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We're not in Mayberry anymore

My grandmother once told me that she believed Andy Griffith was one of the most handsome men on television.

I also once heard her make the following statement: "I don't know why people think Charles Bronson is ugly. I always thought he's good looking."

To which my aunt replied, "Really? Wow."

"Well, I just do," grandma said.

End of conversation.

I'm going to miss that woman, my grandmother. She died exactly two weeks ago this Sunday.

It doesn't mean anything that she and Mr. Griffith died within weeks of each other.

But it does. To me, at least.

I used to spend summers at my grandmother's house in Effingham, Ill.

If you know anything about Effingham ("The crossroads of America!") you know there's not much there. Except for the 198-foot cross the Effingham Cross Foundation erected along Interstate 70 just outside of town. It's stands so tall that the foundation was forced to put lights on top so that airplanes wouldn't crash into it.

I never thought this was weird until I moved to the West Coast. And then I learned that a mega-cross draped in aircraft-warning lights standing outside your town is, well, weird.

That's Effingham, though.

So I spent summers there, mostly hanging around my grandma's pad on West St. Anthony Avenue. Sometimes when I got bored, I would walk three blocks to the IGA grocery store and look through a rack of moldering comic books that sat by the meat deli. Over the course of three summers spent perusing the IGA, I only bought one of those old comics, which happened to be the issue of X-Men in which The Reavers crucified Wolverine on a giant wooden X and tortured him. It was a dark and brutal story, and it sort of scared me.

I read comics to this day, largely thanks to this issue, maybe even thanks to Effingham.

The rest of the time I spent inside watching television with my grandma. Each evening during dinner we would watch back-to-back reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show" that aired on TNT.

I dug Sheriff Andy Taylor's laid-back vibe in the face of the intolerable characters in his orbit.

And I'm not talking about the bootlegger Sam Muggins or the obviously suicidal town drunk Otis Campbell.

Aunt Bea and Opie were awful people always harshing Taylor's mellow. Bea was petty, spiteful and infinitely needy. Opie was too wholesome to be interesting, surely disappointing his pa who exhibited a subtle mean streak throughout the series.

Sheriff Taylor was a solid family man because he valued dedication and reliability. But if he had his druthers, he would much rather be fishing, making the occasional arrest and throwing game on every tight-bodied single woman who rolled into Mayberry.

If "The Andy Griffith Show" had any sustained narrative thread, it was Sheriff Taylor's epic sexual appetite. He constantly was wooing some fiery, liberated woman from the city or a down-home girl culled from the local stock and then coldly dumping her before things got too serious.

Yeah, sheriff!

Deputy Barney Fife might have bought into the monogamy thing with his series-long dedication to Thelma Lou, but Sheriff Taylor was hip to the brewing sexual revolution on the coasts and had no time for that one-guy-one-girl silliness.

What I liked most about "The Andy Griffith Show" was it's meandering plots that would echo some of my favorite movies. I would later learn that the show was loosely modeled after "High Noon" — the unshakable sheriff holding court in a small town — but the western it most resembled was the Howard Hawks and John Wayne masterpiece "Rio Bravo."

"Rio Bravo," released a year before "The Andy Griffith Show" debuted, told the story of a lackadaisical sheriff, played nicely by The Duke, who was ambivalent toward the idea settling down with one women, and his bumbling deputy Stumpy, embodied by the great Walter Brennan.

"Rio Bravo" starts out with the hint of a plot involving some bad dudes seen near town, but then director Hawks abandons this structure and we get to just hang around the characters for a few hours.

"The Andy Griffith Show" rarely used plot as a crutch to move scenes along, allowing us to amble Mayberry's streets with Sheriff Taylor. Things were sewn up in the end, a life lesson was learned, but that was almost beside the point. It was just pleasant to hang around this group for 20 minutes as you ate dinner.

The pace followed that of my summer's spent drifting around Effingham, checking in every few hours to talk with my grandmother about not much of anything.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.