Losing Mayberry

The death of TV icon and Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005) honoree Andy Griffith on July 3, 2012, calls us to remember the changes that have occurred in our world.

Last week, we celebrated the 4th of July. It was a long celebration, as the 4th was a Wednesday. Many people I know celebrated the holiday itself along with both weekends before and after. We used to call that a 'bookend' holiday. As a child, I really enjoyed that rare occasion: If Chistmas fell either on that magical Tuesday or Wednesday, it meant an extended vacation from school!

But the extended holiday time did little this year to elevate the spirits of many Americans. The temperature in much of the country was over the century mark much of the week. Drought and heat ran together here in the Midwest, while there were massive storms in the East. Wild fires in Colorado burned over 173,000 acres.

And we lost Andy Griffith on July 3.

Just when we were supposed to be celebrating America's birthday, most of us were dealing with unconventional acts of Mother Nature within our surroundings. Some of these acts forced citizens indoors (the rain, the heat) and others forced them outdoors (the fires). Some will never be able to return as over 600 houses were lost to the fires. 

And people - more than probably would admit it - were mourning Andy Griffith.

Born July 1, 1926, Griffith shared a birthdate and year with Marilyn Monroe. Unlike Monroe, he led a relatively scandal-free life for a celebrity. He lived with relatives the first three years of his life. Without a crib, he was sleeping in dresser drawers the first several months. Griffith worked for the first years of his career on Roanoke Island, North Carolina in various roles of The Lost Colony, a play by Paul Green.

We know the rest of his storied career - especially two of the best-loved characters in American television: Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock. Andy Taylor lived in the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina. I associated a lot with the show as a child, as did most baby boomers, I am convinced. Andy - with his down-home sensibility. I was the same age as Opie (Ron Howard), and I also lived in a small town - Sunset Hills, Missouri.  Sunset Hills was only three when Mayberry was born in 1960. I think we all related to the goings-on in the small town. The gossip at the barber shop and beauty shop. The corner grocery. The family-owned drug store. Sunset Hills residents seemed to know everyone - and everyone's business. Nearly everyone was related, somehow, to you or to someone you knew. Real Mayberry.

And then came modernization. TV was now brought to us in living color. Highways replaced roads. We suddenly realized we didn't have air conditioning and that we needed it. Local stores became national franchises. Andy Taylor became Ben Matlock.

And we moved even more away from Mayberry.

Andy Griffith was buried the same day he died - on his property on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, not far from where his career began all those years ago. Fitting, somehow. As Roanoke remained in Griffith's heart, Mayberry and his idyllic simplicity surely also remain in his, and in ours.

Maybe we can go home again... or at least to the fishin' hole.


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