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 Showreruns. 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.]
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Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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