Saturday, June 18, 2016

Comfort in Mayberry

I have been sick for the past two weeks, and I have spent much of that time in my recliner: coughing up and blowing out snot, drifting in and out of consciousness, and seeking comfort in favorite movies and television programs, preferably those in black and white. For some reason, I find black-and-white television more comforting when I'm sick. Maybe the color irritates my eyes, or maybe it's just because I'm reminded of my childhood, when everything on TV was black and white.

I watched a few old movies from my DVD collection, then started watching episodes of The Twilight Zone, which was a mistake. It turns out that "another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind" is not a particularly comforting place to be when you're sick. Also, I know this sounds crazy, but the smoke from Rod Serling's cigarette seemed to aggravate my cough.

So I started binge-watching The Andy Griffith Show. TV Land airs twelve episodes a day: six in the morning and six in the afternoon. In between are episodes of Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I watched a couple of episodes of those shows, but I found that the Ponderosa and Dodge City were nowhere near as comforting as the fictional setting of The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry, North Carolina. For one thing, Bonanza and Gunsmoke were in color. For another, they had a lot more gunfire. Sheriff Andy Taylor never wore a gun. Deputy Barney Fife did, but Andy only gave him one bullet, and he made him keep it buttoned up in his shirt pocket (with good reason).

Speaking of Gunsmoke, here's a bit of related trivia. It started out as a radio show, with a completely different cast. Two members of the cast of the radio show—Howard McNear, who played Doc, and Parley Baer, who played Chester—went on to become featured cast members of The Andy Griffith Show, as Floyd Lawson, Mayberry's barber, and Roy Stoner, Mayberry's cantankerous mayor.

I have always loved The Andy Griffith Show, and it was wonderful getting reacquainted with the residents of Mayberry. When I was young, my favorite episodes were those featuring Andy's bumbling blowhard deputy, Barney Fife, played brilliantly by Don Knotts. This time around, I especially enjoyed the first-season episodes featuring Elinor Donahue as Ellie Walker, Mayberry's pharmacist and Andy's first steady girlfriend. (Ellie disappeared without explanation after the first season, which is a real shame. I thought she was a lot cuter and a lot more fun than her replacement, schoolmarm Helen Crump.)

Most of all, I enjoyed the scenes between Andy and his young son Opie, played by future Academy-Award-winning film director, Ron Howard. "Ronny," as he was then known, was only six years old that first season. His scenes with Andy are so genuine and natural, you'd swear you were witnessing a real conversation between father and son. Often, Andy uses humor to teach Opie an important lesson about life, such as the time he explains feuds by telling the story of Romeo and Juliet. Just as often, Andy is the one who learns a lesson, as when Opie points out that his lying to a friend to make a trade for a pair of roller skates is no worse than Andy's "horse trading" with an antique dealer over an old cannon.

I suppose this is what I find most comforting about Mayberry: Andy and Opie's relationship reminds me of my relationship with my father. Like Andy Taylor, my dad was good at explaining things, good at listening, and always had time to talk to his son.

I really miss those talks.

In the wake of this week's massacre in Orlando, only the latest in a series of mass shootings that become more frequent and more deadly with every passing year, I find myself wondering what Andy might say to Opie about such a terrible event, and what my father might say to me.

I feel sure of one thing: it would be something comforting.

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