Andy Griffith has died. Although Griffith was a lifelong Democrat, the Mayberry he helped create is still a gentle, clear and honest portrayal of the moral greatness of America. Those who worked with Griffith loved him and Griffith’s Christianity was genuine and stayed with him his whole life. Griffith was a comedic genius – anyone who has not seen No Time for Sergeants, do so and treat yourself to the sort of fun which is so hard to find nowadays. Mayberry, though, is what all of us who grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show will remember most fondly.
The program ran upstream. At a time when all references to the American South were unfairly smeared with bigotry, ignorance and hate, Mayberry showed a small North Carolina town of tolerance, wisdom and love. Mayberry was a town in which people were more important than things and in which integrity trumped glitz every time. Andy Taylor was the “Sheriff without a Gun” in the show but he was a fisherman and a hunter.
The people of Mayberry were Christians during an era of television in which faith was seldom explicitly expressed and in which churches were invisible. The people of Mayberry sang in choirs, listened to sermons and went to church socials. It was clear that faith had a lot to do with how the people of Mayberry conducted their lives.
Family was also vital in the lives of people in this small North Carolina town. Most poignant, especially considered the greatest social calamity of our age – the destruction of fatherhood – Sheriff Taylor was a good father and a single father raising his son without a mother. The father-son bond was vital and the fatherly love of Andy Taylor permeated the series.
Friends mattered in Mayberry and friendship was everywhere. Hurting a friend, even accidentally, demanded always reconciliation. Neighbors helped neighbors. The social safety net in Mayberry was community: kind people who would help when help was needed. Government, by contrast, seemed trivial. When the state police would come in, their expertise was never a match for Andy’s common sense; and if a federal agency had ever reached Mayberry, its impact was so slight as to utterly escape notice.
Small businesses thrived in the quiet little town. Barbers rubbed elbows with handymen and gas station attendants without the slightest sense that honest and productive work was demeaning. No one seemed to mind honest work at all and if anyone had suggested that a mom raising kids had “Never worked a day in her life,” then the good ladies of Mayberry would have probably have asked the feminist pundit to do chores with her for one day. The cuisine of Mayberry was both plain and glorious, made with care for people who were treasured – much of it made from what was gardened or hunted or fished.
Old people worked hard in Mayberry too and retirement was conspicuous by its absence. There was a dignity in gray hairs which was respected in Mayberry. Children did not talk back to their elders and this was reciprocated by a general concern for the welfare, and for the instillation of good moral values, in the children of Mayberry.
Mayberry had a town drunk, but it did not have unwed teenage mothers, drug addicts, wife-beaters or child molesters. Andy Taylor’s job implied that the world had prisons and criminals and problems, but Mayberry was posited as an old fashioned and time proven tonic for the vices of cynical life which have bedeviled us since before Sodom and Gomorrah.
The people of Mayberry had pain in their lives; they had doubts; they had dreams which they would never achieve: the people of Mayberry had lives like every generation of man since our beginning. But in simple pleasures and in honest feelings these most ordinary of folk found meaning and peace and virtue.
Often someone from the big city would land in Mayberry astounded at the slow pace of life and the priorities of these country bumpkins. Always he left having found part of what had been missing in his own life. Part – surely not all, though – of what our nation needs to get well is to rediscover the sweet, unhurried pace of Mayberry’s folk as they walk to church or come home to Sunday supper.