been filmed at the same farmhouse near Emporia, Kan.
Also returning from the first movies: Lexi Randall as eldest daughter Anna, Christopher Bell as son Caleb; and the director, Glenn Jordan. Emily Osment plays youngest child Cassie, and George Hearn, who played opposite Close in "Sunset Boulevard," is the doctor.
Like most Hallmark productions, "Winter's End" is beautifully filmed and brimming with family values -- honesty, loyalty, fidelity, trust, resilience, forgiveness and, of course, love.
The story is gentle, sweet, slow-paced and perfectly suitable for children who probably won't be able to stay up long enough to watch. But lots of viewers stayed up for the first two. The original "Sarah" in 1991 and "Skylark" in 1993 set ratings records as the most-watched Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation in the series' then-42-year history. The original is the highest-rated film made for television of the decade, with an audience of more than 50 million viewers.
This "Sarah," made nearly a decade later, may not break that record, but it adds Jack Palance as the father Jacob Witting thought was long dead.
As the story opens, the craggy, white-haired Oscar-winner rides across the bare, wind-swept land on horseback, much as he has in many a theatrical film. This time, he's heading toward the Kansas farm that once belonged to him. But instead of going up to the house and knocking on the door, Palance -- as John Whitting -- hides in the barn, afraid he won't be welcomed after having abandoned his son years earlier.
He's right: Jacob doesn't welcome him. But Sarah already has -- Jacob wasn't at home when Dad showed up -- and the kids have taken to the strange old guy.
Since this is a Hallmark production, a viewer can be fairly certain it will have a happy ending, and it does. The characters have to go through some travail, of course -- Jacob breaks his leg and develops a fever; Sarah nearly dies between the house and barn, lost in a heavy, late-winter snowstorm. And there are references to life's being fragile: American soldiers are dying in Europe during World War I, and influenza is claiming lives at home.
"Winter's End" is a simple, fairly predictable story, one that reaffirms that spring will come after winter, that good times will follow hard ones. It dramatizes the importance of reconciliation.
But the movie has one scene that may be unique: crusty old Jack Palance, whose angular and sometimes frightening face has appeared in more than 100 feature and television films, sings a children's song. (So does Glenn Close, but as a winner of three Tony Awards, she really can sing.)
Palance tunes up the rusty pipes to sing two verses of the lullaby "All Through the Night" to little Emily Osment, who is cuddling on his lap.
It's a moment.