As kids, we had a big tall metal antenna in the backyard. That was our lifeline to Rabmlin’ Rod cartoons on weekday mornings and Looney Tunes on Saturdays. As the Oregon winds would blow the antenna around, we would conduct a communication relay with some combination of my brother at the TV, my sister at the door, and me out spinning the metal pole a little to the right, then back, until we got a clear signal.
Okay, so I actually probably never had to be the one to go outside. I was the youngest. And spoiled.
But my aunt Janet’s brood didn’t have to mess with the relay system because they had a satellite the size of Texas in their back yard. It was one of those multi-faceted setups that, if you took it apart, looked like several massive slices of faded yellow cheese. A big converter box sat atop Auntie’s TV in the house. The box had a big LED-lit yellow dial in the middle of it that looked like the future. And when we turned it, we would race to the window to watch the satellite make its massive rotation in the backyard, which was really just a great field full of unruly grass.
In our world, having a satellite in your backyard was pretty much the raddest thing in history because it meant you could watch Andy Griffith on TBS, which was broadcast all the way from a place called Atlanta. We got exposed to Atlanta Braves baseball through this channel as well. To this day, my cousins are avid fans.
Pirates of the day, my mother and aunt would record episodes of “Andy of Mayberry” on VHS tapes and we’d pass them back and forth between our houses. We cousins would spend blissfully endless days with each other during the summers and on weekends during the school year, and we’d watch those tapes over and over.
To this day, we will destroy any opponent at Andy Griffith trivia and will break into eloquent oration of such classic lines as “If a duck stands still, you can catch him by the bill.” That one courtesy of Ernest T. Bass, of course.
I was in a drugstore earlier this week, receiving dismal service from a rare character behind the cash register, and wondered to myself “what happened to Miss Ellie?”
In the literal sense, what did ever happen to Miss Ellie on the show? Played by Miss Mary Eleanor Donahue, Ellie Walker was Andy’s girlfriend in the show, but she disappeared with no explanation whatsoever after the first season, as if she wasn’t responsible for introducing Barney Fife to Thelma Lou, or hadn’t helped that young farmer’s daughter become a young lady, or graced that soda shop with her beautiful smile. The Christmas episode where Donahue and Griffith sing “Away in A Manger” in the town jail while the rich but crotchety old Ben looks on from outside, still makes my father and I cry.
I know it was just a show. But this act of simply cutting a character out of the storyline is raw because it does happen in real life. It’s happened to me in relationships and friendships and I’ve done it to others as well. The ones I’ve cut out of my own story, I think of often. I wonder if the ones who cut me out ever think of me. And did the soda shop still look as bright without me there? Was it calmer? Nicer? These thoughts are wasted energy; but they still pop up from time to time.
And in real life, as on the Andy Griffith show, I just believe that everyone deserves an explanation: where did she go and why did she leave?
My question “what happened to Miss Ellie” prompted further reflection on the state of our society. The local drugstore barely exists anymore and you certainly are hard to find a pharmacist who knows your name, your ailments and greets you with genuine poise and a smile. The extent to which we’ve let ourselves slip creates a sickening contrast to the fast pace at which technology and life is moving. We’re rapidly getting trendier and trashier; fitter and fatter. The extremes are slipping deeper into themselves and it’s sort of hard to figure how one is supposed to fit in.
I suppose that’s why people wax poetic and sings songs about missing Mayberry. While the world won’t ever return to such a well-produced simple time, it could certainly benefit from having and keeping a few more Miss Ellie’s around.