I have a friend — a good friend — who did his time in rehab. It was the booze that had him by the throat, sip after sip, morning, noon and night. He describes his life back then as “never plastered, never sober,” but he’s been clean now for a good long time.
When he talks about his stint in rehab, he doesn’t dwell on his own pain drying out, or the horror he witnessed in other wrecked lives desperately seeking salvation.
Instead, he talks about humor and rediscovered grace. He talks about learning to “let go and let God” and the miracle that simple message accomplished in his life.
Two things he learned right away in rehab, he said. Never be late for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and never miss the noon gathering around the television.
The television wasn’t for the news, weather or sports. It was for reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
A group of wayward souls found grace and laughter watching Sheriff Andy Taylor and the doings in Mayberry. Yeah, it was innocent and naïve. But these were people who needed both.
Barney: “Well, today’s 8-year-olds are tomorrow’s teenagers. I say this calls for action and now. Nip it in the bud. First sign of youngsters going wrong, you’ve got to nip it in the bud.”
Andy: “I’m going to talk to them. What else do you want me to do?”
Barney: “Well, don’t just mollycoddle them.”
Andy: “I won’t.”
Barney: “Nip it. You go read any book you want on the subject of child discipline and you’ll find every one of them is in favor of bud-nipping.”
Old Andy Griffith died the other day, a few years after Don Knotts (“Barney”) and Frances Bavier (“Aunt Bee”) and just two months after George Lindsey (“Goober”). People remember him most recently for his starring role in “Matlock.” But he will always be Sheriff Andy Taylor to us baby boomers.
From what the papers said, Andy Griffith could be a bit of a curmudgeon. He had a list of wives to his name as well.
I also know for a fact that he couldn’t spell. He visited a drama class at the University of Arizona and personally signed a note to all the students in the “accteng” class. They passed the note on to my brother, who was in accounting. It seemed a better fit.
But none of that would have mattered to my friend in rehab and to those watching the old black-and-white reruns. They found a new hometown in Mayberry.
We don’t much celebrate that kind of thing anymore. We’ve opted for a sizeable helping of shock humor. Uncut salacious has become our idea of a joke. The world Andy Griffith created in Mayberry is as unhip as the black-and-white film that broadcast the show back when television sets had rabbit ears and you had to walk up to the set to change the channel.
I know. Mayberry was lily-white. There wasn’t a Catholic, let alone a Jew, in sight, and Otis the town drunk was played for laughs. But there was a fundamental decency celebrated.
There is art — yes, art — to “The Andy Griffith Show.” And there is grace that can be found in the simple blessing of simple moments caught by a television camera nearly a half century ago.
Andy: “Opie! Time to come in, son.”
Opie: “Aw Pa, just a little while longer. ... Please?”
Andy: “Well, okay.”
(to Barney): “Daylight’s precious when you’re a youngin’.”
I like to think about chewed-up addicts finding a little daylight in Mayberry after living so long in the darkness.
And I’d like to thank an old actor who gave something to the ages. I hope Andy Griffith rests in peace.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.