A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


An open letter to Sheriff Andy Taylor, Mayberry, N.C.:

You may not remember me.I wrote to you about 28 years ago when your TV program, ďThe Andy Griffith Show,Ē was popular to tell you why your son Opieís back pockets used to always smell kind of fishy.And then I wrote again about a year later to ask how there got to be so many people in Mayberry if nobody in the whole town Ė so far as I could tell Ė was married.

Yeah, that was me.And Iím back.

But donít worry.Iím not really concerned about those things any more.Iíve got a more pressing question in mind right now, and I think youíre just the person to answer it.

What in heavenís name is going on?

Itís not like I hold you responsible or anything.As near as I can tell, everything was OK back when you were in charge.Thatís the problem.You left (I hear you became a lawyer Ė say it ainít so!) and now look at us.Itís like the Gubers and Gomers of the world have taken over, only theyíre not just running the filling stations Ė you know what I mean?

You want specifics?

OK Ė but youíre not going to believe some of this stuff.

Like, for example, religion.You know how you used to be a little suspicious of anyone who didnít go to church every week?Well, these days itís the other way around.If you happen to mention to someone that youíre a regular church-goer, they figure thereís something wrong with you or that youíre up to something Ė usually no good.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the change in attitude.Weíve had more than our share of wolves in shepherdís clothing.And the media, which almost never reports the good things churches are doing in the world, almost never misses a chance to tell people when active church members go bad (even though you never read that a crime was committed by ďJohn Doe, who hasnít stepped inside a church in 30 yearsĒ).

The American family has also changed quite a bit Ė and not just because the kids are wearing their baseball caps sideways.The change here has less to do with appearances and more to do with how the family itself works Ė or doesnít work, as the case may be.Many parents have abdicated their responsibilities in the home.They lay the blame for drug abuse on societyís doorstep.Teen pregnancy, they say, can be traced to deficiencies in the educational system.And if a teenager is overweight, itís televisionís fault.

All of which reminds me of how you handled it when Opie killed that mamma bird.Remember?You didnít blame Howard Sprague or Helen Krump or even Barney Fife, who got blamed for just about everything.You just took it upon yourself to teach Opie right and wrong even though you were a single parent and a busy working professional.And look how well little Opie turned out, and what a positive influence he was on that Fonzie fellow later on in his life.

Donít get me wrong.There are some terrific parents who are doing some great work.But the hectic pace of modern life, and the varied (and yes, sometimes selfish) interests of some parents have resulted in a de-emphasis of the family as an influential, causative American institution.In your day everyone pretty much agreed that the family was the basic unit of society.Today that distinction probably goes to the movie rental store.

And I havenít even mentioned the plague of drug abuse.Or AIDS.Or whatís been going on in the entertainment industry.On the bright side, has anyone told you that Communism is dead and the Berlin Wall came down slicker than if it had been put up with Velcro?

Uh . . . Iíll have to explain Velcro to you some other time.

Itís a new world, one that takes some getting used to even for those of us who have been here living in it all along.While some things have become easier with time, others have become much more difficult.But weíre gong to keep trying.Thatís what youíd tell Opie.Youíd say, ďDonít give up!Be true to yourself!Be a good neighbor!ĒAnd then youíd go fishing.

So even though it sounds like a pretty simplistic approach to complicated problems and social issues, Iím going to follow your advice Ė fictional though you may be. Iím not going to give up.Iím going to be true to myself and to what I believe.And Iím going to try to be a good neighbor.The way I see it, whatís good enough for Opie is good enough for me.

Except for one thing: can I carry my fish someplace else besides my back pocket?