What Mayberry Means to Me

by: 

Dixon Hayes
Aug 19, 2009

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It took a snide remark in passing to challenge me to find exactly how to put
into words, what a TV show that seemed the least like a show and more like my
adopted hometown, means to me.

I won't mention his name, but a certain nationally-syndicated radio host
recently criticized movies and TV shows that failed to portray family life
"realistically." One example had to do with a problem being solved "just because
Aunt Bee made a pie." Setting aside the fact that the scenario in question
*never* happened in any of the 249 episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" (Aunt Bee
solving a problem by making a pie...except maybe hunger), a fan only has to
look at how problems *were* solved (and this none-too-familiar host obviously
meant family problems).

First of all, Andy was a single father, and the real
world is chock full of single parents struggling to make it on their own. We saw
Andy on numerous occasions, talk directly to his son Opie, in a way Opie
would understand without being condescending, yet without losing any discipline
along the way. Andy didn't want Opie to just know things, he wanted him to have
a moral center and feel things. And on several occasions, the big surprise
is that Andy had already succeeded. Lecturing and preparing to punish Opie (not
giving money to charity, not holding onto his grocery store job) he found out
Opie already had that moral compass necessary to negotiate the countryside of
Mayberry county. He didn't always have to teach Opie how to do the right
thing, Opie already knew. (He used his charity money to buy a coat for an
underprivileged girl, and deliberately lost his job so another boy could use the
money to help his family through hard times.) It was a surprising counterpoint
to the black and white "there's a lesson at the end of every episode" mentality
of so many TV shows of that day (oh yeah there were lessons, but they jumped
from behind bushes like Ernest T. and surprised you), and a surprisingly
complex and realistic thing to see in a city that's basically a baby boomer TV
Utopia.

Of course, this wasn't "Father Knows Best," it wasn't just about the Taylor
family, it was about the town. It was about the fact a barber known for his
love of Calvin Coolidge, a simple minded but always friendly mechanic (and his
cousin), a family of musical mountain people, a lady druggist, a school
teacher. And of course, about an overzealous deputy who once arrested the whole town
but even then still had their love, because he was their friend, their
confidant, their neighbor, their fellow member of the choir, their best friend since
school, their boyfriend, their favorite customer, their favorite person who
calls the diner. And when the chips were down that bond always remained
intact. The people of Mayberry were some of the most devoutly religious and
patriotic people anywhere on TV but they never hit you over the head with it, you
just knew. You saw how they treated each other.

Mayberry is what it is because Andy Griffith modelled it after his own
hometown, and perhaps even his own personality--or at least what he considered the
best part of himself. For example, he was not political in those days, which
is why the show appears to defy any type of liberal or conservative label.
It's not even ideologically distinct enough to be called "moderate." It's
something a whole lot deeper: the center part of our moral compass.

No, Aunt Bee never fixed a personal problem by baking a pie (and certainly
not by canning pickles). But sitting down at that imaginary dinner table and
eating one of her pies is to know that everything is already all right with the
world and and my fellow man, and *that* is what Mayberry means to me.




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