People rightly wrote, after the death of Andy Griffith, that the town of Mayberry had come to represent the best of small-town America.
Some of those who wrote that were of the opinion, however, that there never was a Mayberry in American life, that the little North Carolina town of Sheriff Andy Taylor never really existed in this country. Mayberry was simply a collective wish, a nostalgic rose-colored bucolic dream.
How many of those opinions, I wonder, are tossed out there by people with no first-hand knowledge of rural or small-town life?
North Dakotans understand why those people have a hard time believing in Mayberry. How many stories have been breathlessly reported about our small town gas station where everyone was on the honor system? People from elsewhere can hardly believe it. It makes the national news and it’s actually quite patronizing.
Yes, some people do live that way. Just because urbanites have never heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Was Mayberry idealized? Of course.
But not because its stories weren’t true, but because we didn’t see all of them. (Those who wanted to read about the seedy side read “Peyton Place.”)
No small town is perfect, but what Mayberry did portray was the best of small-town life.
A small town is a place where people are knit together, like it or not. That doesn’t mean they all like each other. It just means that when something needs to be done, whether you like the person working beside you doesn’t really matter. You all understand that you need each other.
That creates bonds much stronger than mere liking.
Did the folks in Mayberry all like each other? Of course not. Barney irritated people. Floyd the barber was vague and silly. Howard was prim and fussy. Otis was looked down upon by the town’s more sober citizens.
But those people, who would have been isolated and abandoned in the sea of a big city, had a place in Mayberry.
They had a pew in church; they had a stool in the diner. They were greeted on the street and given a place to be known.
Aunt Bea was not just an old maid; she had a home and respect. She mattered. She had a family. What would Barney have been in a big city? A loser and a figure of ridicule. Andy gave him a role and a uniform and a place of respect (though only one bullet — Andy was not reckless).
Opie had a father who took him fishing, who listened to him and attended to him. He had an example of how you treat people, not just those you like but those who annoy you with their foibles and quirks.
Opie’s father didn’t disappear into an anonymous horde of commuters every morning and reappear, used up and wrung out, at night.
Was Mayberry real?
A good part of it was. Enough was.