Andy Griffith died on the Outer Banks of his native North Carolina where he lived. A few years ago, I took my senior adults to the Outer Banks, and, other than seeing the place where “Nights of Rodanthe” was filmed and hearing about how one native got to be examined by Richard Gere as a bit part, the biggest thrill was hearing that Andy lived there still. “You can still see him in the grocery store and he is an active part of the community,” she said solemnly.
We were the Baptist version of medieval pilgrims tracing the steps of a saint. Andy Griffith, though Moravian, taught more Baptists their character virtues than almost anyone I knew.
Being a native of North Carolina, I fastened onto the Andy Griffith Show at an early age. I was in elementary school when the show was on the air. Andy, Aunt Bee, Otis Campbell, Thelma Lou and Helen, Goober, Gomer, Opie and Barney Fife were childhood friends. I know a lot of the bits by part—I’ve watched and re-watched the reruns my whole adult life. “Why do you watch the same shows over and over?” my wife asks. But even she will watch “Aunt Bee the Warden” (she has a secret desire to imprison lazy men and beat them with a broom) and “Class Reunion,” and “Mr. McBeevy,” and all the others over and over.
It has been analyzed to death, of course. From its lack of diversity to its nostalgia overdoses, the show has taken its share of hits. And we all keep watching. Having lived in small towns, of course, I can say “The Andy Griffith Show” was half of the equation—the ideal, good half. Andy did capture the foibles, silliness and pettiness, but missing was meanness, racism and evil.
I think Mayberry was a mythical remembering of how we wanted life to be. People were, finally, decent even when petty. There was room for everyone, and feelings were spared whenever possible. Music had its rightful place, as more important than Mayors and politics. In fact, every political debate on Andy ended with one candidate quitting the race and throwing support behind his friend or her nephew. People went to church, attended the fair, canned their own food and thought a bottle of pop was a big deal.
My very favorite episode is entitled, “Man in a Hurry.” It’s about a big-city businessman whose car breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday afternoon. He is frustrated on every hand by the slow pace of Mayberry. He cannot find anyone willing to fix his car on Sunday. Even the “party line” phone in town is tied up by two spinister sisters who talk to each other all afternoon about why their feet hurt.
The poor man finally sputters, “What’s WRONG with you people? The whole world is caught up in a desperate race into space. Men are orbiting the earth in spaceships. But here a whole town comes to a standstill because two old ladies’ FEET hurt!”
He is a typical, hurried, stressed-out victim of modern life. Too little time, too much to do, pressure on every side and frustration an ever-present possibility. He is always one breakdown away from disaster. Only later, as he prepares to leave and has second thoughts, does he entertain the possibility that his whole life is wrong and decides to stay after all. The episode ends with the businessman, fast asleep in a rocking chair on the porch, the picture of peace.
My wife likes the part of that episode that goes like this:
Barney Fife: [while relaxing on the front porch after Sunday dinner] You know what I think I’m gonna’ do?
Andy Taylor: What?
Barney Fife: I’m gonna’ go home, have me a little nap, and then go over to Thelma Lou’s and watch a little TV.
Andy Taylor: Mmm-hmm.
Barney Fife: Yeah, I believe that’s what I’ll do. Go home… have a nap… and then over to Thelma Lou’s for TV.
Andy Taylor: Mmm.
Barney Fife: Yep, that’s the plan. Home… little nap… then…
Malcolm Tucker: [interrupting] For the love of Mike DO it! Do it! Just DO it! Go take a nap, go to Thelma Lou’s for TV, just DO IT! (from IMDB site)
I think of all the phrases and quotes that have crept into my speech from the Andy Griffith show. “Just call the man.” Andy asks Ron Howard about whether he believes a spoiled rotten friend deserves punishment. “I’d rather not say,” Opie says, “After all, he is one of my own kind.” Of Aunt Bee’s deplorable pickles, “Learn to like ‘em” and “kerosene cucumbers.” Briscoe Darling tugging at his necktie and saying, “Ever since I saw a hangin’, I been nervous about wearin’ one of these things.” Ernest T. Bass saying, “I’m real mean, but I make up for by being real healthy.”
The people of Mayberry put up with each other, stopped work on Sunday to rest and sing on the porch, and made room for their neighbors. Most of all, the obvious affection of the actors for one another, and the hilariously true to life ad lib bits between Andy and Barney and Opie, were like belonging to an extra family. Ron Howard and I grew up together. But Ron also grew up on a set with a man who was an affectionate father figure.
The greatest compliment my oldest daughter ever paid me was to call me her hero and describe me as a combination of Andy Griffith and Atticus Finch. I doubt I deserved either of those accolades, but between them they are the truth of what a Southern man ought to be.
I live in a time when people make more money, have less time and stay stressed, unhappy and overworked. All the predictions about the computer and technology making life better turned out to be a snow job from hell. We are not kinder, better, more considerate or human to one another than we used to be. Truthfully, things don’t seem better at all. Too many bureaucracies, less neighborliness, too much hurry, and as a comedian said, our political mess is the fault of the teens for teaching their parents how to get on the internet.
I’ll admit it—I long for Mayberry and simpler living. Maybe it never existed, but something in us says, “It ought to.” A place with a time for a smile, where sacrificing for someone else is a virtue, and where, at the end, there is always room for one more at the supper table, be it Ernest T. Bass or the Darling family. Only in Mayberry does a criminal come back to thank Andy for sending him to the penitentiary so he could straighten him out.
I’ll confess. I’d trade our linked-in, wired up, over-drugged, media-drenched hyperventilating world, where movies often as not show us piles of corpses and people who sleep with one another before asking each other their name for a mythical town where the people rig a drawing to try to prove to a neighbor he isn’t a jinx, and where even Gomer can get a blind date for the dance.
All of this was born in the imagination and creative mind of Andy Griffith. He gave us a national treasure and perhaps showed the country that the South, in a time when it was at its worst, still had the possibility of something worth having and knowing if it would only be true to its own best instincts.
Farewell, Andy Griffith, from one of the sons you and Opie never knew you had. But I was always watching. I’ll have to explain some of the episodes to my granddaughter, but I hope we can watch them together and I can tell her, “This is how people should act.”