What It Was, Was Timeless

“the awfullest fight that I have ever seen . . . in my life!
. . . What it was, was football!”

–  from Andy Griffith’s classic 1953 monologue

A fitting remembrance for America’s birthday, as we have just lost a piece of Americana . . . and I imagine that if you’re like me, losing Andy Griffith is like losing a friend. We didn’t know him but we felt like we did.

I can’t say I was a big fan of the “Matlock” show, but I still watch that half-hour sit-com about a little town called Mayberry, “The Andy Griffith Show,” and after all these years I still laugh, or at least smile, at Barney struggling to get his bullet out of his pocket, and at Gomer when he drawls “Wally says, ‘Hey’” or “Sha-zaam!”

And I still admire Sheriff Andy Taylor’s selfless devotion to his friend (identified as his cousin in the first episode), Barney Fife, that ever-bumbling deputy, and the way he always made sure Barney felt like a big man even though the feeling was hardly ever deserved. And who could not respect the relationship between Opie and his dad, and how Andy gently imparted life-lessons to his son, or rather, how he let Opie learn those lessons for himself.

“The Andy Griffith Show” was more than a sit-com about people living in a small, hick town. I suppose it was akin to a morality play. But the audience was never hit over the head with the message. It was never heavy-handed. Many of the best sit-coms from that era taught us morals in the same way. I’m thinking of “Leave It to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “My Three Sons.” People still watch these shows because the lessons they teach are perennial. Life always has been, and always will be, about doing the right thing.

Contemporary shows I enjoy, like “Nurse Jackie” and “Weeds,” are deemed to be a more accurate reflection of modern life, I suppose. But I’m not sure that Jackie, an adulterous and drug-addicted nurse, or Nancy, a sexy suburban mom turned marijuana dealer, are any more real than Andy Taylor, a decent guy, working his job, raising his son, and trying to live in peace with his neighbors.

I suspect there are more Andys and Aunt Bees in this world, than Jackies or Nancys. That’s why Griffith’s show still holds up, doesn’t seem dated. It’s timeless.

My favorite episode is one called “Man in a Hurry” from the 1963 season. It’s about a man named Tucker with a business appointment in Charlotte whose car breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday. He’s in a hurry but he can’t get his car repaired until Monday because Wally’s garage is closed on Sundays. Throughout the episode, he’s irritated and frustrated with Mayberry’s slow-paced residents.

There’s a scene that takes place later on that lazy Sunday afternoon. Andy and Barney are sitting on the front porch, after the big Sunday dinner, while the man in a hurry, Mr. Tucker, is pacing back and forth. Andy sits in the rocker, quietly strumming his guitar and Barney is sitting nearby, his hands behind his head . . .

Barney: You know what I think I’m gonna do?

Andy: What?

Barney: I’m gonna go home and have me a little nap and go over to Thelma Lou’s and watch a little TV.

Andy: Mm-huh.

Barney:  Yeah, I believe that what’s I’ll do . . . Go home . . . have a nap . . . and then over to Thelma Lou’s for TV . . . Yep, that’s the plan (Barney stretches and yawns) . . . go home . . . have a nap –“

Mr. Tucker: For the love of Mike! Do it, do it! Just do it. Take a nap. Go to Thelma Lou’s for TV. Just do it!”

Barney (taken aback): What’s the hurry?

There’s a quality about this episode that’s similar to what I blogged about the other day in The Wisdom of Waiting, The Dharma of Delay, about wu-wei, “doing without doing,” taking things slower, more naturally.

from "A Face in the Crowd" with Patrica Neal

Andy Griffith’s show business career started with a best-selling comedy album, What is Was, Was Football. Before that he was an English teacher. He also starred in the classic film by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd.  And he made a great little comedy movie, No Time For Sergeants, that features a wonderful performance by the late Nick Adams (“The Rebel”).

Yep, I’m gonna miss Andy.

Here is a lovely scene from “Man in a Hurry” that precedes the one I described above, when for a few, brief moments Mr. Tucker gets into the flow of Mayberry’s leisurely rhythm, and if you want to watch the entire episode, you can see it here.

Oh, and by the way, have a great 4th of July . . . take a little nap
. . . watch a little TV . . . there’s no hurry . . .


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