Thursday, July 12, 2012

newspaper column about the passing of a TV hero

Editor's note: This week's column for the St. Clair Times is actually a week old, but come on — I couldn't NOT write about Andy Griffith's death, could I? Also you can enjoy the fact that I apparently wrote "passage" when I meant to say "passing." I feel like I'm getting worse at this. Anyway, as always, you can comment here or on Twitter.
‘We shall meet, but we shall miss him’

An open letter, upon the passage of the great Andy Griffith.

Dear Mr. Griffith,
I know you probably get letters from people who say they loved your show all the time. I am joining that chorus, and only because I am sorry I didn’t do it sooner. For some reason I dawdled until after I heard about your passing last week.

I am probably not what anyone would call the target demographic for “The Andy Griffith Show.” It was off the air more than a decade before I was even born, and depicts an era that has long since passed out of anything other than a fond memory.

It matters not. The characters that populated Mayberry were timeless. Anyone who grew up loving “The Andy Griffith Show” felt like part of the extended family that included Barney, Aunt Bea, Opie, Floyd, Gomer, Otis and even the Darlings. I could go on.

I’m proud to say that I know more about the show than is reasonable. I know, for example, that Barney was Andy’s cousin; that Floyd’sOtis' full-time job was as a furniture salesman; that the “jinx” in Mayberry was a man named Henry Bennett; and that Barney’s voice vacillated between “intolerable” and “actually, he’s pretty good.”

A random true story: Last Christmas, my wife and I bought tickets to see the great Bobby Horton at Local Color in Springville, as he played and sang Christmas songs from American history. One of the songs he shared that night: “The Vacant Chair.” I know you remember the words:

We shall meet, but we shall miss him/
There will be one vacant chair/
We shall linger to caress him/
As we breathe our evening prayer

I may have been the only person in the audience who sniggered through the entire song, if only because I saw you and Don Knotts, as Barney, singing the song mournfully in front of Otis’ jail cell. He did vow to stop driving after that, so I suppose it did work.

There were other life lessons. I learned how to trim hedges — “Pa usually just lops the tops off” — and why I should never aim my slingshot at a bird’s nest. And when I took my car to the mechanic, I made sure to tell him, “It’s doing a new thing now – it’s going ‘pa-ding,’ ‘pa-ding.’”

We were not the only family whose lives inevitably revolved around the show. Now entire Bible studies are dedicated to episodes of “Andy,” and groups around the country get together to watch old episodes — yes, even right here at home. There’s even a terrible country song that includes the phrase, “I miss Mayberry.”

In a way, we were all like the traveling businessman, Malcolm Tucker, whose car broke down outside of town on a Sunday. Tucker, at first furious that no one would fix the car — it being Sunday and all — eventually gave in to the otherworldliness of the town and its inhabitants. By the end of the episode, he was faking car trouble to stay just a little longer.

We all wish we could spend a night in Mayberry, I think.

Rest in peace, Cousin Andy. Lots of luck to you and yours.

— Very sincerely,
Will Heath

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