I never tire of telling people that my family’s only real claim to fame is that my momma’s people are from Mt. Airy, North Carolina. I’ve been there quite a bit these past couple of years, first to bury my uncle, and then my Granny back at Easter this year. A generation is passing away in Mt. Airy. But when my Granny and her brothers were growing up, there was another fellow, a bit younger than most of them, who would go on to make their little place famous. His name was Andy Griffith, and he died today at 86.
Andy introduced America to Mt. Airy as Mayberry, but he didn’t bother changing the names of the characters he’d grown up around. My uncle Otis gained his place in Americana as Mayberry’s town drunk.
Otis’ sister, my Granny, led the choir at the little Baptist Church on her street in Mt. Airy. When we were back for her funeral this past spring, Leah took the kids over to the lunch counter on Main Street to get some lunch while I met with my uncle, who directs the funeral home, about the service that afternoon. After we’d all told our stories and sung Granny’s favorite song–“I’ll Fly Away”–we walked back over to Main Street and got an ice cream cone at the lunch counter. As I was paying, the fellow there said, “So sorry to hear about your Grandmother. Tell your family I’ll be praying for ya’ll.”
Some of Mayberry, of course, is just nostalgia. But some of its appeal is the longing that all of us have for a place where we’re known–for a lunch counter where the fellow who serves you ice cream also says a prayer when your Granny dies.
Here’s a little clip of Andy singing the old theme song himself. That’s Otis at his side in several of the scenes.
RIP, Andy. As we sing in Mt. Airy, “go rest high on that mountain.” And say hey to Otis and Granny for me.