My love affair with Mayberry.

Dear friends,

If you know anything about me at all, you know I am an incurable small-town inhabitant.

I’ve lived in big cities – Los Angeles and Boston among them – and I delight in treks to New York and Chicago and Atlanta, but my heart has always been in Mayberry.

And, for me, Mayberry is more than a metaphor, more than easy shorthand for the kind of sweet, safe place we all long to believe in.  Mayberry is my home, or at least what I still profess my hometown to be and what I know small towns and communities all across America still are. Mayberry is real. Mayberry is true. At a time when it’s tempting to succumb to cynicism and divisiveness and a rampant strain of civic cholera that drains us of any sense of collective destiny, Mayberry has the power to darn the raveled edges of our humanity.

For some, Mayberry is nothing more than a fictional town from a television show so long gone as to be culturally irrelevant. With this week’s passing of Andy Griffith, many have paused to reflect on the man and his career, as well as his iconic character that epitomized the notion of Mayberry and came along just when American television viewers were eager to welcome a common-sense hero into their living rooms every week.

I grew up watching Andy and Barney and Aunt Bea, both in the show’s original run and in syndication.  But I also grew up in my own Mayberry where folks like Goober and Helen and Floyd were literally around the corner and made my childhood seem as idyllic as Opie’s. It wasn’t, of course, idyllic. My family and my community fared no better or worse than most in our state, but I somehow clung to the notion that a tight-knit group of folks could keep the ship afloat no matter the size of the swells ahead.

I read in the New York Times this week that “Eventually, the tumult and accelerated pace of the decade pushed The Andy Griffith Show aside, but not the notion that the moral center of the country lives somewhere in a small town.” The assertion made me cringe, though I’ve certainly promulgated the idea (chiefly through the writing of my former blog that was little more than a three-year love letter to my hometown).

Maybe I flinched because “moral center” has become such a politicized notion these days that I immediately thought of “Joe the Plumber” and the kind of fabricated, exploited, wholly manipulated dialogue that passes for civic debate in American modern life.  “Hogwash!” I thought to myself as I read the Times. Our moral center resides anywhere and everywhere two or more souls work together for a common good. I’ve seen it in my own Mayberry, I’ve observed it on the street I live on now, and I witnessed it on a corner last week in New York City. Just as my notion of God transcends a single doctrinal definition, my notion of collective conscience isn’t limited to a certain kind and size of town in a specific kind of place. The story of Mayberry is a particularly American script, but its narrative and characters and morals can be found anywhere we want it to be, anytime – like Andy — we allow kindness to trump cruelty, respect to outman contempt, gratitude to best greed.

Those inclinations are what Andy embodied, and they flourished in my hometown, which is why I love it so.  But the Mayberry I believe in will always be a reflection of the capacity of the resident’s hearts, not the size of the town.

With gratitude {for the blessings of having resided in more than one Mayberry in my lifetime},

Joan, who’ll always be Joan-Marie to the folks in her favorite Mayberry

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Comments

  1. Don Hill says:

    Back in the day, Dots was Nell’s , owned and operated by my wifes Aunt ,Nell Sparks, quite a legend on Main Street. Sign was the same except the little one on top read NELL’S. D&H

  2. I’d agree. Having spent a couple of runs of years in very small towns, I found it was the size of the heart in the resident, not the size of the town the resident occupied, that made all the difference. There are wonderfully warm hearted and open minded people in every sized burg, and wonderful places to live in of all sizes.

    All in all I like my towns like I like my cars, apparently. Mid-sized is juuuuust right.

  3. Maridel says:

    This is a beautiful sentence, Joan-Marie: “At a time when it’s tempting to succumb to cynicism and divisiveness and a rampant strain of civic cholera that drains us of any sense of collective destiny, Mayberry has the power to darn the raveled edges of our humanity.”

  4. Well Said. With Gratitude for a love shared for that same Mayberry, spiritually, idyllically and geogrphically.

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