Nostalgia for a time that never was

By Bill Colvard -

Ahh … Mayberry Days.

That week at the end of September when autumn begins, and we all turn our attention to the collective nostalgia for a time that never was, personified by people who, more and more as time goes by, weren’t there.

If you’re a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show” — and of course you are, as it’s more or less required this week — you owe it to yourself to watch the show on Netflix. Watching the episodes in order from beginning to end, and being able to see what season you’re in, which episode in the season and the name of that episode, is much better than the random afternoon episodes on basic cable.

That’s a hint I picked up from former child actor Joy Ellison when she made her first appearance at Mayberry Days in 2014, and Joy was absolutely right. If an actor or a situation piques your interest, it’s super easy to pause the show and Google the information you want since you know which episode and season you’re watching.

Netflix has also affected my take on the most-asked question in Mount Airy on any given day. Which is, to paraphrase a bit, ‘How long is the goose of Andy Griffith’s legacy going to keep laying its golden eggs for the city?’ Actually, I’ve never heard anyone phrase it exactly like that, but you can usually tell that’s what they mean.

Generally, when this question is asked, someone is of the opinion that it will never end, and someone else is of the opinion it’s long past its sell-by date, and the inevitable collapse is overdue and coming soon. Just so you know, I am fervently of the former opinion, though I used to believe equally fervently in the latter.

Netflix is the primary reason for my change of heart. It seems that is the vehicle by which the younger generation is getting sucked in to drink the Kool-Aid. And after much thought and consideration, I think I know why they stick around for a second glass.

As much as older folks say the show reminds them of a better time, a time when … blah, blah, blah, maybe they fill in what was better about that time, or maybe they don’t, but when they do, it’s usually some variation on the theme of “traditional values,” as their eyes mist over for the long-lost days when everyone knew their place.

But if by “traditional values,” you mean a family which is a married couple consisting of a man and a woman, raising their children, that’s not what we have here. Andy is a single father, assisted in the raising of Opie by a relative of an older generation; you know, kind of like all the kids today being raised by grandparents or by single parents with the assistance of their parents. Which makes the show relatable to a whole lot of people, whether it was intended or not.

And while we’re talking about single parents, can we extend it to single people and discuss the preponderance of single folk on “The Andy Griffith Show”? According to a popular meme circling the internet, the only married person in Mayberry is Otis, and he stays drunk all the time and rarely goes home to his wife. Which, if not completely true, is close to it.

In another departure from beloved institutions of the past, Andy never spanked Opie. Which is ironic really. A lot of the folks who claim to love the show because of its good-old-days vibe are the same people who will argue that the world went to hell in a hand basket when people stopped beating their kids.

Andy definitely advocated for the beating of other children. He made the courthouse woodshed available to the father of an obnoxious kid whose bicycle Barney confiscated, and the implication was that the kid was a spoiled brat because he hadn’t been to the woodshed before.

But as for Andy spanking his own child, not so much. I consulted the Mayberry after Midnight Facebook group who know everything about “The Andy Griffith Show,” and nobody could recall a single incident where Opie got a walloping.

Some folks firmly believe Opie got an offstage whupping after he turned out to be the keeper of the flame for his group of friends who inadvertently burned down a shed. Others say there is no evidence to support that theory, and perhaps Ron Howard had a solid no-whuppin’ contract. The group is just as witty as they are knowledgeable.

On other occasions, Andy paused long enough before delivering punishment — despite Barney’s near constant yelps of “Nip it! Nip it! Nip it!” — to find out Opie was innocent of the charge at hand. For example, when he would only donate a few cents to charity because he was saving up to buy a winter coat for a girlfriend whose family couldn’t afford to buy her one. The idea that a child might have a better grasp on a situation than the parent is not something one would think the “spare the rod” contingent is comfortable with.

So I submit the theory that the show isn’t as tied to the past as much as a lot of folks seem to think. Though almost 60 years old and looking to a time even further back while being set in the present — which is incredibly confusing, and don’t even get me started on the ridiculous antique phones and the one operator who worked 24/7/365 for eight seasons — the themes are remarkably contemporary. And as long as the show finds a way to play on platforms that new generations utilize — like Netflix — it’s not going anywhere.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the inevitable Broadway musical version, which could run here forever after the New York run cooled down. That is, it could if there was a theater available for it to play in.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.