Small towns on small screen offer large lessons

Small towns on small screen offer large lessons

I think I’d trade almost anything for a cloud or two in the sky, just something to get a little heat relief.

This, I’m sure you’re thinking, isn’t typical vacation behavior.

Then again, I’ve had just about enough sunshine and good times.

There comes a point when summer has simply outstayed its welcome, a time that calls for discipline, adherence to the laws of physics and a foreboding sense that too much fun is a bad thing.

I think maybe that it’s all Mayberry’s fault.

Long before I ever decided to leave my native Ohio for the wonders of coastal living, I’d gotten to know that fictional North Carolina town through decades of watching “The Andy Griffith Show,” first as it aired during my childhood, then in syndicated reruns that always stopped my channel surfing when they aired.

There was just something so reassuring and comfortable about settling back and watching an episode that I’d pretty much committed to memory because that was the point, the knowledge that foibles would be if not eliminated, then temporarily eased.

This rule applied not only to the show’s co-stars like Barney and Aunt Bee and Opie, to Floyd and Goober and Otis, but to Sheriff Taylor himself. It was as if the writers decided that in Mayberry, even the most level-headed, wise and kind-hearted character had a few flaws of his own and needed an occasional lesson in humility.

In one of my favorite episodes, Andy makes an offhand comment to his son and a few of his friends that history class can be hard on students and that teachers ought not be so rigorous in their expectation because it can be such a difficult subject, with all the dates and details and … well, you know that he’s on dangerous turf.

Andy soon comes face to face with what, in retrospect, represents the burgeoning tide of American early-Sixties feminism in the formidable form of Helen Crump, the elementary school teacher who storms into the sheriff’s office and unloads a righteous load of acrimony and resentment all over Andy’s desk. It is one of the best scenes in “TAGS” history, a combination gender/class indignation seasoned with just enough wit to make the whole thing palatable.

“Barney,” sighs Andy after Miss Crump has completely put him in his place. “Look at this big old foot, wouldja,” he says planting his size 16 boot on full display. “How in the world did I fit that whole big thing into my mouth? Can you answer me that?”

And that’s what makes “Andy Griffith” so wonderful. Just as you sympathize with the hero, you understand that even he has a ways to go when it’s time to listen and to learn and to be a better man.

So he teaches – in his own homespun way – the boys all about the Revolutionary War and Paul Revere’s ride and the genesis of the Minutemen and makes it so exciting, so riveting, so cliff-hanging interesting that even Barney’s on the edge of his seat, a grown man learning that American history is, in its own way, worthy of study.

“So what happened next?” the deputy asks, eyes agog, all alert.

And ol’ Andy just says something about paying attention in class, which is what the whole thing was all about in the first place, which gets him in solid with Miss Crump, who will become, in episodes to come, his one and only love interest, so stayed tuned.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore, do they?

The closest that a TV show brought a small town to life, the way “TAGS” did with Mayberry, is “Twin Peaks,” but that’s just me.

You could remember days spent in Hooterville or Collinsport or Sunnydale, where Buffy did all she could to avert the end of the world and suitors like Angel and Spike all proved a bit unworthy.

As many of you – well, maybe a few of you – might remember, I decided to cut the cable cord back in early March, a time when the monthly bill topped $200 and I simply couldn’t justify the expense.

So I’ve been living on the what the radio provides, though my wife keeps me up to date on streaming options, which I mostly ignore.

The TV universe has grown increasingly hostile, the way I look at it, to anyone who wasn’t born with their fingers attached to a keyboard, a generation unwilling or unable to understand simple stuff, the future of the world in the hands of folks looking down.

It amazes me to witness such slavish devotion to those machines, though I get the notion that it’s second nature to them, not at all off-putting to those of us who might want to actually converse.

Which is why I wish there could be a cloud or two on the horizon.

When Aunt Bee made Mayberry’s worst pickles, Andy and Barney decided to switch them with the store-bought kind, just trying to be nice and thoughtful, but when she thought about entering them in the county fair, well, let’s just that some decisions had to be made.

“Guess we’re just gonna learn how to love ’em,” says Andy, perfectly encapsulating the charm of the best show that ever was.

There are worse ways, I suppose, to make your way through life.

Making sure that cloudy days are followed by sunny skies, even when you’re a bit down, is the way Andy would have wanted it.

Mike Dewey can be contacted at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where Goober and Floyd still get along.

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