Mayberry existed in simpler time

July 8, 2012


— Former sheriff Andy Taylor died here last week. Mayberry is in mourning.

Sheriff Taylor was one of the last links to another, simpler time. Before there was a traffic light or drive-through banking here, before we got our first cell phone tower or Wi-Fi connection, before the Dairy Queen, the Wal-Mart and the Subway were built out on Route 89, before color was invented, back when people still appeared to one another in shades of black and white, Mayberry was a very different town in a very different America.

Over the years, some have criticized our town for the things that made us different. It has been noted, for instance, that Mayberry somehow managed to be a town in the South in the 1960s without a single African-American citizen, much less a civil rights movement.

But that’s hardly the only thing that bypassed our town. Mayberry never heard about the Cuban missile crisis or the Vietnam War, never knew anything about birth control pills or LSD, Malcolm X or Betty Friedan, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. President Kennedy being shot and killed in Dallas? That awful news never made it here.

The worst thing that ever happened in Mayberry was maybe when that little old lady swindled Barney Fife into buying that clunker of a used car. Or when Aunt Bee’s homemade pickles tasted terrible and nobody could bring themselves to tell her. Or when little Opie killed that mother bird with his slingshot and Andy made him raise the orphaned young ones.

It will be hard for a nation as thoroughly wired and utterly connected as this one to conceive that there was once a time and a town so far removed from the world outside that things such as those counted as crises. But there was. And when the crisis was resolved — as always it was, sensibly, fairly and with a touch of good humor — there always remained enough time, even on a workday afternoon, to slip down to the fishin’ hole and drown some worms.

The days drifted into one another with a comforting familiarity, you knew who you were and what you were about and you sat content in that knowledge on the porch after church, sharing a howdy with passing neighbors, letting supper settle and contemplating a second helping of cobbler. If you were lucky, maybe Andy would bring out his guitar and sing.

He presided over Mayberry with just the right touch, often gently amused, sometimes a little flustered, but rarely out of sorts. He kept the excitable Deputy Fife from accidentally shooting himself with the one bullet he was allowed to carry — in his pocket. He steered young Opie toward honorable manhood with tough love and tender wisdom. He suffered fools without complaint if not quite gladly, enforced the law with a grin and a wily people sense that hardly ever required a gun. And he had the good manners never to gloat when some city slicker who’d presumed to outsmart him wound up on the receiving end of the lesson.

Now, he is gone. You cannot say you are surprised — he was 86, after all — but just the same, it hits you in a soft spot. There are those who will say Andy wasn’t real, but he was. Real like the laughter of good friends and the simplicity of wisdom.

Mayberry was real, too — as real as the desire sometimes to escape the tyranny of What Is. It sat just outside of time, at a crossroads of nostalgia and need. There was a dirt path in the woods near town that led to a fishing hole. Sheriff Andy used to go there often with his little boy, to the whistling of a bucolic tune lifting above the North Carolina pines.

You cannot remember when you did not know that tune. But somehow, you fall asleep in black and white on the front porch dreaming of cobbler and awake in color with a Dairy Queen, a Wal-Mart and a Subway doing business out on Route 89. That long-haired fella from that Beatles group was right.

Yesterday came suddenly.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on


Ray Parker 1 year, 9 months ago

We loved Mayberry, because there were no atheists, no anti-American leftists, no abortionist quacks, and no queers.


Abdu Omar 1 year, 9 months ago

Sadly, I know little about the natives of North Carolina, but I do know a little about the prejudice of the typical American. Perhaps there weren't references to or characters on the AG Show that were minorities, nor were their Mormons or Muslims, Hindus or Budhists. They didn't specify exactly the religions affiliations of the characters but perhaps Gomer was a Cherokee or Lumbee, or perhaps he was the Imam at the local Mosque, who knows, that wasn't what the show was about. It was about common wisdom where fighting was frowned upon and breaking the law was not good. There were plenty of non-partisanisms and ecumentical wisdoms that no one challenged and that homogenous society was really made up of who ever you wanted there.

Most Americans, like myself, are unhappy with the treatment in this country towards many minority groups, but even though I think that is true, we, too, are powerless to change that. Perhaps someday when the powers that be are brought to common ground it will change. Perhaps not for a long time.


Mike Ford 1 year, 9 months ago

with almost 80,000 Native Americans in North Carolina currently consisting of Eastern Cherokee, Lumbee, Coharie, Waccamauw, Haliwa-Saponi, Tuscarora, and Meherrin peoples it's a wonder none were ever mentioned on this show. In 1959 near Maxton, North Carolina, 500 Lumbee tribal members overtook 100 KKK members trying to hold a rally in a Lumbee area due to mixed couples and routed them. A Lumbee judge in Robeson County, North Carolina found the klansmen guilty. go figure. At that time Indians in North Carolina had to go to the back of the restaurant and sit in the balconies of the theatre even after serving in the US Military for many wars and being drafted by the southerners to work as grunts in forts and brutalized by southerners who suspected the Indians of helping Union soldiers escape the Andersonville prison camp to the south where Union survivors looked like Auschwitz survivors 80 years later. I guess simpler times didn't include reality did they? even now keeping it simple is the mantra for Fox news which I saw all over the south not too long ago.


booyalab 1 year, 9 months ago

I really don't get the "simpler time" mentality. Is it just a way of saying "I was a kid and my days consisted of watching TV, running around outside, and trying to scrape together enough money for a comic book" ? Sure, life is simple if you're a kid regardless of the decade. If you're an adult, not so much.


Theprof 1 year, 9 months ago

There's another way of looking at these old TV shows such as the Andy Griffith show that suggests they were not so innocent. Where are people of color in these programs? What role models on tv did young children of color have back in the day? These early shows perpetuated white privilege.These shows are examples of institutionalized racism. People of color didn't really matter and when they did show up on TV they were sidekicks, such as Pipino on the Real McCoys and Hop Sing on Bonanza. It was when Bill Cosby on I Spy and Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek showed up concurrently during the civil rights movements of the 1960s when TV started to respect historically underrepresented peoples. Many of the real Andy's and Barney's in North Carolina turned the other way while the KKK had their way. No, these shows are not examples of a more simpler time. There exclusion of people who were in many ways powerless yet in the process of becoming empowered was intentional


beatrice 1 year, 9 months ago

Mayberry was fiction and should not be euligized as if it were a real place from a real time.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great show, but still, it was pure fiction.


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 9 months ago

"When I was 17, I could reach into a milk bottle and pull out an egg."


parco814 1 year, 9 months ago

The AG show is perhaps the finest comedy show ever to grace the television screens of millions of Americans. Beautifully written, cast, acted, directed, photographed, and edited. Each and every episode is a gem. I am not surprised that AG's political views were based on the same values that the program named for him affirmed: honest and humane concern for one's community and every individual within it. I miss shows like AG and have for a long time. I will miss that good man and his great work for a long time, too. And no wonder Leonard Pitts respected AG and his achievements. Those who truly know how to read and learn from their reading are not surprised by Leonard's endorsement, not one bit.


ThePilgrim 1 year, 9 months ago

Wow. I expected Pitts to rail about how Mayberry was a racist delusion. Showed that even Pitts liked it. Amazing that we had blue laws that did not allow businesses to be open on Sunday, assuming that everyone went to church. Now everything is open, there is no rest for the weary on the weekend, and no concept by employers that it is family time or "me" time.


cato_the_elder 1 year, 9 months ago

Pitts never would have written this in the sympathetic way he did if Andy Griffith had been a Republican. You can take that to the bank.


kernal 1 year, 9 months ago

"Sometimes I t hink we were better off when the mob controlled things."

Had to take a moment and pick my jaw up off the floor.


Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 9 months ago

Was a wonderful time. Back when the cops could help you, instead of looking for something to drag you in for. When you could disipline your children with out having to worry about some do gooder turning you into the SRS. No one cared how much money you had or where you lived. Dad made the living, mom held down the house. There were very few regulations on how you had to live. Rode bicycles to school. Child molesters were found dead and the sheriff looked the other way. Sometimes I think we were better off when the mob controlled things.


BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 9 months ago

Finally Pitts has written something I can relate to and enjoy. Mayberry was a wonderful show and I was in front of the TV for every single episode while growing up. I still occasionally watch the re-runs. I no longer watch TV for the lack of good, quality entertainmnet. Snooky, doesn't quite fill the bill. If TV and Hollywood reflect our society and it's values, then we are in steep moral decline. I'd rather watch Mayberry re-runs than most of trash that is forced on the viewing public today. Rest in Peace Sheriff Taylor. Your magical Mayberry will never be forgotten.


msezdsit 1 year, 9 months ago

Kinda reminds you of that other song by a former beatle "Imagine" where you are taken on an imaginary tour that you are asked to imagine , just for a moment, if all the obstacles of peace don't exist and where you can then imagine a world of peace towards all mankind. Andy and the great cast gave us another way to imagine this. Thanks for creating a place where we could all go, if for only a half hour at a time, and imagine a simple more loving time where people disagreed daily but managed to work through differences and still get along.

Rest in peace sheriff AndyTaylor.


FlintlockRifle 1 year, 9 months ago

Leonard, you always have a good read each week, but ME THINKS, this is one of your better artticle and was right on in every way. I also grew up in this time frame and earlier, thanks for the walk down memory lane, Sheriff Andy RIP, with Barney and Goober


autie 1 year, 9 months ago

Uh...Leonard, the show had African Americans in it. Not in any speaking roles that I know but many times as "citizens" walking past in downtown Mayberry. In a small way I think those liberal writers and producers saw to it just as a way of doing what they could and get away with it.


hotmess 1 year, 9 months ago

One of my favorite shows ever. They run it before Fox 4 comes on in the early am. Yesterday was the episode where Andy takes Opie and a group of kids camping, tells a scary story around the fire and Barney and Gomer slept right next to Andy-----wide-eyed and scared to death. Hilarious. Then Opie goes off looking for berries and Barny and Gomer get lost in the woods looking for Opie. Classic show. Yes it was a simpler time. And people wonder why we are a "Prozac nation"?


grammaddy 1 year, 9 months ago

Thank you Leonard! He took a very BIG piece of my childhood with him when he died. Gone but never forgotten. RIP Andy.


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