Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mayberry, My Hometown

The following is a post I originally wrote in 2010, but given the passing of Andy Griffith, I felt it worth repeating.

♫ My hometown is the greatest place I know,
Where the people I find
are gentle and kind
and the living easy and slow.

These are the opening words to the song Bee Taylor and Clara Edwards wrote as a tribute to their hometown, Mayberry, North Carolina. Their hometown, my hometown.

There were many people responsible for The Andy Griffith Show: Sheldon Leonard, Aaron Ruben, Richard Linke, Bob Ross, Frank Myers, Sid Hickox, a splendid cast and crew, and a host of some of the era's greatest script writers. Though all these persons contributed immensely, I give my greatest thanks to Andy Griffith, himself, without whom there would never have been the classic sitcom.

I grew up on The Andy Griffith Show.  Back in the days when families had only one television set, our entire family would gather in front of our little black and white portable on Monday nights and watch Andy together.  As a family.  It didn't matter if the dishes hadn't yet been done or homework finished; it was time for Andy and things of lesser importance could wait.

When Andy decided, after eight seasons in the top ten, to leave the series while it was still on top, the show evolved into Mayberry, RFDAndy made several guest appearances, but the star became Ken Berry, as farmer and councilman Sam Jones. Andy reportedly stayed on as a story consultant, a role he had played, uncredited, since the beginning; indeed, he contributed to the writing of many, many scripts. The Andy Griffith Show, already in daytime reruns, went completely into Rerun Land, where it has stayed...for forty six years.

I watch Andy at every opportunity, even though I know every episode, even though I can quote much of the dialogue, even though I can tell when a scene has been deleted, or lines have been cut, in order to make room for more commercials. My children grew up watching Andy, and I attribute the wholesome goodness, the solid principles of that show, for much of their fine character. The moral values of The Andy Griffith Show are deemed so great that many churches have adapted the series into their Sunday School lessons.

It was a simpler time. Even though the series was set in the sixties, Mayberry was unaffected by the volatile nature of the rest of the country: there was no sex, no drugs, no war in Vietnam, no race riots. Maybe that's why it stayed on the top of the Nielson ratings charts for so long - maybe Americans needed that weekly escape from the harsh realities of the era. Maybe that's why, to this day, it still flourishes in reruns - maybe we still need that escape to a place where the pace was slower, the people kinder, and all dilemmas were resolved in thirty minutes.

My hometown? No, not really, for Mayberry is, after all, a fictional little hamlet. But I feel more ties to Mayberry than I do to my real hometown; indeed, to any town in which I've ever lived. I know every business in town. The courthouse, where Sheriff Andy Taylor and deputy Barney Fife hold dangerous criminals - like town drunk Otis Campbell, who has his own key and is allowed to lock himself up and let himself out.  Floyd's Barbershop, where the men of the town gather to gossip and play checkers. The Mayberry Security Bank, where guard Asa Breeney sleeps soundly in a chair in the corner.  Walker's Drugstore, the Grand Theater, the Mayberry Hotel, the Snappy Lunch, Mr. Foley's Grocery, Fred Goss' Dry Cleaning, the All Souls Church. I know the houses of each citizen: Andy's two story house, where he lives with son Opie and Aunt Bee; Mrs. Mendlebright's Boarding House, where Barney cooks illegally on a hot plate; Mrs. Wiley's, where socialites gather for dances; the Darling cabin, way out in the mountains, reached by crossing the Robert E. Lee bridge (a tree that fell over a shallow spot in a creek.)

Some of the program's greatest moments involve...nothing. Nothing more than Andy and Barney sweeping up the courthouse and having aimless conversations; nothing more than the family sitting on the front porch after a full meal, humming and strumming guitar. And some great moments involve the zany antics of overzealous Barney, who is allowed one bullet only, and must keep it in his shirt pocket.

There were classic hilarious episodes, like Barney's First CarThe Pickle StoryThe Great Filling Station Robbery, Barney and the ChoirDogs, Dogs, DogsThe Loaded Goat, and virtually anything involving Gomer Pyle, the Darling family, and Ernest T. Bass. But my favorite episodes involve strangers to the town, strangers who stumble upon a town stuck in time, and learn a lesson about themselves. In Man in a Hurry, impatient businessman Malcolm Tucker's car breaks down just outside Mayberry on a quiet Sunday morning, and, of course, the only thing open in Mayberry on Sunday is the church. Mr Tucker becomes outraged at the townsfolk, desperate to get to his important business in Raleigh, but by the day's end, he has learned to appreciate the slow pace, the friendly people, the generosity he's offered. Or Bailey's Bad Boy, in which spoiled young man Ronald Bailey sideswipes a farmer's truck, and is arrested and detained in the Mayberry jail. His lesson comes from watching Andy's firm but loving discipline of Opie when Opie breaks a window with a baseball. Or Sermon For Today, in which a visiting minister preaches to the congregation to "slow down, take it easy, what's your hurry?" He never realizes that Mayberrians have always lived by that adage.

Even though Andy was the sheriff, most of the episodes dealt with home and family and small town values. Barney Fife summed it up accurately in the episode Andy on Trial, when he said, "...when you're a lawman and you're dealing with people, you do a whole lot better if you go not so much by the book, but by the heart."

By the heart. That was the message that The Andy Griffith Show drove home.

I owe Mayberry and Andy Griffith a debt of gratitude; for teaching me and my children patience, kindness, a sense of fairness, and for entertainment value that simply cannot be matched.

Many of the cast and crew are now deceased, but they will forever be young on screen and in memories. What a legacy.

Thank you, Andy.

(Added July, 2012, after Andy's passing, and paraphrasing lines from Opie the Birdman:)

Fred and Ethel Go to Disneyworld


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