Category Archives: Situation Comedies

Mayberry is Real, Happy Valley a Myth

At first blush the death of Andy Griffith and the release of Louis B. Freeh’s findings regarding the Penn State pedophilia scandal seem unrelated.

Griffith’s most famous role was as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the mythical town of Mayberry where the sun shone and showers fell as needed, folks were amiable and any feuds were settled within each half-hour episode. Crime was limited to moonshiners, carnival shell game barkers and snake oil salesman, all of whom Andy outsmarted and rendered justice upon.  Even Otis the town drunk was responsible enough to lock himself up when he had his fill.

With Griffith’s death some pundits have pointed out the obvious, that Mayberry was not real. It did not reflect the times in which it was made, the tumult of the sixties not descending upon Andy, Barney, Opie, Aunt Bee and the rest.

But that is missing the point.

The great movie, “A Face in the Crowd,” is evidence that Griffith was well-aware of the dark side of small-town life and the American dream. Griffith and the other creators of the TV show, the writers, directors and producers were intelligent people. They knew Mayberry existed only as an ideal. But it was one based on love of family, kindness toward your fellow man and a gentle humor regarding the absurdity that is this life. Unlike so much entertainment today which sinks to the lowest common denominator, the “Andy Griffith Show” spoke to the better angels of our souls, a place in the hearts of all people of good will who long for a gentler world. There was no intent to deceive or fool the audience, but rather an effort to create a world worth aspiring to.

The creators and producers of the longest running show at Happy Valley, the Penn State football team, were less idealistic. The Andy Taylor of this mythical place was Joe Paterno. The English major turned coach whose teams won the “the right way,” with players graduating on time and nary a whiff of scandal. Joe Pa set the pace, living by the same high standards he demanded of his players, residing in a modest home near campus, donating millions to the university. Maybe only John Wooden was as respected both as a man and a coach as Joe Paterno.

But as real as Mayberry was in terms of ideals, Happy Valley was a fraud.

It is difficult to understand how group think motivates otherwise smart people like Paterno, then President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz to allegedly cover up wrongs in the name of a “greater good.”  Money, of course, the perennially winning Penn State football program makes a fortune for the university in the form of ticket sales, memorabilia and bowl games. Paterno’s reputation for fair play and the Happy Valley mystique is attractive to tuition paying parents and their children who see it as a safe haven. Proud alums and others wishing to be associated with such a prestigious, well-thought of institution donate millions to endowments. But even greed cannot explain the rationalizations that had to occur in order to cover for a predator like Jerry Sandusky. To, as Freeh stated, participate in “an active agreement to conceal.”

Whether it is the Catholic Church protecting pedophile priests or a university not reporting suspected child molestation somehow the powers at be lose sight of the reason their institution exists: to serve others. The “reputation” of the institution takes precedence over its mission. Unlike Mayberry, where wrong doers answered for their crimes, at Happy Valley a pedophile was sheltered from prosecution for at least a decade because of concerns his actions might damage the football team and the university. And, according to Freeh’s report, Joe Pa was hip deep in the cover up. A note from Curley indicated that he changed his mind about reporting Sandusky “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe.”

When we moved to Hoopeston fifteen years ago some of my friends, knowing my fondness for the “Andy Griffith Show,” and discovering I walked to my office on Main Street next to the movie theater, asked how things were in “Mayberry.” After being raised in small towns and living in Chicago and Dallas, my wife, Yolanda, and I were looking for a slower pace to raise our kids. But we never deluded ourselves into thinking we had arrived at some worry free nirvana. To that point, a coach at a junior high in a nearby town was recently convicted of child molestation.

Big town or small, we all know evil exists in this world.

Yet there are moments when visiting with fellow parishioners after Saturday night Mass, walking home from church along shaded brick streets, greeted by honked horns and friendly waves, that we get a taste of Mayberry. The fact these moments are fleeting amongst an ever coarsening world make them all the more worth savoring.

In that sense, the ideals of Mayberry and its humble leader, Sheriff Andy Taylor, are real.

It is the Happy Valleys and Joe Pas of this world that are myth.

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Filed under 21st Century America, Andy Griffith Show, Catholic Church, Crime, Don Knotts, Exploitation, Family, Football, Friends, Happy Valley, Institutions, Joe Paterno, July 2012, Mayberry, Penn State, Situation Comedies, Small town America, Sports page, The Movies

Empty Nesters

It was two years ago, September. My wife, Yolanda, and I lay in bed talking before going to sleep. Our oldest child, Michael, was in his first weeks of college. He was out of the house and, to a certain degree, out of mind.

“You know,” Yolanda said, “this hasn’t been as tough as I thought. I mean, I miss Michael, but actually I’m OK. I feel guilty that I don’t feel worse.”

Now this is coming from a woman who, after we left Michael in his dorm (I’ll never forget my last image of Michael that day as he sat alone, fingers drumming the dorm desk, gazing out the window at the campus below) broke down in tears minutes later in a booth at a nearby restaurant.

“We should’ve made him come to lunch with us,” she said between sobs, “he has to be hungry.”

“Mom,” our daughter, Anissa, said sliding an arm over her shoulder, “he’ll find food. Look, you can see the dorm from here. He’s only a hundred yards away from a restaurant.”

Yolanda dabbed her tears. The three of us smiled, then laughed, reassured that with the school cafeteria and a number of restaurants and grocery stores within a mile of campus that Michael would find food and survive the day.

Of course Yolanda was not worried about Michael getting fed.  Nor was she, that night weeks later, saying she no longer thought about her son on a daily basis. She was just expressing the contradictory feelings that most parents encounter as our children leave home. In our case, the transition was eased by the fact that Anissa was with us for another two years before she scampered off to college. So it has only been the last ten weeks that Yolanda and I, along with our Sheltie, Sammy, have had the house to ourselves.

“How’s it going, you empty nesters?” folks say, eyebrows arched.

“Pretty good, overall,” I respond,  with a wink, “although Sammy misses the kids. Yolanda’s paying more attention to him since they left.  Plus, she’s speaking in Spanish to him. That’s never a good sign. Heck, in human years, the guy’s fifty some year’s old, I think he’d like his space.”

A bitter pill to swallow, but yes, even our dog wants some separation from us.

Some people deal with the empty nest transition better than others, with a few sinking into depression, experiencing a lost sense of purpose. There are miles of articles, advice columns, academic studies and even support groups available for parents to utilize in assisting them to navigate through this period of life.

I do not foresee such circumstances for Yolanda and I because we have raised our children to leave. That is, after all, one of the main objectives of this whole parenthood exercise. Sure, we miss them and sometimes wax nostalgic. But we know it is time for them to venture forth and for us as well.

“Honey,” I said to Yolanda that fall night two years ago, “you don’t feel bad because you know Michael is where he’s supposed to be, doing what he should be doing. He’s happy, you’re happy.”

Years ago, before the kids arrived on the scene, I watched reruns of the Andy Griffith Show on a regular basis. I particularly like the black and white version with Don Knotts. There are many hilarious scenes that come to mind. But one moment that has stayed with me occurs when Andy tells Aunt Bee that she should not feel compelled to marry a man she does not love because she thinks it will be best for Andy.  In Aunt Bee’s mind she is freeing Andy from what she sees as a burden: her presence.

Andy tells her: “Among folks that love each other, like we do, nothing can be best for us unless it’s best for you.”

Yolanda and I are empty nesters. Sometimes the house seems deserted.  Sammy may need therapy, or at least Spanish lessons, but he’ll survive. Our kids are content, so we are content. What’s best for them is best for us.

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Filed under 21st Century America, August 2011, Baby Boomers, Don Knotts, Empty Nesters, Family, November 2011, Sheltie Dogs, Situation Comedies, Small town America