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Andy Griffith: An American idol whose show exemplified what's right in the world

July 17, 2012

The passing of American icon Andy Griffith has caused a major shift in attention to Mayberry, the mythical town where Sheriff Andy Taylor rarely had to do any sheriffing, but dispensed lots of homespun wisdom that served a higher calling.
Everybody would have liked to live in Mayberry.
That's not surprising because it was a place where although everybody knew everybody else's business — not always desirable — more importantly, it was a place where people took care of each other. And love was the common denominator that held them together.
Mayberry had one traffic stop and little in the way of criminal activity except once in a while a little moonshining and maybe some occasional bootlegging. (Remember the episode featuring the two refined sisters who charmingly dispensed their homemade product "but only for special occasions," which might be something as remote as Bastille Day?)
Every little town had folks like that, but you might not have ever known about their illicit activities. I'm curious about a few I knew in my hometown, but I'll keep those queries to myself.
Visiting bank robbers, scam artists, escaped convicts, vagrants and pushy people occasionally found their way to Mayberry, but most of them went away after having learned a life lesson from Andy.
I never met Andy Griffith nor any of the cast members of the show, but I'm a die-hard fan of the series and the values it imparted. There is even a Sunday School series based on the show, which says a lot.
I wish the folks who select today's TV fare would pay attention to what it is that keeps drawing audiences back to shows like this and would realize that entertainment does not have to be all about blood and guts and filth. I also wish they would note that good writing was at the heart of the success of Andy's shows.
When you listen to the dialogue in some of the newer shows and realize somebody actually had to have penned that stuff, it's not hard to understand why the Andy Griffith Show and a few others, like I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show, live on and the more recent stuff eventually fades into oblivion.
I don't know which segment from the Andy Griffith series I could call my favorite, because there are many. It would be hard to top the episode featuring Aunt Bee's pickles. I identified with that one because of my singular experience in making bread-and-butter pickles, which others claimed to be good, but I couldn't prove since I don't eat any kind of pickles.
Then the one focusing on Barney's attempt to sing with the community chorus was another that ranks right at the top, along with Opie raising the baby birds after accidentally killing their mother with his slingshot. I've seen the latter one many, many times, but never dry-eyed.
Truth be told, one of the reasons I loved the Andy Griffith Show is that I really did grow up in Mayberry. It wasn't called that, but Cotton Plant was as much like Mayberry as any place you could find in the country.
A couple of differences: We didn't even have a real traffic light. For a few years there was what was called a "stop and go" light, but not one that changed signals.
When it was first put up, Papa Parnell (my paternal grandfather) sat at the intersection waiting about five minutes for it to change to green before someone went up to his old green truck and told him he could move on.
Andy Griffith reportedly based the show's setting on his hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., but it had Cotton Plant written all over it.
When I was a little girl, we even had a Sarah. Different people performed the "Central" role in Cotton Plant, but it was the same kind of system. Whoever was running the operation knew everybody's business and where everybody was at all times. Being gossipy was a plus for anyone who held the job.
Mary Dale McGregor Christensen recently shared a memory about the old phone system, at a time when the office was located "above a building downtown," she said.
Mary Dale remembered that her grandfather in Missouri called for the family once and was told by whoever was Central at the time that none of them were at home because "everyone in town is at the ballgame."
Polly Churchill Rothenbush, now of Florida, recalled when Cotton Plant's phone company was located in the old Angelo house across from the Methodist Church. "I would go down there and Mrs. Quillian would let me connect the plugs," she recalled.
How many big-city kids could have that kind of experience?
I can recall my cousins telling me about the door checks that the "night law" would make on the downtown businesses on a regular basis. It was just like people have seen Barney do in Mayberry.
You can call it what you want, but those of us who had the privilege of growing up in a Mayberry were blessed.
And the rest of the world can get a taste of it vicariously by continuing to watch reruns of the Andy Griffith Show.
I'll be watching, too.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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