We admired Andy but related to Barney

We lost Barney Fife last week. When the news came that Don Knotts had died of pulmonary and respiratory failure in California at the age of 81, those of us who have always counted “The Andy Griffith Show” pretty high on our list of reasons to go on living were hit where it hurts. If Sheriff Andy Taylor is the backbone of the show, Deputy Barney Fife is its flesh. Except for those infrequent occasions when he underestimates either women or his son, Opie — a weakness which is always revealed and corrected by the end of the show — Andy is almost too saintly for us to relate to very much. He’s the fellow we aspire to be, a kind, generous, strong man who faces life with integrity, dignity, courage, and humor. And he can play the guitar and sing, too.

With Mike gone, train’s call is truly lonesome

Mike and I were not exactly a match made in heaven. In fact, I didn’t think we were much of a match at all. At the time we were “introduced,” I lived in a tiny rented house with an equally tiny yard, and I already had one dog, a skittish collie named Russ, who was skeptical of anything new, especially other dogs. I barely had room for Russ, and barely got the bills paid each month. The very last thing I needed or wanted was another dog.

Looking in on the iPod cocoon

It is now official. I am not young anymore. I guess I should have paid more attention to the signs, and perhaps it wouldn’t come as such a shock, but I didn’t and it does. My youth has expired, gone out of date like a carton of milk forgotten in the back of the fridge. When I reach for my youth to get a refreshing drink of it, the stench is unbearable. I play one game of pick-up basketball with the kids at school — these are college students and here I am calling them “kids” — and the next morning my legs feel like a mob guy tied me to a chair and beat my thighs all night with a laundry bag full of navel oranges until I finally admitted I was middle-aged.

The vicarious lives of parents

I wasn’t very good at sports when I was a kid. I wanted to be good — the star of the team, the captain, the leading scorer, the clutch player — but I was barely good enough to make the team in football and baseball, and not much better in basketball. I worked hard and attended practice faithfully, and I could execute a bounce pass or finger roll lay-up with considerable verve, but what looks good in practice doesn’t always translate into real games, and I seldom made much of a splash once the buzzer sounded and the fans were seated. I seldom even made a plop. Most of the time, my role was to join the other benchwarmers during timeouts in a huddle around the starters, our arms wrapped supportively around their sweaty torsos, or to yell encouragement from our seats, which were, after all, the best in the house. Once in a while, if our team was up — or down — by 30 or 40 points with a minute or two to play, we were sent in to finish the game, peeling off our warm-ups like banana skins and hustling to the scorer’s table with great earnestness, as if something important were about to happen.

Empowered by Dr. Phil to entertain Jack

I’ve become hooked on Dr. Phil. Don’t ask me how it happened because I don’t know. He caught me unawares, I guess, creeping up on me during my fall break while I was innocently trying to feed my son, Jack, some mashed up fruit out of a tiny jar with a tiny spoon, desperately trying to find something to keep him distracted enough to sit still and actually eat his breakfast. I tried a couple of cartoons but quickly learned that Jack, at the age of nine months, would just as soon watch ESPN Sportscenter, The Price is Right, or The Discovery Channel as any cartoon. He’s pretty much OK with anything as long as there are images moving around on the screen and sound coming out of the television.

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