**This was originally published on Thursday, July 12, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog. I had blogged about this subject in July 2012, using some of the material from this column. However, much had been changed during the transition from the column to the blog, so I am now blogging the original newspaper column to preserve it for history’s sake.**
Summer always puts me in a nostalgic mood. (Yes, I know—I’m ALWAYS in a nostalgic mood but even moreso in summer.) I think it’s the fact that summer takes me back to the old paths of my childhood when days were longer, lazier and brighter somehow.
My childhood was the era of “The Andy Griffith Show,” long summer breaks from school, working hard but laughing a lot in the tobacco field, making homemade ice cream down in Grandpa Bray’s yard, listening to Uncle Sam pick the guitar while my daddy and his brothers sang “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog.”
It was Sunday afternoons under the shady old oaks while relatives sat in lawn chairs and talked about the weather, their ‘baccer, what all they had put up for the winter. It was swimming in the creek to stay cool on hot July days. It was playing in the woods with the cousins ‘til Mama called us in.
Those days are long gone. Summer vacation ends earlier in August now, I haven’t touched a tobacco leaf in a lot of years, Pa Bray is dead and the extended family only gets together down at his old farm a couple of times a year. Nobody has time to sit in the yard on Sundays—too many ballgames or practices. Indoor air conditioning has long replaced creeks as the cooling method of choice, and there are too many crazy people in the world today to let your kids hang out in the woods all day.
There is really only one constant still left from my childhood days—The Andy Griffith Show. I can turn on the TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and see faces from my childhood—Ange, Barn, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee, Opie. That show aired years before I was even born and probably has been on the air somewhere every year since.
When I watch it, modern life ceases for me. I retreat to a black-and-white world where Barney advises me to “Nip it in the bud!”, Andy strums the guitar on the front porch, Opie shares his heart with “Paw” and Aunt Bee keeps them all well-fed.
But it isn’t all sunshine and flowers. Barney sometimes sneaks off to call Juanita down at the diner while poor Thelma Lou sits at home. Opie tells occasional lies and has to confess to Andy. Aunt Bee’s pickles taste like kerosene and sometimes she can’t seem to beat Clara Edwards at anything. Ernest T. Bass is ever chunking rocks through windows while Otis just keeps getting drunk.
Even the paradise of the fictional Mayberry has its occasional thorns—just like real life.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched old clips of Andy Griffith on YouTube and even posted a short one on my Facebook page. It was the familiar scene—Andy with his guitar on the porch with Barney by his side. Andy was singing “The Church in the Wildwood” with Barney adding the harmony.
The episode was called “Man in a Hurry.” The contrast was marked—Andy and Barney peacefully singing, Barney stretching lazily and saying, “Well, I think I’ll go home, take me a nap then head on over to Thelma Lou’s to watch some TV” (emphasis on the “T”), while the man in a hurry paced back and forth.
That same theme is often on my mind: how can we modern folks with cell phones, social networking, email, video games and more TV channels than you can shake a stick at slow down our lives to savor the simple things we recall from childhood?
…..Like catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles instead of playing the Xbox. Sitting on the porch while the moon rises instead of watching “Criminal Minds.” Playing the piano for the family to gather ’round to sing instead of viewing the latest music videos on YouTube.
Truth be told, I’m too busy to do any of that.
But “The Andy Griffith Show” reminds me that life was probably better when we had the time, or rather TOOK the time, to do these things. Andy was a busy sheriff on call 24/7, but he managed to take Opie down to the fishing hole. (Whether or not they whistled while they walked is undetermined!) Sometimes he and Helen Crump spread a blanket on the grass and enjoyed a picnic.
There was a sense of community that few of us still experience. Neighbors visited. Men gathered down at Floyd’s to talk. Goober and Gomer were never too busy down at the garage to lend a helping hand.
“Wake up, Leslie! It’s a fictional town on a TV show!” you may say.
Is it? I seem to remember living a similar life when I was a kid. We had a community club where the neighbors had Rook tournaments and potluck dinners. Mama invited ladies over to quilt. The Bray cousins and I would wander through pastures, climb cherry trees, swim in Belews Creek before the lake existed.
So maybe that’s why we still watch a show created in 1960—a show with no real relevance now in many ways, a show that belongs to the days of yesteryear…..because it reminds us of so much that was good and that we wish could be again. And because the true values of the human heart haven’t changed much at all since 1960—love for family and friends, a need to be part of something meaningful, a yearning for simplicity.
Imagine my shock when I had been pondering these Mayberry-esque issues of life and then heard that Andy Griffith had passed away. It seemed unreal. How could Sheriff Taylor be gone? Shouldn’t Ange have lived to at least 120?
Before I knew it, I was unexpectedly bawling like a baby. I had had no idea Andy Griffith’s death could possibly make me cry.
But you know why I think it did? Not just because I loved Andy. But also because it seemed to be the end of an era. There had not been a minute of my life that Andy wasn’t figuratively sheriff of Mayberry.
Losing Barney, Aunt Bee and most recently Goober was sad, but losing Andy—the figurehead of the show—is much tougher. It somehow makes the Mayberry world he created retreat even farther into the shrouds of the past. It makes me feel more detached from childhood.
It’s been a long time since I really was a child, but “The Andy Griffith Show” makes me feel that young again. I’ll keep watching it as long as it’s in syndication. And I’ll remember…..and I’ll treasure it…..and I’ll keep wishing I could make my life that simple again.
I miss Mayberry.