RIP, Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith, Sheriff of Mayberry

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.

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RIP, Andy. As we sing in Mt. Airy, “go rest high on that mountain.” And say hey to Otis and Granny for me.

  • Matthew

    Thanks for sharing … although I have heard of Andy Griffith, sadly I never heard of Clarence Jordan until reading this post. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Hello from Germany :-)!

    • Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

      Andy wasn’t the radical that Clarence was, but I think they would have liked each other. Here’s a story from Vincent Harding about Clarence Jordan’s encounter with another great Southerner of the mid 20th century–Martin Luther King:

  • http://yahoo Walter S. Mcknight

    I’m Walter Mcknight ,I’ve been told as a kid that my Grandfather(Otis wworth Mcknight) was the Town Drunk in MT. Airy,My Dad was Otis Jr. also know as Johnny .They lived @ 609 Rockford St. under the water Tank around the corner from Andys house.Where he grew up. R I P I would like some more information on this if someone could help me.

    • Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

      Well, I don’t know what it says about Mt Airy that there were, in the same generation, two town drunks named Otis. ;-) But it says a lot about any story-teller that when we listen to the tale, we see ourselves.