The streets of Mayberry grow emptier by the day.
Way back in 1961, we lost Mayor Pike. A few years later, Floyd the barber. Then Clara Johnson/Edwards. Aunt Bee. Otis Campbell. Helen Crump. Briscoe Darling. Mayor Stoner. Ernest T. Bass. Deputy Barney Fife. Just a couple of months ago, Goober Pyle. And now the cruelest blow of all.
Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” knew that even Sheriff Taylor couldn’t live forever. But that knowledge didn’t soften the blow when we learned last Tuesday that Andy Griffith had died at the age of 86. I got a text message about it while grocery shopping. It was all I could do not to put my face in my hands and cry, right there in the middle of the bread aisle.
Because Andy Griffith helped raise me.
More than 50 years have passed since I first sat cross-legged on the floor in front of my family’s black-and-white console television set and welcomed the folks of Mayberry into my life. Thanks to endless reruns and widely-available DVDs, they’ve never left.
It’s almost embarrassing how well I know “The Andy Griffith Show.” I can quote great chunks of many of the episodes by heart. Andy trying to talk lady druggist Ellie Walker out of running for town council. Andy choreographing the duel between feuding hillbillies Wakefield and Carter. Andy telling the officers of the Esquire Club that he won’t join if Barney isn’t welcome. Andy explaining to Floyd’s new manicurist why none of the men in town will let her do their nails. Andy regaling the Mayberry Minutemen with the story of how this country got started.
The writing in those shows is nothing short of brilliant. But in the hands of a lesser actor than Andy Griffith, it probably wouldn’t be worth memorizing.
Some of the show’s best scenes are between Griffith and co-star Don Knotts, a chemistry the likes of which may never again be seen on the small screen. Andy and Barney on the trail of moonshiners. Trying to sell the Mayberry cannon. Feeling melancholy at their high school reunion. Solving the mystery of the stolen cows. Working to diffuse a loaded goat. Partying with the Fun Girls. Learning to love Aunt Bee’s pickles.
Those weren’t, however, the episodes I liked best when I was a kid. I favored the ones where the story revolved around Opie. Andy and Opie cleaning the house and then messing it up again so that Aunt Bee will feel needed. Andy explaining to Opie why the fear of a knuckle sandwich is far worse than the reality. Andy eating crow when he learns the truth from Opie about the underprivileged children’s drive. Andy teaching Opie that a bed jacket can bring more pleasure than a fishing rod. Andy telling Opie that he believes Mr. McBeevee is real.
Andy Taylor was not only the best sheriff in America, he was also the best “Pa.” The world would be a way better place if there were a whole lot more just like him.
It’s tempting in times like ours to wish ourselves back to the 1960s, to “simpler times” that weren’t really simple at all. Civil rights struggles, the battle for women’s equality, the conflict over the war in Vietnam never made it into the plotlines of “The Andy Griffith Show.” And that’s okay. Those issues, important though they were, were not what the show was about.
It was about little things. Church picnics. Parades. Band concerts. Dogs. County fairs. Fishing. Foot races. Guitar picking. Baseball. Choir practice. Front porches. Fried chicken and apple pie and hand-cranked ice cream.
Little things that aren’t really little at all.
Yep. The streets of Mayberry sure look empty now with Sheriff Andy Taylor gone. As empty as the birdcage the morning Opie released Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod. But wait. Look up. Don’t the heavens seem nice and full?
(July 8, 2012)