Where have you gone, Mayberry?


The Andy Griffith Show, 1961. CBS photo in public domain

Sometimes, when you’re flicking channels, you just have to stop and watch for awhile.

That’s what happened to me this week while surfing through news reports. From children at the border with Mexico, to corpses being dragged around Gaza, I saw the momentary black-and-white blur of Andy Griffith’s retro coif.

It made me pause. So I sat down, took stock, and yearned for Mayberry.

“The Andy Griffith Show” once etched itself into America’s popular conscience. The series ran from 1960-68 and engendered a number of spinoffs and reunions – the last in 2003 – all to top ratings. Today it’s one of TV’s most popular syndicated shows.

For good reason.

Griffith created Mayberry, a pre-Vietnam idyllic realm harkening back to his childhood home in Mount Airy, NC. With our nation winding down the postwar boom and social optimism, he played Sheriff Andy Taylor, who laid down the law and dispensed folksy wisdom to boot – a real taxpayer bargain, if ever one existed.

Sheriff Taylor also was a single dad. As a widower, he had to raise son Opie, famously played by Ron Howard, on his own. So the lawman not only looked after his town, but as a father he faced the dilemma of being sole parent, all while navigating the minefield of potential romance.

At the time, this dynamic already was known to American TV but wasn’t the norm in trying to create a cutesy nuclear family environment.

Still, watching “The Andy Griffith Show” was more than entertainment. It had nothing to do with the real-life Griffith, but rather with the mythology he created around his character.

For many Americans, both old and young, there were lessons learned, values passed along, and morals settled upon. Watching Andy Taylor do the right thing – proper manners, self-effacement and all – was like watching your older brother setting a good example to follow.

As I took in the episode before me, it crossed my mind just how much we tend to mock the clarity of such basic virtues today. Yet Griffith’s attributes weren’t blue, red, Jewish, Muslim, American, or Mexican – but rather just human.

I’m just as guilty falling prey to the laziness of that Siren song as the next person. But that doesn’t mean I should quit trying to be a better person, regardless of the thought police’s incursion into my daily life.

To that end, instead of standing on the high ground and demanding that heads roll, Sheriff Taylor reminded us from sea level that redemption above all is humanity’s great hallmark.

When I was a boy, I used to watch Andy Taylor to decipher my own parents’ decisions. Later, as a young father, I tried to do right by my son. On many a late-night rerun, “the Andy Griffith Show” passed along plenty of good parenting advice.

And looking back, an added benefit was all this counsel came without the profanity, violence, or gore which graces present day screens.

Was Mayberry real?

Of course it wasn’t, and it exists nowhere. But maybe when considering all the madness on display in the world today, we can take heart of the good people around us. Their didactic ideals, seemingly out of Mayberry itself, don’t need crudeness or vitriol for effective delivery.

And for a half-hour every week, when I needed Andy Griffith most, that was fine with me, too.

Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.