Thursday, July 5, 2012

Still Life in Black and White

Funny how Andy Griffith died so close to the July 4th holiday. This year the holiday came on a Wednesday, so many people began celebrating a day or two before. It'll probably linger well into the weekend too. Andy Griffith, and the TV series of the same name, were such a huge part of so many baby boomer childhoods that he's bound to be missed by millions. It was a simpler time in so many ways. Literally, in the early 1960s when the world of Mayberry, North Carolina came into living rooms and black and white TV screens, there were only a handful of channels to watch. Pity the poor attempts to compete with Sheriff Andy and the cast of Mayberry's good people. For the 13 year old world I inhabited back then, Andy reminded me, in so many ways, of my neighbor Homer Taylor. Homer brought his family out to California from Ripley, Tennessee at the same time Andy and Barney worked their way into the hearts and minds of people all over the country. Homer, like Andy, was as homespun as it gets. But he could teach a kid like me all about horses and fishin' and most anything I couldn't get from my New Yorker parents. Homer let us drive his '55 Ford around the block a few times too. Like Andy, there were many firsts...all came from just hanging around. But while Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and Ron Howard were amusing us with their lives and loves in Mayberry, there was another version of the sleepy south, the real one, playing out on our TV screens and in our classrooms.  Ironically the Andy Griffith years coincided perfectly with major events in the Civil Rights movement.  While Floyd the barber was making us laugh with all his "ooohs and aaahs," American citizens were taking literacy tests with questions like "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap."  While Gomer Pyle"Gollleeed" and Goober did his imitation of Carey Grant ("JudyJudyJudy...") The Reverend James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were losing their lives fighting for basic human rights for African Americans.
There were no marches or demonstrations in Mayberry.  No Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks.  There may have been black folks there but we seldom went to the other side of the tracks with Andy and Barney.  Still the town and all its inhabitants found a fond place in our hearts and minds.  The themes were universal.  It would be a few more years before we saw our diverse population reflected in anything faintly resembling reality on our TV screens.  It's a real paradox but then it accurately reflects life in the 1960s, doesn't it?
In the end, it'll be Aunt Bea, and her nosy friend Clara that we remember.  It'll be all those lessons Andy taught us with his sense of fairness and his thoughtful grace.  It'll be all the laughs that Barney Fife, with the one bullet in his pocket and girlfriend named Thelma Lou, gave us.  And, of course, it'll be that whistled theme song and Opie and Andy walking down to the fishin' hole.

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