This is my column published in the Charlotte Observer, The Williamson Herald, and the Spring Hill Informer. I have received more e-mails and Facebook comments on this column than on any other I've ever written.
The morning I heard 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 a North Carolina native I can tell you that we North Carolinians have felt that TAGS is our show. It is 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. There’s 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.
It’s fascinating to hear TAGS referred to as a “family show” when in fact the vast majority of the 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 that created a sense of family.
Their marital status didn’t matter. What mattered to us then and matters to us still 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 of 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. Wally’s garage is closed on Sunday and Wally refuses to work on the repairs until Monday. If life moves slowly in Mayberry on other days, it rides on a snail’s back on Sundays. Tucker can neither fathom nor tolerate the pace of life in Mayberry and everyone's 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 while a long unbroken apple peel rests in his hand.
The characters in TAGS were quirky yet loveable. One of the most endearing qualities of Sheriff Taylor was not only his covering for and even rescuing his bumbling deputy, but doing so with admirable humility and protecting Fife’s fragile ego and self-esteem in the process. Their scripted conversations and those of other cast members 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 resurrection and eternal life in syndicated television so Andy Griffith and his magical show will never leave us nor forsake 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 Bea’s kerosene pickles.