MCCULLOUGH: America loses one of its good guys

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

This week, as we celebrate the birth of our nation, we also mourn the death of a great American.

Andy Griffith died Tuesday at the age of 86, and the nation lost one of its true icons, not only as an actor and a comedian, but as a person as well.

We've all seen "No Time for Sergeants." Many of us remember those old Ritz commercials (Mmmm ... gooooood cracker!). Any Southern football fan worth his salt has heard him tell the story, "What It Was, Was Football." And pretty much any day of the week you can catch a rerun of "Matlock" on cable. But for what Andy Griffith will forever be remembered and revered is his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor.

Andy -- and let's face it, the old journalism rule of using the last name on second reference just can't apply when talking about someone like him -- has been a constant in my life for all of my life. "The Andy Griffith Show" was already in reruns by the time I was born, but I started watching those reruns as a kid, and the show remained my true all-time favorite ever since.

Now, I've had a lot of favorite TV shows over the years -- "The Sopranos," "The X-Files," "CSI" -- but there are only a few shows that make me throw the remote away. (I don't actually throw it in the trash, but I do toss it to the other side of the room because I know I have no need to change the channel, and I don't even want to change it by accident by channel-surfing away during a commercial.) Those shows would be any of the "The Three Stooges" shorts, anytime they're playing "The Great Escape" or "Cool Hand Luke," and "The Andy Griffith Show."

Andy Taylor was Southern like me, but more country, like some of my family. He was funny, of course, but he was also tough. Clever. Fair. And the sheriff without a gun never seemed to be afraid of anything, except maybe in that one episode where the moonshiners were pretending to haunt the old house, but even then, Andy got the best of them.

Andy Taylor reminded me a lot of my daddy. I felt like I knew him. Or more importantly, I felt like he knew me. The way Andy treated Opie was the way my dad treated me at that age. Everything Opie learned, whether it was something about fishing or shooting a gun, or a deeper lesson about hard work or fairness -- they were all lessons my daddy taught me. You got love and praise when you did something right and punished when you did something wrong. And in one of life's great completings of the circle, my daddy ended up wearing a badge for the sheriff's department.

And just like I can depend on daddy, I can depend on Andy. When I need a laugh, Andy'll give me one. When I need to be reminded of the ways of Southern hospitality or of the benefits of a day just spent fishing, Andy will oblige. And most importantly, when I need to trade this ridiculously fast-paced, dirty, mean ol' world for one that's simpler and better, Andy will be there to help.

He helps because at his core, Andy Taylor was one of the true good guys. And so was Griffith, the man behind the character. And I have that on good authority from some lucky folks who knew him.

America and the world is a little sadder place without Andy Griffith in it. But until we all meet again at the big fishin' hole in the sky, we can always turn on the tube and whistle along and feel happy for a little while.

If that isn't a legacy, I don't know what is.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.