Thursday, July 5, 2012

Whistling and fishing with Andy Griffith

The Andy Griffith Show taught me how to whistle.  The opening was my favorite part of the show.  I would perch on the couch in front of our black & white television in anticipation of that infamous whistle.
That opening scene conjured my appetite for fishing.  Opie, Andy’s son, was my age at the time.  My dad worked two jobs – one at the Shelter Insurance Company by day, and another at a nearby school at night. On the weekends he took me fishing, just like Andy did with Opie.
It was the whistling and fishing that kept me glued to the television.  There was something about the boy my age, and the man who was the age of my father, that kept me excited about the next time we’d go fishing on the land owned by my family.  We would load into my dad’s truck and head to McBaine, MO, less than 20 miles from my home in Columbia, MO.  The trip seemed so far back then.
We didn’t talk much.  My dad said you had to remain quiet because the fish are listening.  The first trick was to find the right spot.  I didn’t think much about the heat back then.  The truth is I didn’t really care much about the fish.  It was the time I shared with my dad – just like Opie and Andy. 
I can’t really tell you what the show was about.  I do remember a few laughs along the way.  Most of them had to do with Deputy Fife.  I remember thinking he was silly.  I remember the gun he carried. No bullets, just a gun.  I remember Otis, the town drunk. One day I asked my mama if every town had a drunk.  It seemed odd that he spent so much time in jail. I wondered why they called the housekeeper Aunt Bee when she was the housekeeper.
Mayberry was nothing like my home town.  We had more than one town drunk, and the police carried guns with bullets.  My mom spent time cleaning people’s houses, but they never called her aunt.  It was the whistling and fishing that kept me coming back to the couch.  It was the image of a father and son - alone fishing.  It’s every boys dream.
I remember my first trip to Mount Airy, NC.  It was then that I learned the show was based on Griffith’s life growing up in the small town near the mountain that looks like a woman’s breast.  It seemed odd being there.  It made me wonder about the things missing on the show.  No black people.  No mention of racial tension during a time when the South was embattled over black folks wanting more than a dream and leftovers.  The show failed to reflect the truth of the world near the pond where Andy and Opie caught fish.
You have to smile about that.  Really.  You have to smile.  Little boys like me needed more than explosive images of black children beaten with water flowing from hoses.  There was enough to attack the minds of boys like me who desired the love of daddy.  It’s why I love Andy Griffith.  He taught me to whistle.  He made me think about fishing.
He was just like my daddy, and Opie was just like me.
Thank you Andy Griffith.  This whistle is for you.

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