Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hurts Me...

(from today's TIMES)

MAYBERRY, N.C. -- I wish I could pick up the rotary phone, dial “O” and have Sarah get me Sheriff Taylor down at the courthouse.

But … not gonna happen.

The flags are at half-staff today in Mayberry for sure, and maybe even as far away as Mt. Pilot.

No checkers in Floyd’s Barber Shop. No Snappy Lunch at The Diner. No ethyl or free air at Wally’s Service Station. No sale at Weaver’s Department Store.
Silence for a vacant chair. Shoot, Otis isn’t even drinking today. And all. And everything.

Andy Griffith, who became a part of the fabric of American culture with his portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor in “The Andy Griffith Show,” died at 86 Tuesday morning early in his home state of North Carolina. It seems fitting on this Fourth of July to pause and honor a man and a character who brought so much joy to so many, simply by offering us up a picture of an All-American guy – if the All-American guy is one who loves his family and his son, his buddies and his neighbors, his town and his country, and who tries to make a difference where he is, even if where he is is just a dot on a roadmap.

This is being written by a man who’d always wanted to grow up to be Andy – but almost turned into Otis. Yet through highs and lows, there Andy was for us, in re-runs, the same Andy’s I’d watched when I was little, only now I was big and he was still trying to do the next right thing. We could always count on Ange.

Years and years ago we formed a local chapter of The Andy Griffith Rerun Watchers Club, of which I remain president and have a certificate and everything, right over there on the wall. We members are bound by a familiar love, and once even marched in the Holiday in Dixie parade. (Of course you are welcome to join as it’s free.) The only requirement for membership is a love of Mayberry and Andy and the gang, which seems to include all but the great unwashed who haven’t dipped into the healing waters of these magical 1960s scripts.

Andy Griffith was good before he was Andy Taylor. If you haven’t watched the movie “No Time for Sergeants,” please do, and listen for young Andy as Army recruit Will Stockdale, saying forlornly while looking out a barracks window and hearing Taps, “Somebody brung their trumpet.”

He was good AFTER Sheriff Taylor too, as “Matlock” fans declare.
But the small-town sheriff, the writing team, the characters created and the actors, well, like fried chicken and turnip greens, that’s as good as it gets. The town remains a character in itself: Mayberry. 

The humor alone could carry the show. Opie asking his dad, “What CAN you do with a grown woman?” Gomer telling a visitor with a bum car, “She’s an 8-cylinder; she’ll take eight!” Or Andy telling choir leader John Masters before they discover Gomer can sing: “Last tenor I remember us having was Bruce flowers, and he could only sing high after a fight with his mother.”

So beautiful. Floyd trying to remember what Calvin Coolidge either did or didn’t say alone is worth the price of admission.

And so, I’ve always had an understanding with my bosses: if Merle Haggard dies, I get a free three days off. If Andy dies, I get a week. They’ve always agreed.

But here I am working. Will be back at it tomorrow. Because this is real life, and Mayberry is not. Right? I’m not so sure…

In interviews with him that I’ve read, Andy Griffith often cautioned us to remember that Mayberry was a fictional town, one where any problem could be solved in 24 minutes, give or take. I understand.

But while Mayberry is fiction, nothing outside of cartoonish Ernest T. Bass (and I do love him so) is fake or phony, not even the Darlings. These people who live in Mayberry, we know these same people in our towns. They teach us school and cut our hair and fix our cars. They fish Myers Lake; we fish D’Arbonne.

As Andy Griffith said, Mayberry’s not real life. But it IS life as it COULD be, if we were more concerned about our neighbor, if we were willing to laugh a little more, maybe not take ourselves so seriously. Even Andrew Jackson Taylor fumbled. But always he was willing to chop one more piece of wood, carry one more pail of water for his friends, for strangers, and for Mayberry.

A high sheriff’s star goes out. Hurts me. So with you, I both mourn and celebrate the life of Andy Griffith. And Andy fans will know what I mean when I say that “we shall watch, but we shall miss him.”