The Andy Griffith Show: Five Television Shows that Mattered (I)

The Andy Griffith Show: Five Television Shows that Mattered (I) September 24, 2013

Would I have married her if she did not love the Andy Griffith Show?

Probably, but we would not have been as close as we are.

Growing up I learned more from reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, than from any number of school classes. I cannot be the only one of my generation.

The Andy Griffith Show is a Utopian vision, a genre not much in favor any more, of life in the rural South in the middle of the twentieth century. Later I would learn how flawed that vision was, it ignored race issues altogether, but the virtues were great. It was not life as it was in North Carolina, but it was sort-of-like life was at its best. Some Sunday afternoons of my childhood were as restful as sitting with Barney as he suggested (many times in a row) what he would do next: go to Wally’s, get a bottle of pop, go to Thelma Lou’s, and watch a little TV.

There was TV watching in Mayberry, but there was also fishing, dancing, gossiping, and singing. Those things were true of my childhood, though mostly we were not as good at them as the cast of The Andy Griffith Show. 

Southern people are mocked in popular culture and I learned in fifth grade, when I moved to Upstate New York, that just talking as I learned to talk at home made people laugh. I was told that I was “culturally deprived,” because of my home state and heritage.

The Andy Griffith Show was my counter-argument in such discussions. Despite the vices, there were virtues to life in Appalachia and the South. Mountain people had a culture: we were not culturally deprived. Who couldn’t love the music of the Darlings come down from the mountains?

Whatever it’s flaws, The Andy Griffith Show  taught me many lessons that are still in my heart. Here are six:

The Andy in a Fancy Restaurant Rule:

Andy was a country sheriff, a high school graduate, who saw some of the world (maybe) in the War. He had manners, but he was from the same smart working class stock that formed me. When he went to a fancy place, his friend Barney would pretend to know what to do and end up eating snails. Andy would ask. He was also not afraid to order what he liked. Truly cultivated people, as opposed to snobs, appreciated a man trying to learn.

You can ignore the snobbery of snobs, while being unafraid of learning new manners.

This rule has served me well.

Birds Must Fly Or They Would Not Have Wings Rule:

The episode “Opie the Birdman” is one of the greatest half-hours of television ever. Go watch it and then come back.

First, as a child, this episode taught me that my happy childhood had to end. I could not be a child forever. I had to grow.

Second, as a parent I have had to see my little ones “fly away.” There is no denying this is very sad, but as Andy points out to Opie this is a severe mercy. The severity to the parent and the child relationship frees the child with the mercy  of filling the world with the beauty he has learned at home.

In fact, one major theme of the show is loss over time: getting old is hard. You cannot really go home again and whatever a man tries good things are lost as times change. Life is bitter-sweet, but only an impious man yields to despair.

The Law is for People, not People for the Law Rule:

As a sheriff, Andy often got in trouble with “by the book types.” Andy taught me that no law is so perfect that it cannot be abused by petty tyrants from Raleigh. Officious government types, whether from Washington or Raleigh, don’t deserve respect and it is the job of a local public servant to protect the folks from their folly.

Don’t Leave Mayberry Easily Rule:

Barney went off to a vaunted career in the FBI and both his character and Don Knotts rarely were seen again in happy circumstances. Barney became the butt of jokes and Don Knotts ended up a clown on Three’s Company. 

Of course, this rule is in tension with the Birds Rule, so use common sense. If you love the big city, you may have to go there and be a “fashion executive” or some other such job. Just be careful.

Beware the Crump Rule:

Crumps exist in both sexes. They wander the earth seeking happiness to be devoured. Beware. Beware.

How can a person know the Crump in their life?

If you date someone for years, but everyone watching the relationship misses the Ellie’s and the Mary’s you knew before the Crump:  flee the Crump, don’t marry him/her.

I repeat: Don’t marry the Helen Crump. If you do, then you will end your life as a postal employee in Ohio driven there by the Crump.

Four signs you are with a Helen Crump:

a) in an argument, and you have many arguments, he/she is always right and you are always wrong,

b) he/she channels the spirit of the age to perfection and frequently expresses it in biting bromides or insufferable sermons,

c) he/she frequently condescends to the “plain folk” who are your friends, because he/she went to some teacher’s college somewhere,

and d) you start your life as a jolly story teller with a soft Southern accent and you end up a crabby, ill tempered guy taking trips to Hollywood.

It is also a bad sign if: a) you have a child with the Crump and that child is never mentioned again b) the Crump is a teacher who someone is always the teacher of the child of your first marriage . . .for years. These last two signs of the Helen Crump have proven less useful to any actual people I have known.

Be Good to Your Friends Rule

Floyd may have a stroke, but he still is a valuable member of the community. Gomer doesn’t seem like a rocket scientist, but you can discover great gifts in him. Goober? He irritates you constantly, but he is still God’s child. He must have some job to do, though it is hard to find. And Barney? Until the writers destroyed him, he was not just a clown, but could show loyalty, courage, and even a dash of common sense.

Don’t let lazy writers get to your friends, though this doesn’t turn out to be useful with real people who lack writers designing their lives!

There are five other lessons that while true in Mayberry I have never managed to apply to my actual life without harm:

First, life is funnier and more realistic if you see it in black and white.

Second, you should cover for incompetent employees, because they are your friends.

Third, in a heavily armed community, the sheriff should not wear a gun.

Fourth, being the town drunk can be fun.

Fifth, all good times are to be had in a distant hill known as Mount Pilot.

Still despite the less useful lessons, there has never been a funnier five minutes of television than Barney declaiming on the selfishness of giraffes. Andy could stop an episode and just tell a story and make us listen. I can still tear up when I hear the strains of “Mayberry Union High.”

Sometimes when I have to deal with troubles, or people who irritate me, then the Andy Griffith Show has worked magic.  Dealing with my kids, I have stopped and reminded myself to believe what my honest kids tell me,  even when they say something improbable, such as seeing a magical Mr. Mcbeevee. I learned to value sitting on the porch telling and listening to stories. And sometimes when I am very tired, I close my eyes and walk down with my Dad to the fishing hole.

Thanks Andy.





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