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July 4, 2012

B-SIDES: Andy let us live in his special world

TERRE HAUTE — Mayberry was America’s hometown.

It was fictional, but so what? Every quality and value found in that rural North Carolina village was possible. The “real world” simply chooses to handle its issues differently than Sheriff Andy Taylor. If Mayberry can exist only in a 1960’s television comedy, that’s our decision.

The town so respected Sheriff Taylor that he rarely carried a gun. He raised an earnest son, Opie, with down-home advice and patience. He gave poor folks as much consideration as the wealthy. He ribbed his jittery deputy, Barney Fife, good-naturedly, tolerated the eccentricities of Floyd the barber and bumpkin mechanics Gomer and Goober Pyle, and treated women in his life — Aunt Bee, Thelma Lou and Helen Crump — like a gentleman.

The ever-inebriated Otis Campbell even locked himself in the Mayberry Jail when he’d had too much to drink. Hard-hearted townspeople softened up after a dose of Andy’s reverse psychology. Friends stayed loyal. When residents lost sight of their small-town virtues, Andy gently guided them back. And on the rare occasions when a nasty criminal wandered through, Sheriff Taylor quietly got the job done, while discretely deflecting the credit to his bumbling sidekick, Barney.

Idyllic? Probably. Impossible? Of course not.

“The Andy Griffith Show” created its legacy week after week, from 1960 to ’68, but it never actually went away. Millions, including new generations of viewers, watch it daily through syndicated reruns on super stations and, now, online. The passing of the show’s star, actor Andy Griffith, on Tuesday at age 86 gives Americans something extra to reflect upon on the nation’s Independence Day.

For me, I remember as a kid being able to relate to Opie — sensible but not the smartest kid in school, sincere but drawn to mischief, resolute but unsure of the ways of the world.

Fortunately, Opie and I had dads willing to sit down and explain things their sons didn’t understand. Sometimes, logic could not crack our misconceptions. That was the case in one “Andy Griffith” episode, when Andy describes to Opie the need for giving in their community.

The dialogue is too classic to paraphrase here, so let’s revisit the exchange verbatim:

Andy: … there’s somewhere like 400 needy boys in this county alone, or 1 1/2 boys per square mile.

Opie: There is?

Andy: Sho’ is.

Opie: I never seen one, Pa.

Andy: Never seen one what?

Opie: A half a boy.

Andy: Well, it’s not really a half a boy. It’s a ratio.

Opie: Horatio who?

Andy: Not Horatio. A ratio. It’s mathematics — arithmetic. Look now, Opie, forget that part of it. Forget the part about the half a boy.

Opie: It’s pretty hard to forget a thing like that, Pa.

Andy: Well, try.

Opie: Poor Horatio.

Andy: Now look, Opie, Horatio is not the only needy boy. Son, uh, didn’t you ever give anybody anything just for the pleasure of it? Something you didn’t want anything in return for?

Opie: Sure. Just yesterday, I gave my friend Jimmy something.

Andy: Now that’s fine. What’d you give him?

Opie: A sock in the head.

Andy: I meant charity.

Opie: I didn’t charge him nothing.

Andy: I meant something for the joy of giving.

Opie: I enjoyed it.

Within that hilarious discussion, Sheriff Taylor, Opie’s widowed, single father, exposes his son — and ultimately the American public — to the problem of childhood poverty with decency, while still giving the audience something to laugh about.

Maybe buddies can start conversations with “Hey, Andy” and “Hi, Goob” only in Mayberry. Maybe people remedy their mistakes by doing the right thing and apologizing only in Mayberry. Maybe friends have each other’s back only in Mayberry.

If that’s true, here’s a Fourth of July thank-you to Andy Griffith for allowing us to visit that imaginary place.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or

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    March 12, 2010