Last updated: June 17. 2014 3:37PM - 516 Views
By Mary Katherine Murphy mmurphy@civitasmedia.com

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LAURINBURG — In the 45 years since “The Andy Griffith Show” left the air, its following has only continued to grow, with children and teenagers as well as those old enough to have seen the show during its original run left with a sense of nostalgia for a world as black and white as the series’ first five seasons.

One of more than 1,400 chapters of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, headed by Laurinburg’s Dewey Lamb, gathered for a semiannual meeting, cookout and trivia contest on Saturday. The chapter name, “Shakedown! Shakedown!,” recalls an incident in which Sheriff Andy Taylor’s deputy, Barney Fife, searched two inhabitants of the county jail.

As those present racked their brains for traces of the nickname of Barney’s gun, movies the characters went to see, and the name of the game warden who caught Andy fishing without a license, they also mused about the series’ enduring appeal and the lessons that can still be learned from the denizens of Mayberry.

“People had a lot more manners back then, they dressed a whole lot differently,” said Danielle Walker of Laurinburg.

To turn on any episode of the program is to be transported to a world where simply leaving one’s home constitutes a semi-formal occasion — complete with white gloves for women — and while waiting for a family member to hang up the phone in order to dial onto the Internet now seems a distant memory, in the 1960s party lines necessitated waiting for a neighbor three houses down to hang up before making a call.

“It’s really interesting how he tries to teach his son Opie the value of a dollar; he gives him like a nickel and the kid thinks he has a lot of money,” Walker said of Andy Taylor’s character. “If you have a dollar, that’s almost like a millionaire for Opie. You could go get an ice cream for three cents and he’s happy with it, just a little ice cream; that’s a big deal.”

Having made a hobby of meeting and photographing members of “The Andy Griffith Show” cast since 1989, chapter member Mark Greeson of Wilson passed his personal scrapbook among the 50 people in attendance at Saturday’s gathering. The album may as well have been a family scrapbook for the ensuing recollections of the characters portrayed by those within.

Though he doesn’t include it in the album, Gleeson even scored Griffith’s autograph in 2002 at the opening of the Virginia Dare Bridge in Manteo — an artifact for which he later turned down an offer of $300.

“Cindi (Griffith’s wife) said Andy you don’t have time for this right now, but Andy politely autographed it,” Greeson recalled. “That was real emotional, getting his autograph. I was nervous and I couldn’t believe he signed my book.”

A pair of characters from the shows later seasons, broadcast in color, also made an appearance of sorts on Saturday.

“Howard Sprague was more or less the smart man of the town,” said tribute artist Jeff Branch of Oakboro. “Very clever, he loved to do figures. I never saw myself looking like him, but when I work events I’ll have people tell me I look better than I did on TV — they think I’m actually him.”

Branch’s wife, Tammy, appeared in bright yellow uniform as Howard’s fiancée Millie Swanson, who seldom appeared on the Andy Griffith Show but was further developed on the spinoff series “Mayberry R.F.D.”

Branch, who performs nationwide, said that although the series took place in a small North Carolina town, it transcends geography and even time.

“In the last month I’ve been in Alabama, South Carolina, just recently Indiana and everywhere you turn around, it’s something that people want to go back to,” said Branch. “The love for the show is amazing.”

Another memorable episode, recalled fondly by several on Saturday, is “Opie the Birdman,” which serves, through Opie’s careless killing of a mother bird, as a lesson about choices and their consequences.

“When Andy pointed out to him what he had done, Opie took it upon himself that he made that choice and he raised those birds to the point where they could be released,” Branch said.

Chapter member Lee Cooper of Rocky Mount recalled his favorite episode, entitled “Man In A Hurry,” when a Charlotte businessman finds himself stuck in Mayberry when his car breaks down.

“I think that episode really portrays what the show is all about,” said Cooper. “It’s just a simple way of life. I think a lot of people would like to go back to those days. It’s very well-produced, the writers were excellent, the dialogue was just unbelievable.”

Initially in a hurry to have his car repaired before speeding off to a meeting, the outsider is reluctant to leave when his car is fixed.

“People were being so nice to him; it’s a stop and smell the roses type of show,” Greeson said knowingly. “Slow down in life a little bit.”

Reach Civitas Media reporter Mary Katherine Murphy at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.

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