The “Real” Andy Taylor of Mayberry
Somewhere wandering loose around Mayberry is a loaded goat. ~Andy Griffith
This is the story of a man who was born in the mid-1920s, the only child of a humble southern family who later settled in southern California. Over his long life he served many roles: husband, father, amateur philosopher, comedian, but is best-known for his position as a much-loved law enforcement officer in an idyllic small town. Though he was not without his faults, he had a generous and kind spirit and a gentle sense of humor. Most people loved him… but some hated him.
I just told, in a nutshell, the life story of the late Andy Griffith. It also happens to be the story of my late grandfather, Don (that’s him on the far right in the photo), whom I miss every day since he died in 2006. Just this past weekend I was reminded how much.
Occasionally we still stumble across lost family relics. This weekend was one of those times. My grandfather was infamous for his squirrel-like tendencies to stash things away. My dad has this trait and so do I. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of looking for insurance papers, we turn up priceless relics as if we were Indiana Jones. In the middle of a box of dusty paperwork we came across a scrapbook detailing my grandfather’s life in the police force.
I knew the basics: started out as a beat cop and eventually became chief of the city of La Mesa police department. Loved his job but rarely talked about it. Received commendations from city councilmen all the way up to the President. But that, as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, was only half the story. The scrapbook was the next best thing to having him back to talk about old times.
Life was, to use a cliche, a lot simpler back then. Car accidents and teenagers stealing hubcaps, not rapes and brutal homicides, dominated the police blotter. The sale of alcohol to minors was a city-wide topic for gossip. Kids could walk around outside, without supervision, without fear of abduction or worse. It wasn’t a perfect world but it was perhaps preferable to the broken, paranoid one we live in today.
I’d like to think my grandfather stood for something good. I like to envision him, like the fictional Sheriff Andy Taylor, as a kind of modern-day knight errant. And, if the scrapbook was any indication, he was. He once saved a toddler from death by choking, and drove another wayward child home from a busy street. It was his regular practice to randomly pull over motorists for “good driving” and reward them with free movie tickets. In between his many duties, he found time to volunteer at charity fundraisers and help coach Little League baseball. One of his teams went to the LLWS and participated in a famous game which they lost.
His most important role may have been Dad. Because of him, my dad has the same kind of integrity and character. No matter what anyone says today, that is important. If you will, my dad was the Opie Taylor of southern California. Like Ron Howard, he’s also been successful in his own right.
Of course I still miss my grandfather. He died in 2006 after a long battle with cancer. There’s so much I wish I could ask him, and I’d just about give my right arm to hear his stories about some of the photos in the scrapbook, one of which features a motorist impaled by a metal fence post. (My grandfather was a white knight, but he was no saint.) Instead I cherish the memories I do have of him. I count myself fortunate that I knew the “real” Andy of Mayberry.
What do you remember/love most about your grandparents?
To my American readers, happy Independence Day!