More than Sheriff Andy

As the evening winds down, I sit here listening to the last few remnants of fireworks exploding around the neighborhood, and hoping ppl realize that fireworks are like Halloween decorations, they are a lot of fun on the day of the holiday but by the next morning they are simply one more mess to clean up. Today was a great Independence Day but as I got home from our pilgrimage to break bread with the family, I realized that I had totally forgotten to mention yesterdays major news story. So tonight I will try to sum up, although belatedly, “the things i have learned” from Andy Griffith:
You will notice that i did not say Andy Taylor. Too many ppl seem to only see the career of Griffith through the prism of the show about the widower North Carolina sheriff when in reality it is some of his other although lesser known work that made his performance on the CBS sitcom such an amazing success. Griffith was a performer who did the amazing job of transcending the particular era that he performed in. He performed live in front of civic groups throughout his native North Carolina during the 1950s in a manner that was reminiscent of the old vaudeville performer as he sang songs and told jokes. However, he would often do so in in the guise of characters that he had created. The most famous of these was that of a Church Deacon describing his first ever visit to a football game. He used the characters’ naivete’ to create a scene that made me laugh when i listened to it yesterday, 60 years after it was recorded. Lets see, a stand up comic who creates a character to make ppl laugh, so his style has been copied by every one from Andrew Dice Clay to Sasha Baron Cohen. The next phase of his career, and my first exposure to Andy Griffith, was his first movie role, “A Face in the Crowd”. His portrayal as a hayseed from an Arkansas jail that is turned into a radio sensation by savvy producers and his true nature as an abusive megalomaniac is soon revealed to the detriment of all around him. Although he was no taller than 6 foot, he seemed to physically huge in this role solely due to the power with which he played what was basically an evil creature. In light of my knowledge of this role, his role as Andy Taylor is all the more impressive because he played Andy as a gentle soul, particularly in scenes with Ron Howard, that make him seem not much larger than the young actor he was playing father to. This dichotomy of portrayals got to me to question why Andy Griffith was so interesting and seemingly relevant to me growing up. Now , I understand. Andy Griffith didn’t just play someone from the south. He was the south. And everyone who considers themselves southerners has these two sides because where we come from is so unique.
We are the self destructive region that tried to destroy the United States during the 1860s yet we sent massive amount of our former soldiers out west just a decade later to fight the Indian Wars. We are generally suspicious of strangers but we would never fail to show hospitality to a guest. We say “ma’am” and “sir” regardless of whether the ppl we are addressing are older than us or not. We have always struggled with our racial issues and yet our states are the most demographically diverse of any region in the country. We may not talk to our neighbors but we are the first to bring food when they lose a loved one. We are a land of large farms and major cities.We have floods and droughts. We have mountains and beaches. We are believed to be bible toting gun nuts, but throughout history we have been the vanguard of the pacifists movements. We barbecue all the meats the same and yet we cover it with a thousand different varieties of sauces. I am proud to be a southerner and yet I detest the dumb asses that fly the Rebel Flag. It is a confusing contradiction to live in a land that brings out such diverse and yet unified points of view about everything. But really isn’t that contradiction, that unpredictability, the thing makes the ppl who live here so interesting?


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