Today the world lost a man that influenced millions of children and adults throughout his public career. Andy Griffith died today at the age of 86. I grew up with Andy Griffith in my home on radio, records and television. He was about as real as a celebrity could be. It was obvious that this man did not put on a public persona while being something totally different in private. With Andy, you got what you saw. Sure the stories he wrote were fiction but they all had one thing in common. Those stories taught honesty, strong morals, and a belief in your fellow man. Through his writing he brought before the world the idea that no one man is better than another, and that there is no doubt at least a tiny bit of good in everybody.
I met Andy Griffith on the television watching "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW". It was a show that followed life in a small town in the Carolinas full of ordinary people like you and me. The town wasn't perfect. It had a town drunk, Otis, who would check himself into jail when he became too drunk to be in public. A lot of lessens were learned from that town drunk and how Andy, who was the Sheriff of the town, dealt with Otis. Andy always treated Otis with respect and as a human being that was equal to Andy. Looking back on it, the Otis and Andy relationship probably was one of the best examples that Andy gave us of how to treat each other.
As sheriff of Mayberry, Andy was a single father. Not until this very moment have I ever wondered what happened to his wife. I can not remember any explanation being given but one thing was for sure, Andy was not divorced. I guess I always assumed that his wife had died shortly after their son was born. He and his son lived with Andy's Aunt Bea. She was a lovely grandmotherly figure that gave many lessons as well. She always welcomed strangers into the house that Andy would invite over. There was always an extra piece of pie for the guest and coffee was a staple of dinners on the show.
Andy's deputy was Barney Fife. A bumbling lawman that tried so very hard to do things by the book and uphold the law. The relationship between sheriff and deputy was a special one as well. It was Andy's job to keep his deputy within the bounds of what was real lawbreaking and sometimes what was just a mistake. At the end of each show Andy would make sure that Barney felt like he had upheld the law to the best of his ability and would praise Barney for it, even though most of the time Barney had not done a thing.
This was where we met the lovable Jim Nabors playing the part of Gomer, a gas station attendant on the oustskirts of town. Gomer was probably one of the most natural and honest people in the town. He was a simple man who did not know the meaning of dishonesty and would constantly question others motives based on this lack of understanding wrong. His character was put out there as not too bright, as a matter of fact a little dimwitted, but Gomer understood things that most people don't and each week there was sure to be a small amount of wisdom slip from the lips of Gomer Pyle.
Then there was Opie, Andy's son. We watched Opie grow up from a five year old kid into his preteen years. Opie was on a journey of his own. That journey was trying to figure out the world and life and what the proper way to live was. He had the perfect teacher in Andy. There were times when Andy would see that Opie was heading down a rough path that wasn't exactly the correct one, but would let him go on anyway. In the end Opie would come to the realization of his mistake and go talk to "Pa" about it and learn yet another lesson in life. We all learned along with Opie on these adventures. Sheriff Andy was there to teach us all.
True the town did have it's bad influences. The moonshiners that lived up on the mountain. Otis, as mentioned earlier, and a small cast of people who would come to town to run scams on the good people of Mayberry. When ever these people came to town, Andy would work out the puzzle of what was going on and sure enough, if their crime was harmful or bad enough, they would be sent off to court somewhere or off to jail. Sheriff Andy Taylor knew when it wasn't worth causing a lot of trouble just because a law was on the books. As long as the moonshiners behaved themselves and didn't cause trouble in town, well Andy could not find a reason to lock them up. There was mercy and passion built into the character of Sheriff Andy Taylor.
I remember listening to Andy Griffith's description of a football game from the eyes of someone who had been living in the backwoods of the southern United States and seeing the game for the first time. It is one of my favorite bits of comedy.
Andy Griffith also starred in one of my all time favorite movies titled "NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS" Again Andy plays a innocent from a southern town who joins the army and can't understand the strict rules and undo punishment that comes with boot camp. It is a film that I always suspected was the template for a show that would spin off of the Andy Griffith show as "GOMER PYLE, USMC" in which we watch Gomer leave Mayberry and join the Marine Corps and all of the adventures that came with it. Growing up it seemed that there was a little of Andy Griffith in our lives at least once a week. And while the shows were funny, and I mean REALLY funny, there was always a lesson to be learned. Andy Griffith was more than a writer, actor, comedian and teacher. He was also a wonderful singer and guitar player. He would sing country favorites but he always made time to sing gospel songs. You could tell by the way he sang them that he was singing from his heart. Once again, with Andy, you got what you saw. This was not a man just singing gospel songs, oh no. This was a man singing gospel songs and having faith and belief in what he was singing.
I did not follow Andy's career into the "MATLOCK" series on television but I have talked to people who did follow that show. From what I can gather, you age Sheriff Taylor a few decades, make him a lawyer instead of a lawman and you teach lessons in morality, honesty and how to treat other human beings, and you get Matlock.
Andy Griffith was an icon. He embodied what it meant to be an American and a Christian. I am not sure that any one man in my lifetime had such a huge effect on as many people as Andy Griffith did. The remarkable thing about Andy Griffith is that he had this effect on all of us and was able to do so without letting us really know he was teaching a lesson with his television shows and writings. Not until much later do we realize what Andy was trying to say in a particular episode of The Andy Griffith Show.
Andy Griffith will be missed, there is no doubt about that. He lives on though. His lesson in morality will continue to teach generations as those little shows are replayed over and over again through generations yet to come. Andy Griffith was like no other public personality that had come before him, and no other personality that came after him is close to who Andy Griffith was and the effect he had on a nation.
Thanks for all the years Andy. Thanks for the laughter and the music. Thanks for the life lessons.
May you always Rest In Peace.