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Mayberry and Human Value

John W. Pinkerton


After a thirty minute interview with the superintendent of the Somerville Independent School District, I was offered and accepted a one-year contract to teach English in the high school.  Before that day, I had never heard of Somerville nor had I ever considered teaching---I was there on a lark just killing time.

The school year started in earnest a couple of days later, and the teachers were asked to attend a PTA meeting immediately after the school day.  Four elderly ladies appeared and began singing a cappella harmony.  I was a little amused, but also informed by this that I might have landed in Mayberry.  I began to explore the town a little farther stopping in the drugstore---yes, marble countertop and sodas---they made a good steak sandwich.  The drugstore was a further clue that I may have landed in Mayberry.

I've always liked work, and I worked very hard at my new job, and I think that folks took note of this and at least did not disapprove.  In general folks, although suspicious of an outsider, at least were friendly.

I signed up for a second year.

What brought Mayberry to mind recently was an email from an ex-student who is and has been in California for years.  He said that he was watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show.  He said he often watches the shows early in his mornings.  It was reassuring to me that I wasn't alone.

I have often said that Happy Days was for me more of a documentary than a comedy.  The Andy Griffith Show reflects the values I grew up with.  Somerville to a large extent still holds on to these values.

Although a lot of horrible things have happened to the citizens of Somerville---they were not self-inflicted wounds: a mass murder of six members of a family---the murderer was not from Somerville; greed inspired lawsuits against the tie plant because of cancers blamed on the plant (The Chicago law firm never won a single case.), a young Somerville man had his eyes shot out (The shooter was from Brenham, not Somerville.)

The Andy Griffith Show ran from 1960 to 1968.  Andy Taylor, local sheriff (Andy Griffith) has a common-sense approach to life and the law  which he uses to thwart criminals and protect  townsfolks from their own follies.  The townspeople are pictured as rural and simple: Gomer Pyle, gas station attendant (Jim Nabors); Otis, town drunk (Hal Smith); Deputy Barney Fife, Andy's sidekick (Don Knotts); Opie, Andy Taylor's son (Ron Howard); Aunt Bee, unmarried aunt and housekeeper for Andy (Frances Bavier).

Some of the minor but memorable characters include: Goober Pyle, service station attendant (George Lindsey); Floyd, barber (Howard McNear).

My personal all-time favorite has got to be Ernest T. Bass, hillbilly extraordinaire and expert rock chunker, (Howard Morris).  Ernest T.'s catchphrases were "You ain't seen the last of Ernest T. Bass!" and "Howdy do to you and you. It's me, it's me, it's Ernest T.!"

In spite of their lack of perfection, each character has good intentions. This is also true of the vast majority of the folks of Somerville.

Both Mayberry and Mount Pilot are inspired by Andy Griffith's home town and a nearby larger community in North Carolina.

I guess the lesson taught to us by the folks of Mayberry is that everyone has value and something positive to offer the world.  If we listen to them, we will learn something. 

This is the reason we wave at each other in the South: we suspect that even folks we have never met have value.

Griffith acknowledged that the show reflected the values he grew up with and probably explains why he never again played a character like Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes in the dramatic movie A Face in the Crowd early in his career.  Griffith's character only cared about himself and exploited others.

True or not, I will always see Somerville as a version of Mayberry.  Unlike Mayberry, Somerville is a mixed-race community, but everyone has value.

Somerville will soon have a lot folks joining our community because of a number of housing developments.  My hope is that the new folks will remember that everyone has value.