Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I grew up in Mayberry.

The city limit sign read "Richardson," but take my word for it, my hometown felt, looked and behaved a whole lot like Mayberry.

I suppose it was the death of Don Knotts last week that sent me back down memory lane.

Growing up in Richardson I experienced so many of the same things as I can now watch in old Andy Griffith Show reruns. And, I confess, I watched a bunch of those old shows last weekend on TVLand!

We moved to Richardson, just north of Dallas, Texas, in 1953. Back then the place was just a sleepy little town of around 1,200 people.

There was one school house where 1-12 grades got along just fine. By the time I started school, things had changed as the new high school and a new elementary school opened. But I began my education in that old red brick school house down on Greenville Avenue. I suppose folks just couldn't bring themselves to tear it down since it now serves as the Administration Building for the entire district.

Until I was 12-years-old, and a good bit beyond that time, a kid could easily ride a bicycle from one end of town to the other and back in just a few minutes. Traffic wasn't much of a problem.

Everyone knew everyone else. A kid couldn't get by with much as a result! All the adults seemed to know to whom all of the children belonged.

Everyone worked. Few people seemed rich and few were truly poor.

Divorce was very rare. Families seemed strong, though I know things weren't perfect behind closed doors.

As a little boy, I knew the Fire Chief, Dick Russell and the Police Chief, J. W. Golden. I knew the Postmaster, George Kemp, a good man who died recently in his 90s.

I also knew the barbers, the sanitation workers, the teachers, the ministers and the guy who printed the newspaper. What is more important, they knew me.

My dad went to work as the town's first, full-time administrator in 1953. He was City Secretary. He helped write the city's first charter of government that laid out a council/city manager style of government for the town.

By 1959 he had gone to work for a couple of really bright and aggressive real estate developers, Lindsay Embry, who passed away not long ago, and George Underwood. Their company basically developed all of the west side of Richardson from south of Belt Line Road to Campbell Road on the north. They sold thousands of lots for new home construction to accommodate the boom town growth that Richardson experienced beginning in the mid-1960s.

As I do my work now, I often tell people that the mission of Central Dallas Ministries is to create Mayberry all over Dallas.

Don't get me wrong.

Growing up where I did was not perfect. The racism was so much a part of the fabric of the place that I had to leave home to get in touch with its power. And things didn't work exactly right for everyone.

But the good things, those are the community qualities we are trying to replicate in the inner city today. Things like committed connection to neighbors, devotion to the education of children, safety for everyone, economic opportunity, consistent civic engagement, solid moral values and simple love for fellow human beings.

I think about Mayberry a lot. I was most fortunate to have experienced such a place growing up.

Every child in the country deserves the same.

[By the way, extra points if can you find me in the photo above. Eighth grade basketball team, Richardson Junior High Mighty Falcons with Coach Jerry Phillips at the helm! We won our district that year.]


Janet said...

I grew up in "Mayberry" too, Larry. Funny thing is, I think the reason I enjoy living in the inner-city so much is because it's "Mayberry" as well. Sure, the addicts around me and their addictions lead them to steal every so often. And, yes, the struggles of poverty and lack of education lead people to make fatal choices at times. But, just as you experienced in your Mayberry and I did in mine, people in my South Dallas neighborhood wave at me when I come home in the evening. They tell me when someone they didn't recognize knocks at my door while I'm not home. They offer their lawn mower or leaf blower when mine has been stolen or doesn't work. They know me even when I don't know they know me.

I attended Priscilla's funeral yesterday and realized how much Central Dallas creates "Mayberry" and brings loving, generous, kind people together. And people like Priscilla (who are often disregarded in our society because of her rough exterior) bond with people like Lloyd (a former con and addict who was changed by Priscilla...even he'll tell you that!), which results in a bigger Mayberry...one which they take with them and re-create when they move on.

I pray that we never become about "programs" around CDM. "Programs" aren't what change people. People change people. I think the regulars at CDM already know that.

Sometimes what I notice the bigger challenge is, is convincing the people outside of the urban areas that we have Mayberry right here...and they're welcome to *join* (which is more than a visit). *Then* we may be able to truly create a Mayberry all across the city.

Anonymous said...

You're in the second row from the top, second from the left.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. The eyebrows give you away!

MarkS said...

I'll go out on a limb and say you're the skinny kid on the front row, #33.

I'll miss Barney Fife!

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

Yup, my money's on #33 too!

Larry James said...

Second row from the top, second from the left. Number 33 is Barry Carnahan. He was a good friend and something else indeed!

Raintree said...

I grew up in a Mayberry of sorts- although it wasn't my home town, but my home church that created Mayberry for me. In fact, our home town was never what I would term a "friendly" town- but our church was our life. There was a large mix of people- rich, poor, white, hispanic, old and young. We were in church every week, I attended the church school from preschool through eighth grade, and participated in our churchs scouting group- Pathfinders. My family no longer lives in Greeley, CO- but going back to visit is like a family reunion.
Now I live in a small Nebraska town with my husband and our three small boys- there is a strong sense of community here within our village- everything centers around the two churchs and our small public school three blocks away- everyone knows everyone else- how could you not in a town of only 200? People are helpful and friendly. Our neighbor has fixed our car more often than I would care to admit- for free- and another neighbor and I trade baby-sitting each other's kiddo's.
I think what it comes down to- what everyone is looking for is !- a sense of community- of connectedness to one's neighbors and 2- rest. Slowing down- stopping the frantic pace of life, and being able to rely on one's neighbors to help in a time of need. And of course, both of those things can be found anywhere- whether it is the inner city, or a small town. It comes down to you and me, and deciding to quietly make a difference in our lives- and extending that to others.

Larry James said...

Raintree, I believe you are exactly right. Thanks for sharing!