Sunday, December 18, 2016

In a Pickle in Mayberry

"What's small potatoes to some folks can be mighty important to others."

Andy (Andy Griffith)

In the TV town of Mayberry, which was modeled after Andy Griffith's North Carolina hometown, it was generally accepted by all that Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) was a remarkable cook.

Now, I grew up in a small Southern town, and I can tell you one thing with absolutely no fear of contradiction. When folks in a small Southern town agree that someone is a great cook, you can take it to the bank.

Southerners take food very seriously. It is around food that everything else in our lives revolves.

But as audiences discovered in the episode of the Andy Griffith Show that aired on this night in 1961 — "The Pickle Story" — Aunt Bee did have an Achilles' heel.

Her pickles were awful. Barney (Don Knotts) called them "kerosene cucumbers."

Things got started when Aunt Bee brought lunch to the courthouse one day and told Andy and Barney that she had a surprise for them. The surprise was that she had been making pickles — not one of her tasty pies or delicious Southern entrees. She had made eight quarts of pickles, and she had brought pickles for Andy and Barney that day.

Barney tried to get out of eating his pickle by telling Aunt Bee that he had had a big breakfast. "I hate to eat it when I'm so full up like this," he told her. "I'll just wait and smoke — er, eat — it later."

She didn't know they didn't like her pickles. I guess she thought everyone liked everything she made. That's the problem with being good at something. People expect you to be good at it all the time.

And I suppose if you are told repeatedly that you are good at something, you become inclined to believe that everything you do in that area is good. You may reach a point where you simply do not comprehend the idea that you are not good at something. Perhaps that was how it was with Aunt Bee.

Aunt Bee's reputation as a cook was established in the very first episode and reinforced throughout the series so the viewers knew she was a great cook, but she did have a couple of weak spots. She couldn't make pickles or marmalade (but her marmalade is a topic for another time).

When Andy and Barney learned she had been putting up pickles, they decided that, since they were duty–bound to consume the pickles, they would swap them with store pickles and dispose of the homemade pickles. That way they could eat them, and Aunt Bee would be pleased (and none the wiser).

But things didn't go quite as smoothly as that.

When Aunt Bee tried one of the pickles, she decided she was going to enter the pickle contest at the county fair after all. Previously she had decided not to enter; it was, after all, a competition that had been won for 11 straight years by her friend Clara (Hope Summers), but now Aunt Bee was convinced that she had hit upon the right recipe.

At first, Andy and Barney treated the possibility of Aunt Bee winning the competition with professionally made pickles as a joke, but then Clara paid a visit to the courthouse with some of her homemade pickles and got into a conversation with Andy, revealing how much it meant to her to know that she had a talent for something.

And fair–minded Andy realized that he and Barney had been wrong about the competition. It wouldn't be a joke if Aunt Bee won the blue ribbon with pickles she hadn't made — at the expense of someone who played by the rules and deserved to win.

So he decided that the best thing to do would be for Andy, Barney and Opie (Ron Howard) to eat up all the pickles, forcing Aunt Bee to make another batch of her kerosene cucumbers to enter at the fair.

And that's what they did.

When Aunt Bee observed that all the pickles were gone and she didn't have any to enter in the contest — after telling everyone that she would enter — Andy said, in an offhand way, "I guess there's nothing else to do except make another batch."

"I suppose not," Aunt Bee replied.

That was all Andy needed to light a spark under Aunt Bee, and she went scurrying off to get the things she would need for her pickling.

The new batch was just as bad as the others. And Aunt Bee lost — but she did so with her own pickles.

She lost to Clara, who had a 12th blue ribbon to add to her treasured scrapbook.

And Andy and Barney had 16 quarts of kerosene cucumbers that they would have to consume.

"There's only one thing to do," Andy told Barney. "It's what we should have done in the first place. Learn to love 'em."

And the episode concluded with the two munching joylessly on Aunt Bee's pickles.