“Paw is dead.” Despite the fact that I learned of the passing of Andy Griffith on my impersonal, smartphone’s news alert, my internal self heard a seven-year-old Ron Howard tearfully delivering the news to my city girl heart.
To me – a kid growing up in a broken home in the mid-1960s, raised by a single mother in New York City – watching "The Andy Griffith Show" in black and white re-runs was my version of The Fresh Air Fund.
Opie (Ron Howard) was my pal and Sheriff Andy and Aunt Bea were my role models in a world that came without aprons, apple pie, or emotional stability. That was Mayberry and a tune I still whistle as my own blue heaven in every place I have been – from reporting in Tel Aviv during a SCUD missile attack to living on a sailboat.
It hurts me to hear him eulogized as “folksy” because folks just don’t really see that as a good thing these days but more as something to be dismissed as cute.
Frankly, I think I am the happiest I have ever been in life since moving to Norfolk, Va. seven years ago because there is that twang and homespun feel that reminds me of the childhood I pretended to have in Mayberry. Mr. Griffith’s home in North Carolina is just close enough to send that vibe by osmosis. Urban legend even has it that Griffith himself chose the name of the fictional Mayberry community after the community of Mayberry, Va.
It probably explains my unending patience with every version of Don Knotts (Barney Fife, the goofy deputy) I have ever met.
I will never forget the episode wherein Opie and a new “city kid” played a prank on the loveable Goober Pyle character by putting a walkie-talkie under a dog’s collar and making the poor guy believe he had himself a “talkin’ dawg.”
This was a lesson nobody in my house was around to teach me, the little prankster, always acting out and being smart-alecky to cover for being caught in the adult cross-fire. I remember the sad, stern countenance of Griffith when he made the discovery and how low Opie felt when he realized he and “city boy” had been cruel to a trusting, kind-hearted, innocent.
I was “city girl” acting just like “city boy,” and I knew I needed to mend my ways and my fences. That wasn’t something the writers accomplished with a simple storyline. It was what happened when Andy Griffith sorrowfully shook his head and then gave that look of disappointment.
The best thing was watching Griffith get angry or annoyed with some hopelessly clueless person he was stuck trying to help. When my dad got angry, things got broken – people included. When Sherriff Andy got angry, he’d say something like, “You blew it. You stood right there and blew it.” No exclamation point. Just a simple, plain, honest statement of fact, head shake and a look that told us he’d rather be out giggin’ a frog than dealing with whatever the crisis of the day was.
As a teen his gruff, witty, Matlock wisdom made me like lawyers. Today, my own lawyer is pretty much a carbon copy of Matlock right down to the Carolinian accent. I can see him delivering the Matlock line, “What's the matter with you? Did someone cut the wire between your brain and your mouth?”
The Andy Griffith Show was also one of the last times American television allowed fathers to know and do best. Not long after that fathers began to slide into comic relief and perpetual beer swilling, cheating, idiocy. Homer Simpson and Married with Children became the new, lower standards for fatherhood and the lessons kids watching learned began to change society and family structure here in America.
Still, Andy Griffith was the bedrock and no matter how much polluted TV water flows over his legacy there are still those whose lives he touched, like Ron Howard, who are there to filter out the impurities and pass those lessons on in their work.
I know we always complain that kids “are being raised by the idiot box” (TV), but if you were like me, raised on the likes of Andy Griffith, then the parenting wasn’t all that bad.