A Forgotten Kind of Childhood
by the Mayberry Guru
Whenever I watch reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, one thing often comes to mind. There have been significant changes in how children are raised. I often think that if today’s Child Protective Services would have been around back in Mayberry, Sheriff Andy Taylor may have been considered a very poor parent.
Little Opie Taylor had a very adventurous childhood and compared to today’s standards, Andy was much too lenient. Opie freely roamed all over Mayberry without any supervision. Andy allowed him to play with toy guns. Andy gave him a jackknife to carry. Opie never wore a helmet when he rode his bike and when he was fishing with Andy, he never wore a life jacket while in the boat. And while at the courthouse he often spent time visiting with prisoners listening to their tales of crime.
Deputy Barney Fife was not much better than Andy when it came to helping raise Opie. Barney would teach Opie the fast draw using his own revolver. He made Opie a sling shot that Opie used to kill a songbird. Barney even gave Opie a set of handcuffs that he used to handcuff a friend to a tree. And when a bully kept taking Opie’s milk money, Barney and Andy encouraged Opie to physically fight for what was his.
Andy also did not object to the questionable friends that Opie made around town. When Barney arrested hobo Mr. Dave, Andy never flinched when he befriended Opie. He taught Opie how to get free gumballs from the gumball machine, how to evade work in order to go fishing, and how to steal food to satisfy one’s hunger.
Opie also made friends with a stranger who worked in the woods climbing trees. Andy only became concerned when Opie came home with a hatchet and a shiny quarter that the stranger had given him. Opie and his friends also stole food from home to help a hobo that they met in the woods while playing Robin Hood. The hobo taught the kids that it was alright to take from the rich and give to the poor.
When I recall my childhood days in Dorchester, I realize they were not much different from Opie’s. I too wandered all over the streets of town with no supervision. I played with toy guns and I took my jackknife to school to play mumbly peg. While I never killed a songbird with a slingshot, my friends and I did carry our BB guns all over town.
I fell off my bike numerous times while not wearing a helmet, and when I fished at the Mill Pond or played at the stone quarry, it was never with adult supervision. I even enjoyed watching the “bum” come of the boxcars when the trains stopped in town.
When I was a kid almost all our free time was unstructured and unsupervised. But it was a different world back then. We had no summer camps or organized sports. We swam in muddy creeks and played at the village dump. When we had disputes, we settled them on our own. And yet for the most part we all grew up to be fairly normal, productive, and responsible citizens.