Was Andy Griffith my dad?

Day 27: How my life imitated art...

When I was a kid, I was about 75 percent sure the Andy Griffith Show was based on my family.

Andy was a small-town cop – just like my dad – wore the same kind of uniform, the same kind of boots and I was the same age as Andy’s son, Opie.

In my mind, Rocklin was Mayberry, my mom was Aunt Bee with a better sense of humor and I wasn’t sure who was playing the role of Barney Fife, but wanted to meet him because I figured he’d be hoot.

To me, the similarities were striking, but – as I’ve recently learned – in reality there might have been one or two minor differences.

For starters it seems Rocklin, California was known as a speed trap. People would come tearing down what was then the main highway, hit the city limits going too fast and get pulled over.

And apparently my dad was the one handing out tickets.

When I asked my mom if that was true, she confirmed it and said that in his first month as a policeman, my dad wrote the most tickets in the history of the Rocklin police department. Mom told that story with pride; like dad saved a drowning puppy or found a cure for cancer.

Mom says dad met a wide variety of people by giving them tickets, including the actor Wendell Corey, whose name may or may not ring a bell, so take a look at his picture:

Wendell was not a household name unless it was the Corey household, but maybe you looked at this picture and thought: “Oh, yeah…that guy.”

Either way we’re moving on.

(Hold on a minute: I just looked up Wendell Corey’s film credits so maybe I could remind you where you might have seen him. He appeared in Sorry, Wrong Number and Rear Window, but for my money the most memorable thing on his resume was Wendell appearing in a U.S. Army short film on venereal disease called Easy to Get. For his sake, I hope he wasn’t a method actor.)

OK, now we’re moving on.

I have never figured out why Johnny Cash played at a fundraiser for my family after my dad’s death; but my mom’s theory is maybe dad gave Johnny a ticket, which you gotta admit would be quite a conversation starter.

My dad also gave a ticket to the guy who would eventually marry my sister, Marty Martin and according to family history Marty wouldn’t date my sister until he heard dad was dead.

Sounds to me like Marty didn’t want any more speeding tickets.

No playing favorites

At some point my mom let her driver’s license expire and dad said if she didn’t renew it and he caught her driving, he was going to give her a ticket, too.

She pointed out that he was the one who would actually pay the fine and he said it didn’t matter; maybe getting pulled over and handed a ticket by her husband – a story that was sure to get around town – would teach her a lesson.

“He would have done it, too. He would have embarrassed me.”

Mom then told a story about my sister Gloria swimming with some friends at the local quarry – a place she’d been told to avoid – and dad pulling his police cruiser to the edge of the quarry and using the loudspeaker to make the following announcement:

“GLORIA. GLORIA JUDGE. GET OUT OF THE WATER.”

Must’ve worked because my sister got out of the water and my mom renewed her license. Sounds like something Andy would have done.

Badass Oldsmobiles  

According to a third-hand story, dad and my Uncle Billy the mechanic – who was absolutely nothing like Gomer Pyle – souped-up his police cruiser with four-barrel carburetors, a high-performance camshaft and different gears in the rear end.

They turned that car into a low-flying rocket.

According to my brother Paul T – the one with a photographic memory for cars and amnesia when it comes to the $20 he borrowed last week – the car was a ’59 Oldsmobile and here’s what one of those things looks like:

Chuck Yeager oughta be behind the wheel.

My brother Danny dug up this photo of my dad and based on the front grill, that looks to be a ‘57 Oldsmobile and may be the “Golden Rocket 88” which might be the coolest car name ever:

Beats the shit out of driving a Corolla.  

After some haggling, Paul T and I agreed dad probably drove the ’57 Olds at one point, but then replaced it with a ’59 model painted silver, which I kinda remember. But whatever the hell dad was driving, sounds like after he and Uncle Billy got done with it, his police cruiser would be an impressive piece of machinery.

In the late 50s when kids with slicked-back hair and hot rods were a thing, sounds like there was a park in Roseville where the hot-rodders hung out and whenever my dad showed up to check things out, someone would say:

“Here comes Judge, Jury and Executioner.”

Seems dad didn’t mind letting the kids know his police cruiser was badass and you didn’t want to mess with him or that Oldsmobile.

Man or myth

When my mom gets on a roll about my dad I’m never sure how much to believe; she makes him sound like King Solomon in a squad car.  

According to her — just like Andy Griffith — whenever people in town had problem they’d call on my dad, even if it was a mostly-non-cop problem like a baby falling out of a high chair, a run-over dog or a truck stuck under a bridge.

My mom used to tell the story of some guy trying to get his truck under a low bridge, failing, but wedging it in so tight he couldn’t move forward or back. Nobody knew what to do until my dad arrived and said:

“Let the air out of the tires.”

Which, if it actually happened, is pretty damn smart. But when I recently asked my mom about it, she had no memory of the bridge, the truck or ever telling me that story.

This is why you write your stories down while you can still remember them.

An eye-witless account

OK, I know this next story happened for sure, because it happened to me.

One day I was walking home from Rocklin Elementary School when I saw two kids – twin brothers – beating the shit out of classmate.

Having grown up on Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe, I knew it was my duty to step in and save my buddy. And as soon as I did and the twin brothers focused on me, my “buddy” ran off and left me fighting those two kids on my own.

As has been noted elsewhere: No good deed goes unpunished.

So now I’m fighting two kids by myself and decided to employ a technique I’d learned on Big Time Wrestling which – although it looked like it had been filmed in somebody’s garage – taught me the “Full Nelson” which as anybody with a pocket calculator knows, is twice as good as the “Half Nelson.”

For those of you who didn’t spend time studying the moves of Pepper Gomez and Flying Red Bastien:

You get behind your opponent, slither both your arms under both his, then raise your hands up and lace your fingers together behind his neck which forces him to raise his arms like an unarmed teller during a bank robbery. (I could also tell you how to get out of a Full Nelson, but for these prices you’re on your own.)

I used a Full Nelson to control one brother and keep him between me and the brother trying to kick me and deliver a Keds PF Flyer to my nuts.

That’s when dad pulled up in that nuclear-powered Oldsmobile.

Thank God, Andy of Rocklin to the rescue.

I was expecting a pat on the back, a hearty handshake and a hero’s welcome, but my dad grabbed me by the arm and threw me into the police cruiser and I could tell he was really pissed off.

What the fuck?

I tried to do the right thing and save a friend, the friend rat-fucked me and ran off, I fought two elementary school thugs to a standstill and instead of a hug and an ice cream cone, now my dad was looking at me like he wanted to use the blackjack he kept in his back pocket.

First thing a cop does when he arrests people is separate them; make sure they don’t get a chance to collaborate and work up a likely story.

So my dad took us all back to Rocklin Elementary and threw me in a room by myself. I was thinking I was about to get my ass whipped even though I couldn’t see what I’d done wrong.

Then my dad came back in the room laughing.

Turned out he thought I was holding one kid so the other kid could kick him and that’s why he was pissed. Until the brothers confessed, he thought I had ganged up on a kid when the kids had actually ganged up on me.

He assumed the worst and jumped to the wrong conclusion…so I guess he wasn’t perfect after all.

Y’know, those Andy Griffith Show episodes almost always had a moral and sometimes Opie learned a lesson and every once in a while it was Andy. But no hard feelings; if I could travel back in time I’d still give my dad a hug.

And ask for a ride in that Rocket 88.