By Karl Terry
Two of my earliest memories of television faded last week as Barney Fife and Chester Goode passed on to the black and white screen in the sky.
The characters that Don Knotts and Dennis Weaver created on TV were about as far back as my childhood memories go.
I remember my brother and I playing cowboy and we would eventually become the characters from Gunsmoke. One of us got to be the tall fast-drawing Marshall Matt Dillon and the other got to be slow-talking, stiff-legged Chester and got to drawl Misterrrrrr Dillon.
I don’t remember play-acting the Andy Griffith Show but we never missed it. We always wanted to see what sticky situation Barney could get into and how Andy would find a way to make it right in the end. The morals presented in both shows are sorely missed in television today, especially the popular sitcoms of the last few decades.
We got both of those shows off antenna reception that was anything but good, especially in the spring with storms and wind that caused snowstorms in Mayberry and a television vertical hold that sometimes turned the boardwalks of Dodge City into moving sidewalks. Thanks to satellite TV these days at least I never miss Dillon’s shootout. But seeing both shows on TVLand several times a week loses the anticipation.
Gunsmoke and Bonanza were both on right at the edge of bedtime and getting to stay up and watch either was seen as a childhood privilege, not a given. Many an opening scene of each was spent begging to stay up and watch.
If we were at my grandparents’ house it was a cinch because it was Granddad Ruby’s favorite show and the begging was over before Matt slapped leather in the opening credits. Later, I remember McCloud, Weaver’s other television success, was granddad’s favorite show. So Weaver must have connected well with several generations.
In the 1990s I got the opportunity to meet Weaver when we lived in Ridgway, Colo., and we actually lived on the same road and same creek about a mile and a half apart. The difference is he lived in his multi-million dollar Earthship home, a sustainable living design he pioneered, and I lived in a double-wide mobile home built before Gunsmoke went off the air.
Weaver, his family and the people who worked for him were truly nice folks but I’ll have to admit living in the same town as Chester burst a few childhood bubbles.
Besides his Earthship home made of used tires and cans and dirt, he also built a really nice restaurant and dance hall in Ridgway called The Barn, because of its construction and an upstairs loft that looked down on a stage. The walls were decorated with memorabilia from Weaver’s acting career and Weaver’s youngest son Rusty managed the place.
One night, Wayne Carlton of Montrose, Colo., who designed game calls and made hunting videos and now appears on Elk Country Journal on the Outdoor Life Network, came over to The Barn in Ridgway for a talk and demonstration on his calling and hunting techniques.
As the hunting video Carlton was peddling came to its end with a hunter grinning over a dead critter, my good friend Doyle Nail, who lived directly across the creek from Weaver also in a doublewide, turned to me and remarked that it was pretty ironic that we were sitting in a building owned by a guy who made a fortune portraying cowboys, watching meat-eating hunters celebrate a successful stalk while the building’s owner was a strict vegetarian.
I guess life in TVLand is more to my liking than reality sometimes.
Karl Terry eats meat and watches Gunsmoke and is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481 ext 33 or by e-mail: