[Me, second row from the right, 2nd seat]
Growing up I lived in a neighborhood where people didn’t knock on doors. Either the doors were left open, or we just walked in. Sometimes we barged in, and at times the velocity of our enthusiasm made it seem as if flew in. We announced our presence with a staccato shout of “are you here”, or maybe “I’m here, are you home?” sometimes we simply called out the person’s name, but we seldom if ever knocked.
We answered the door after hearing a soft knock. Rochelle was standing on our front porch. She lived one house away and was the perfect age for both of my sisters and me to play with. She was a year older than one of us, the same age as another, and a year or two younger than the other one of us. We all loved her. My sisters and I didn’t give much thought to who we played with. Our friends were the kids that lived on our block, but Rochelle made each one of us feel like she liked us best.
All three of us made fun of the way Rochelle dressed. With no regard or interest in fashion she combined prints decades before Missoni made it derigueur. She stood on our porch wearing a solid color winter coat. Stark still she announced that her father was dead. He simply dropped dead.
Marty was virile and handsome. He was tall with a full head of dark wavy hair. The kind of man that looked good in a white short sleeved T-shirt. The type of man that appeared strong and healthy. Marty died shoveling snow outside his two story attached brick house in Brooklyn. In my neighborhood we pushed the snow to the edge of the sidewalk, piling it high enough to clear a path, but not so high as to prevent you from walking over it to get to your car.
They carried Marty inside and laid him on the couch. Someone must have removed his black rubber goulashes that were most likely pock marked and stained by the rock salt he would have spread to form some traction to make the sidewalk safe for all of us. Rochelle stayed our house. My dad went over to be with Tessie. Marty had a fatal heart attack. He was thirty-six. He was the first person I ever knew that died. It was a Tuesday.
There was static on the radio in my office yesterday, so I shut it off and listened to music for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until I was in my car at the end of the day that I heard the NPR announcer say Andy Griffith had died.
My parents had a TV in their bedroom when I was growing up. Whenever my mother was convinced that I was sick enough to stay home from school I’d spend the day watching television in their bed. I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and my favorite The Andy Griffith Show. The make believe town of Mayberry featured an understanding and wise father, a precocious but respectful son, a loving mother figure, and a wacky much beloved cast of characters.
Throughout the day my mom would bring me hot tea and toast and sit with me for a while. It was unusual in my house to get much alone time, as my mom tried to divide her attention equally among all of us. I relished the individual attention I got before my mom went back to doing her chores. She would come up periodically to check on me, or sometimes I would call her to change the channel. I grew up before televisions came with remote controls.
I pictured living in a town where everyone knew each other, and watched out for one another. I envied the fictional Taylor family’s Sunday Supper. My family was kosher. On special occasions our Sunday Supper was Chinese food on paper plates. Even though I loved eating spare ribs and fried rice, I longed to be eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, Jews don’t eat gravy. I wanted to be served mile high slices of chocolate cake alongside a cold glass of milk that would be poured from a glass pitcher. In my house we demolished gallon after gallon of milk on a daily basis. The cake was Entenmans; albeit delicious it wasn’t homemade by the fictional Aunt Bea.
After leaving home what I came to realize is that I did come from a place where everyone knew each other, and cared about the well-being of one another. There has never been a time in my life when watching The Andy Griffith Show hasn’t made me happy.
That show was the personification of a loving family. When I was a little girl I thought I was watching characters so unlike me. In fact I was just like them. As a child my family cared deeply about me. They continue to love and support me. I have had many father-daughter talks with my dad, very much like the kind that Sheriff Taylor had with Opie. My family and neighbors still watch out for me.
Andy Griffith is remembered as being kind and generous. During a past interview NPR played yesterday of Mr. Griffith he said he was jealous of Dick Van Dyke back in the day because the Dick Van Dyke Show had higher ratings. I loved that show as well. Dick Van Dyke is so funny and talented, but Andy Griffith made me feel as if I belonged. Yesterday Ron Howard, the now famous director, once child actor that played the part of Opie was interviewed. He talked about how much he loved and admired Andy Griffith. How Mr. Griffith played a large part in shaping his character. I don’t think we really know what makes us the kind of person we ultimately become but the memory of my mother caring for me, and my dad caring for all of us gives me the feeling that I really did grow up in Mayberry.
Andy Griffith died yesterday in his home state of North Carolina at the age of eighty-six. It was a Tuesday. Rest in peace. I will miss knowing you are in the world Mr. Griffith.