Remembering the road to Mayberry

With the passing of the beloved actor Andy Griffith at age 86, many Baby Boomers will recall sitting in front of our television sets and watching a program that transported us to an unforgettable time and place.

The opening scene is instantly recognized by millions of viewers. A man and a boy, fishing poles in hand, make their way down the road. A familiar theme song is whistling in the background.

Thus begins “The Andy Griffith Show,” a ratings hit that still attracts audiences with its folksy humor and well-written scripts.

People come to Mayberry five decades later because they treasure the inhabitants of this fictional destination. While laughing along with the antics of these flawed but charming characters, some also remember the close-knit nature of small-town America. Even younger viewers, raised in the stark realities of our modern existence, are charmed by the simplicity of quiet summer evenings on yesteryear’s front porches.

While making us smile, the series also teaches timeless lessons of love, morality and trust. At the center of Mayberry is Sheriff Andy Taylor, who watches over the small North Carolina community. In addition to enforcing laws and arresting criminals, the sheriff also guards the citizenry from everyday travails. His philosophy comes from Matthew 19:19: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Andy is kind to all, including Otis the town drunk, Floyd the gossiping barber and Gomer Pyle, the naive gas station attendant. Above all, he even remains compassionate to Barney Fife, the clumsy deputy, riddled with insecurity and full of bluster. Andy accepts Fife’s numerous frailties, and he bolsters his partner whenever the predictable setbacks arise.

As he guides the townsfolk, widower Andy also raises his youngster, Opie, with the help of Aunt Bee. The warm relationship shared by family members is a key ingredient of the show.

The most memorable programs chronicle how Andy teaches values to his son. My favorite example is “Opie the Birdman.” In this touching episode, Opie accidentally kills a mother bird while playing carelessly with his slingshot. After being reprimanded by his father, Opie decides to care for the three babies since it is his fault their mother will never return.

The birds thrive under the loving care of a boy who also lost his mother. Soon it’s time for them to leave the confines of captivity and human protection. Just like any parent, Opie has trouble letting go, but knows it must be done. After successfully setting them free, Opie says, “The cage sure looks awful empty, don’t it, Pa?” Andy replies: “Yes, son, it does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?”

The plot speaks volumes about the cost of disobedience, the importance of accepting responsibility for our actions and the fruits of parental guidance. By contrast, most modern network shows are about as empty as Opie’s old birdcage.

Andy Griffith is gone now, but he and Mayberry left a lasting impression. Whenever they show up in a rerun, once again our TV screens seem nice and full.

Kendall Wingrove is a freelance writer from Okemos, Michigan.