Here in the South, if you are of a certain age, you have two families at least. The first is the family you’re born into. About that, you have no real say in the matter. Your second family consists of the people who, like you, grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show.” Like you, they believe that Mayberry is a real place, even though they know it isn’t, and yet it still is, really, just as real as the actual place they grew up, perhaps more so in some important way.
If that last sentence makes sense to you, you’re probably one of us. That means you probably know all the episodes by heart, even the ones shot in color after Don Knotts left for the bright lights of Hollywood. It means that you know the real names of the actors who played the important characters, and just about all of them were important. Andy and Barney were the main characters, of course, but any member of the family knows that Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea), Ron Howard (Opie), Howard McNear (Floyd the barber), Jim Nabors (Gomer), Hal Smith (Otis), Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou), and Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump) were every bit as crucial to the show as Andy and Barney. These were not just one-dimensional supporting characters but fully realized, vividly fleshed out human beings with indelible personalities of their own. In any given episode, one of them might be the protagonist instead of Andy or Barney. Any one of them could easily carry the show for as many episodes as the writers wished, and each had turns at being “the star.”
Aunt Bea relishing her “kerosense cucumbers.” Opie raising his baby birds. Thelma Lou refusing to be in Barney’s “hip pocket.” Gomer trying to repay Andy for saving his life. We know and remember every episode. In a way, they have mixed in among our own childhood memories, since many of us first saw these episodes as children and have seen them countless times since. Watching reruns of the show is, for us, akin to pulling out the family photograph album and remembering when. We love getting together with other members of “the family” and reminiscing.
“Remember that time when Andy and Barney were trying to help Goober get a girl?”
Ah, yes, Goober Pyle, played by George Lindsey. Goober was introduced to the show in 1964 as Gomer’s slightly less sophisticated cousin (“Goober ain’t stupid,” said Gomer. “He’s ugly, but he ain’t stupid.”). Goober worked at Wally’s filling station and almost always sported a beanie with turned-up edges that made him look like Mayberry’s court jester, which he was, but only at times, because none of Mayberry’s characters were ever that simple, just as real people are not.
As a young fellow, I often identified with Goober, who was shy and uneasy around girls, always relying on jokes and impressions of movie stars like Cary Grant or Edward G. Robinson in an attempt to impress them, always measuring himself against more experienced, worldly competition and coming up short, always awkward, hesitant, and uncertain. In spite of this, onward he plunged into the dense thicket of romance, armed only with the dullest butterknife to try to clear a path and find his way. That’s EXACTLY how I felt as well, inept and awkward, but propelled forward by forces I could neither comprehend nor resist. Over and over I stumbled, but, like Goober, I kept flailing away.
As Barney Fife put it in his pep talk to Goober, “Andy’s got a girl, I’ve got a girl, all God’s children got a girl.”
If Goober could find a girl, maybe I could, too. If Goober could keep trying, why shouldn’t I?
There are a lot of great Goober moments in the show, but my favorite may be an episode late in the series in which Goober forgets his razor on a camping trip, comes back with a scruffy beard, and then becomes convinced that he has become an intellectual because Andy, Floyd, and Aunt Bea tell him he looks “different,” and Goober longs more than anything to be different, to be as wise, successful, and self-assured as anyone else. Heavily influenced as he always is by the power of suggestion, Goober becomes overconfident to the point of being unbearable, pontificating on any and every subject to any and every person until Andy finally explodes (he was more irritable in the colored episodes, I submit) and tells him to shut up. Goober is chastened, fairly limping out of the barbershop in humiliation. But then we see him again at the weekly meeting of the town’s history club, offering a tentative and mercifully brief remark on the industrial revolution, followed by a self-effacing comment and that trademark grin.
Once again, Goober had gathered his pride, courage, and determination, and plunged ahead into the wilderness of human interaction.
Just a few short days ago, George “Goober” Lindsey died after a brief illness at the age of 83. He joins Don Knotts, Hal Smith, Frances Bavier, Howard McNear, Aneta Corsaut, and Jack Dodson, among others, who have gone on to that Mayberry that, in a way, exists in everyone who is part of this particular family, the Mayberry that is permanent and unchanging, the Mayberry where there is always time to make homemade ice cream on the porch on Sunday after church, where you can catch up on the local gossip in Floyd’s Barber Shop, and where on a warm summer night, you can hear Andy strumming his guitar all the way to the end of Maple Street.