I was driving from Center Hill Lake in Tennessee, headed back home to Georgia, late in the summer of 2017. Our oldest grandchild, Abby, was riding with me. My wife, Jane, daughter Carrie, and Abby’s siblings, Melanie and Walt, were in another vehicle behind us.
I don’t know exactly where we were when I noticed a sheriff’s car parked on the side of the road. There was a fleeting moment of trepidation as I checked my speedometer. But that tinge of fear quickly turned to joy as I read the caption on the trunk. Printed In bold letters was “In God We Trust.”
It reminded me of The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s. They only had one patrol car in Mayberry. It didn’t have that caption on it, but that message was conveyed in many episodes.
I miss Sheriff Andy Taylor. He did an exceptional job in Mayberry of keeping the peace. Their county had the lowest crime rate in North Carolina. Andy did that mostly on his own, without much help from his close friend, Deputy Barney Fife. Barney’s enthusiasm for following the letter of the law was an ongoing problem. He rarely let common sense interfere with enforcing the many codes he knew so well.
There were numerous episodes where Barney’s good intentions became recipes for disaster. Andy would usually solve the problems in such a way that Barney seemed more like a hero than a goat. Andy had a knack for that sort of thing. He didn’t worry about getting credit for what he did. He was happy letting Barney bask in the glory of unmerited praise. Barney would straighten his tie and puff out his chest as Andy returned the single bullet his deputy was allowed to keep in his shirt pocket.
Andy was a wonderful father as well. Opie was a good kid but occasionally distracted by his peers. Andy would have a chat with him and always knew the right thing to say. Opie would quickly embrace a deeper appreciation for good character. Andy taught him honesty and kindness. He also taught him responsibility by giving Opie some light chores to earn his own spending money.
All the main characters and most of their friends were in church on Sundays. Andy, Opie, Barney, and Aunt Bee were among the faithful congregants. In a practically crime-free county, Andy could close the sheriff’s office almost every Sunday.
Otis had a bad drinking problem, but he faithfully booked himself into the county jail to sober up. He didn’t drive or cause any noticeable trouble except some heartache for his wife. She looked tired when they showed her, and I expect she was. Andy seemed to have Otis on the road to sobriety a few times, but it didn’t last long.
Otis’ drinking was somewhat like a fellow told me years ago about his smoking habit. He said, “It’s easy for me to quit smoking. I’ve probably quit 50 times.”
When The Andy Griffith Show started its eight-year run in 1960 I was eight years old. I knew that Mayberry wasn’t real, but it didn’t seem completely impossible that it could be. Jane and I have been watching reruns of that show lately. So, when I say that I miss Sheriff Andy Taylor, it’s not that I miss seeing him on television. What I miss is the feeling that it might still be possible to have a Mayberry kind of town.
I know that’s unlikely to happen, but the caption on that sheriff’s car in Tennessee gave me a small ray of hope. It was a Mayberry moment, a reminder of a time when there were places you didn’t need to lock your doors at night, places where kindness was common and even disagreements were respectfully civil.
It troubles me that Mayberry moments don’t come along very often anymore. Maybe instead of wistfully longing for a mythical panacea, I need to focus more on that caption “In God We Trust.” Those four words point toward a place that’s much better than Mayberry. It’s a perfect place that’s open to all who follow the path of grace that leads to the gates of pearl.
We can’t go back to Mayberry, but we can go forward to a home where Mayberry moments happen all the time. It’s a matter of where we put our trust. John 3:16.