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Andy Griffith, America’s surrogate father

THREE DOLLARS GARNERS ADMISSION to the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, North Carolina. The unadorned brick building opened in 2009 on a bluff across from the Andy Griffith Playhouse, with a ribbon cutting held on the 20th anniversary of Mayberry Days, the town’s annual celebration of The Andy Griffith Show. Mount Airy, located in North Carolina’s northwestern Piedmont, near the Virginia line, is where Andy grew up poor and ambitious, and its people claim inspiration for the fictional town at his eponymous show’s center. Andy steadfastly refuted this common belief, and attended Mayberry Days only once, five years earlier in 2004, in his second official Mount Airy public appearance since 1957, back when the town held an “Andy Griffith Appreciation Day” (the same year my mother, the teenage Betty Jean Simmons, rode with other contestants of the Miss Mount Airy Beauty Pageant in a convertible driven by my Dad, Bobby Lee Smith). Like Andy, at birth, my parents had each been given a nickname as their legal name, and despite education and accomplishment, shared a nagging embarrassment at the class implications — Andy instead of Andrew, Bobby rather than Robert, Betty instead of Elizabeth. My parents used initials in lieu of full names in the thin phonebook of the North Carolina town we settled. Andy corrected people who made the mistake — although not the producers of the television show Biography, who in their 1997 gloss of Andy Griffith’s life and career, get it wrong, naming him Andrew Samuel Griffith. His most famous character was named Andrew Jackson Taylor. The man was Andy.

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