The Author

The Television Generation

I am a part of the television generation. I can still remember the delivery of the first television to our house. Black and white with a screen smaller than most computer screens today, it was a source of periodic fascination since our town only got one station and my father controlled the on/off switch. We watched what he wanted to watch when he wanted to watch, which usually meant “I’ve Got A Secret” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

When I was in the third grade, Fred Lowery came to our school to present an assembly in the cafetorium (if you’re of a certain generation, you know what those words mean). Blind and dependent on a cane, Fred, as he insisted we call him, could whistle like a bird. As he concluded his program, he said, “This last one, you might hear me whistle every week on television.” My classmates and I exploded in applause as we recognized the theme from “The Andy Griffith Show.” He was whistling the theme song of our generation.

Andy Griffith died this past week. When I heard the news, I had to put aside what I was doing for a few moments to mourn. The reports detailed his skills as an actor, musician, and businessman. They admitted that his was a more complicated life than seen on the screen as he dealt off-stage with various illnesses and multiple marriages.

While all of that matters and none of it is surprising, it pales in comparison to the reality that played itself out on the screen. On the screen was where I knew him. There, he was a calm in the storm, wisdom in chaos, funny but never silly, strong but not a bully, willing to admit when he was wrong. He took his family to church on Sundays and on Sunday afternoons, he and Barney would sit on the front porch and sing hymns. He was the kind of dad most of us wanted and wanted to be.

As I’ve gotten a little distance from the news, I have had opportunity to reflect on what I mourned. It’s not like I won’t see Andy again, because I can always find a re-run of the show on one of those thousands of cable channels now available. I’m also not mourning the loss of my illusions about the simplicity of life – simplicity died for me the day my dad died when I was seven years old. I suppose what I mourn is how far short my generation (and others, too) have fallen short of those ideals reflected in an imaginary sheriff in an imaginary town. I suspect that I mourn that life has become so complicated that none of us seems to know how to fix it.

In the midst of the mourning for my generation, however, it occurs to me that there just might be a solution. It might take a while, and things will get complicated along the way, but a few more Sundays in church and a few more hymns sung, would be a good place to start.