I’ve been meaning to write this love letter for awhile, the passing of Andy Griffith pushed me to the keyboard. I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS). It was a must see in our house. We all loved the antics of that Mayberry crowd and it remains a favorite of my Mom’s today.
If you know me, then you know that the show is ingrained in my humor, hell I can recite most episodes by heart. Note here: My love for TAGS is deep, but the color episodes do not resonate with me. And it’s not just the loss of Don Knotts and Barney, it is the loss of authenticity. I think the characters moved into caricatures of themselves and became stereotypical urbanite visions of small town folk.
This deep love did not manifest itself until college. Every weekday at 5pm a few of us met in my room to watch TAGS. The few became almost 20 people by year’s end. I smile now to think what the other residents of the dorm thought was going on in that room, with the laughter and noise emanating out from it like clockwork daily. If they only knew that we were reveling in the antics of Ange, Barn, Otis, Floyd, Rafe Hollister, Ernest T. Bass…well I don’t know what they would think, but I bet our cool factor would’ve taken on a little heat.
My wife and daughter were forced to watch TAGS. We had one TV and every night at 6pm on WTTG channel 5, no matter what the news, we watched Andy. When we finally had cable, Super Station WTBS made their early bones on TAGS and I was an orthopedist of grand scale. Today both my wife and Morgan know almost as much about the show as I do, and can recite a line when an opportunity for it presents itself. Hell, Tammy traveled with me to Mt. Airy, North Carolina to a TAGS convention. There I met many of the actors, writers and producers. We toured the downtown and ate a pork sandwich at The Snappy Lunch, visited the original Floyd’s Barbershop, nope I did not partake of any of their services, and had an unforgettable weekend with my favorite characters and places come to life. My wife may not agree with that assessment but she allows me to include her in my wonderment.
TAGS rings true to me because I grew up in a Mayberry. Leesburg Virginia in the 1960’s and early 70’s had a lot in common with that fictional town. Neighbors knew and loved their neighbors. There wasn’t a door I could not have knocked on for help or comfort. Pleasures were parades and bike riding, playing in the dirt, grabbing a soda at Edwards Drugstore or a grape “tiny” from Whitmore’s Store, a frozen Snickers from Atwell’s store and a comic book at Drug Fair. We didn’t have Floyd the Barber but we had Big Jim Fitzgerald (bowl 1, 2 or 3). We didn’t have Ernest T. but we had Welby. As I grow older I recapture those moments of small town life in the black and white images flickering on the screen and it makes me feel connected to my past, and it reminds me of the loved ones here and too soon gone.
TAGS also taught me about the real art of fiction and great writing, that the beauty of the work is in the details. One episode Andy and Barney are sitting on the front porch talking about Barney’s parents’ upcoming anniversary. Andy asks him what is he going to get them. Barney replies that he’s going all out this year, he’s getting them a new septic tank, to which Andy says “You’re a good son, Barney.” That small exchange doesn’t push the plot forward, it just deepens the characters and deepens your love for them. By today standards that small dialogue would not make it into the script. I don’t know Jerry or George or Kramer, I laugh at them but I don’t know them. I know Barney and Andy, their richness was written into the matrix of the show along with all the characters.
I’ll close this rambling with my favorite vignette from TAGS, it is from the episode “The Loaded Goat”. Hudge has come to Mayberry for some shopping, this time he decided to bring his pet goat Jimmy with him, Jimmy doesn’t get to town much. Unbeknown to Hudge, Jimmy has put the whole town in danger by eating a whole bunch of dynamite which he found in a shed in the back of the dry goods store. Upon hearing from Andy and Barney about Jimmy’s endeavor, Hudge looks at the goat, shakes his head and says: “Aint that just like him, come to Town and try to do everything.”