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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

Morning Paper

The older I get the earlier I awake. If the trend continues, I ‘m concerned I might be rising at 4:00 a.m., eating supper by 3:00 p.m. and hitting the hay at 8:00. The jokes about senior citizens early bird dinner specials starting at mid-afternoon taking on a different, more practical meaning to me.

“You know,” I say to my wife, Yolanda, “and I’m not saying we’ll ever do this, but eating early kinda makes sense if you’re startin’ the day before dawn. I mean, think about the pioneers, Ben Franklin, early to bed, early to rise…all that jazz.”

“Iy, vato,” she says, slipping into Spanish when aggravated, “you’re staying awake with me until 10 to watch the news.  I’m not ready to live with an old man.”

Often, around 9:30, I’ll nudge her awake, both of us asleep on the couch and we’ll stumble upstairs to bed. With the hard-earned judgment of a man married for over twenty years, I make no comment about living with an “old woman.”

As was so often the case, Ben Franklin was correct regarding the pluses to rising early. I can write, check email, and take a soul-centering run through my silent, slumbering small town. It also allows time to read the morning paper while drinking a couple of cups of steaming coffee, two practices which Ben would approve. The solitary act of reading the newspaper gives me the chance to consider the news of the day at my pace with no hyperactive news anchors, flashing “ALERTS,” or gold commercials touting the end of the world. (Apparently a lock box filled with precious metal will, according to G. Gordon Liddy, make economic Armageddon more palatable since those of us with gold will yield a profit.)

A newspaper contains none of these distractions. We are in control of the process, interacting with a newspaper in ways we do not with other media. We read what we choose, lingering over an article or ad that catches our attention, scanning past those that do not.  We separate the thin pages with our fingertips, smell the “fresh off the press” scent, hear the snap, crackle, pop as we crisply fold it to the shape we desire.

Of course, not everyone has time to read the paper in the morning or has delivery available. When I lived in downtown Chicago and rode the El to work I purchased the Chicago Sun-Times at a newspaper stand. I chose the Sun-Times not because I thought it was a better paper than the Tribune, but for its tabloid design which made it easier to read on a crowded train. When Yolanda and I lived in Dallas and drove to work, dropping the kids off at daycare along the way, there was no time to read the Dallas Morning News.  Busy with two toddlers up to bed time, we never woke up any earlier than necessary. So I’d read the paper on my lunch break as I munched on a sandwich.

Newspaper readers also have the choice to prioritize sections per individual tastes. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren famously said: “I always turn to the sports page first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

As a sports fan, and a person who grows weary of what seems to be an increasingly dysfunctional world, I enjoy the sports page as well. The Champaign-Urbana based News-Gazette, our daily, has one of the best. But I save sports for last. First, because for me, like Earl Warren, it is the most entertaining and satisfying section so I savor it like dessert. Second, and more practically, Yolanda and I share a love of the morning paper. Since I rise about an hour before her, there is usually no conflict. But to preserve early morning peace I read the hard news, editorial and local sections before she comes downstairs. These are Yolanda’s favorites and she pours over them like she’s preparing for the bar exam, mumbling in Spanish when, you guessed it, she disagrees with a point of view offered in a column or editorial.

The other section I make sure to look through is the obituaries. Some may think this macabre, but for me the obits are similar to the sport section because they highlight an individual’s accomplishments. Even more so, they provide insight into the deceased’s life by recording lineage, loves, and passions. This is particularly interesting when the individual has lived a long and productive life. The list of parents, spouse, children and siblings go on for paragraphs followed by the place of birth and a recounting of a life from childhood to death. Even in the tragedy of a life cut short, there is always a paragraph or two about the individual’s love of family, friends, music, reading, model trains, doll houses, school or any number of passions. You certainly will never learn such personal things by listening to brief obits on the local radio station.

No, it is only the newspaper which gives us the breadth and depth of coverage we need to digest local, national and international events. From coverage of local bake sales to the machinations of an international economy, from high school softball scores to the Olympics, from the death of a fellow you knew as Frederick, but his friends called “Spud,” the newspaper covers it all.

Most importantly, for an “old man” like me, I don’t have to stay up until 10:00 p.m. to learn about it all.

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Filed under 21st Century America, Family, Newspaper, October 2011, Running, Small town America, Sports page