The morning I heard that Andy Griffith had passed away, I closed my office door and cried. Many hours later I was still quite melancholy and trying to understand what the deep sadness was about.
I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. As an N.C. native I can tell you that we North Carolinians have felt that TAGS was our show. It was about us, but we gladly let others enjoy it, sort of like inviting out-of-town guests over for family dinner. Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy (his Mayberry) with a view of Pilot Mountain, which fans of the TV show heard as the town of Mount Pilot.
I grew up in Winston-Salem, and you could almost see Pilot Mountain from there. The great thing about Mayberry is that you can see it from anywhere. As a teen visiting my grandparents in Parkton, N.C., the town and residents reminded me of Mayberry. Theres nothing like the smell of a small-town hardware store, the taste of church homecoming dinners on the lawn or the sound of being greeted by everyone in a barbershop.
Its fascinating to hear TAGS referred to as a family show when in fact most characters were single adults (Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, Goober, Gomer, Thelma Lou, Helen, Ellen the pharmacist, Howard, Ernest T. Bass, Briscoe Darling, to name a few.) But it was these very characters who created a sense of family.
Their marital status didnt matter. What mattered to us then and now is how the show made us feel about relationships and community. As we live in an era of breakneck pace, wireless communication and virtual relationships, there is something inside us that is drawn to and longs for the pace of Mayberry with its front-porch conversations, small parades with perfect attendance and the simple choices of one drug store, one barber, one grocer, one hardware store and one diner.
In 1963 TAGS understood its unique identity and prophesied its future appeal with the classic episode Man in a Hurry. Malcolm Tucker is a businessman whose car breaks down outside Mayberry on a Sunday. Tucker has an important business appointment in Charlotte the next morning. He walks to town and finds it deserted until church lets out. Wallys garage is closed on Sunday and Wally refuses to work on the repairs until Monday. If life moves slowly in Mayberry other days, it rides on a snails back on Sundays. Tucker can not tolerate Mayberrys pace and everyones lack of urgency. Andy tries to talk him into spending the night and getting the car fixed on Monday. Tucker refuses and makes other plans until something inside him begins to recognize and respond to something more life-giving than business and success. The closing scene speaks volumes in its silence as Andy encounters a sleeping Malcolm Tucker in a front-porch rocker, his facial expression voicing contentment.
The characters in TAGS were quirky yet loveable. One of the most endearing qualities of Sheriff Taylor was not only his covering for his bumbling deputy, but doing so with humility and protecting Barney Fifes fragile self-esteem in the process. Their conversations were respectful a far cry from the sarcastic and caustic putdowns leveled by friends and family members in contemporary sitcoms.
Perhaps my sadness is in recognizing that not only has a TV show lost its leader, but a kingdom has buried its king, and with it something of my childhood and even my identity. Fortunately there is eternal life in syndicated television, so Andy Griffith and his magical show will never leave us. I just wish life were more like Mayberry where at the end of each day justice prevails, mercy triumphs and love wins; a crisis is averted, a dilemma is solved and order is restored; a misunderstanding is resolved and hurt feelings are soothed; values are upheld and a good meal is served minus Aunt Beas kerosene pickles.