As much as we'd like to think otherwise, there never has been a real Mayberry, N.C.
But Andy Griffith, who passed away Tuesday at age 86, created one for us, largely modeled after his hometown of Mount Airy, every week in homes all across America. Griffith portrayed widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor, a single dad bringing up his son, Opie, in an ideal Southern town where Taylor didn't bother to tote a gun, the town drunk was considerate enough to lock himself up on Friday nights, the biggest crime wave you could expect would be elderly sisters making moonshine, the biggest dangers you faced were Aunt Bee's kerosene pickles and the occasional goat loaded with dynamite, and you always came home from the fishing hole with a good-sized mess.
And when you got home, Aunt Bee had supper ready, and then there'd be ice cream eating and guitar playing on the front porch, and sometimes your head wouldn't hit the pillow nearly a quarter till eleven.
It wasn't heaven, but once a week for a half-hour, it sure felt a good bit like it.
Griffith was an intensely private man, but the legacy he left us was tremendous. The show had a slew of eccentric characters -- Deputy Barney Fife, his one bullet in his pocket, always wanting to "nip it in the bud" when outbreaks of lawlessness like jaywalking surfaced; Aunt Bee; Otis the town drunk; Floyd the barber; Gomer and Goober, the mechanic cousins; Howard the clerk; Emmitt the fix-it guy; the Darling family, and one of my all time favorites, Ernest T. Bass, an irascible, rock-throwing hillbilly with the heart of a romantic poet.
At its heart, though, the show revolved around Griffith and his relationship with Opie. Sheriff Taylor wasn't infallable and he often made mistakes, but he always ended up setting things right. The concept worked for 11 years, including three after Griffith finally took off his badge. And it probably would've gone on for several more years if misguided CBS officials hadn't gone and canceled every show that had a dirt road in it in 1971.
Andy Taylor, of course, wasn't the only character Griffith portrayed. His had a second memorable run as Atlanta defense lawyer Ben Matlock. He was a power-ruined entertainer in "A Face in the Crowd." And, of course, he was the classic Will Stockdale, a country bumpkin who befuddled Army officials in "No Time for Sergeants." In one role, Griffith was a ruthless villain, something that never set quite right with me.
But "The Andy Griffth Show," the marvelous black-and-white episodes, are the work he did that will be best remembered. They were stories about people who cared about each other, characters who reminded you of folks you knew, facing funny situations that weren't out of the realm of possibility. And you didn't mind them dropping in every week because they never cussed, talked about sex and body parts, broke wind or ridiculed anybody, which are the things that pass for humor these days.
Except for Ron Howard, the folks who created Mayberry are gone now. But they left us with a treasure that is every bit as good today as it was when it started in 1960.
And there's no way to know what heaven's like till you get there, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Andy didn't walk through the Pearly Gates late Tuesday morning, hop in a squad car with Barney and on head up to Aunt Bee's -- just in time for some fried chicken and hot biscuits.
Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricksalbanyherald.com.