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

A tip o’ the hat.

Dear friends,

Guess what’s swarming all over Manhattan?

Hats.

Fedoras, Boaters, Panamas, Newsboys, Buckets, Berets, every kind of hat imaginable can be seen on men and women of all ages and all styles across the Big Apple.

If I had a buck for every time I turned to Kate during our trip to New York City and declared “I wish I had a HAT!” I could buy . . . well . . .  a hat.

I adore hats though I rarely wear them, save the occasional ball cap worn while canoeing down the river or a Coach rain hat I bought on deep discount and pull out during inclement weather. I try on hats every chance I get, but something always stops me from making the actual purchase.

Here’s one I’ve owned since Kate was a child.

I wore this hat one time. To Kate’s T-ball game in 1999. As I sat in the stands cheering her on, a small child playing nearby wandered over to me and asked “Why are you wearing that hat?”

“Because it’s hot,” I replied. “And I like it.”

“I don’t,” the young girl said very matter-of-factly before wandering off to write her name in the dirt.

I haven’t worn the hat since, though not because of that child’s withering criticism, but because it doesn’t fit particularly well and tends to fly off my head in the slightest breeze.

I keep vowing to buy and wear a fashionable hat and I keep failing to do so. Somehow I think middle-age women wearing hats in Midwestern small towns are a half-step away from crazy cat ladies in the minds of most people. But in New York . . . man would I have been in style.

For a glimpse of the vast array of hats I spotted during my trip to NYC, take a look at Bill Cunningham’s video essay from the New York Times. Bill’s a marvelous observer of style and I watch his segments often.  And who knows . . . maybe you’ll be inspired to buy a hat and I can live vicariously through you.

Bill Cunningham’s hats, hats and more hats.

With gratitude {for my sweet traveling companion who told me I looked lovely in every single hat I tried on during our trip},

Joan, who’s mustering up the courage to buy and/or wear a fashion hat before 2012 ends