I don't normally comment on celebrities passing away, because they probably have enough to worry about without us bothering them about it. But hearing about Andy Griffith made me pause this morning, and I wanted to say a few words on the subject.
My connections with Mr. Griffith are few, and mostly those that others of my age and temperament share: seeing him on reruns of The Andy Griffith Show throughout the years of my childhood and then occasionally on other TV shows such as Matlock. I liked him, but no more or less than other good comic actors.
But what really endears him to me is an odder and more personal connection of which that he remained blissfully unaware: Andy Griffith was my speech coach.
Long ago, when I was in the sixth grade, we had a project to each memorize a speech to recite in front of the class. It was something right out of The Little Rascals, minus the overalls and the cheesy dialog.
The problem was, I didn't really know what kind of speech to memorize. I didn't exactly spend my spare time going to see great orators, and other than memorizing The Gettysburg Address, I didn't really have anything in mind that I should attempt. And recall for a moment, oh you spoiled generation of Internet-weaned children, there was no magical database to search for speeches at the time. I could go to the library to try to figure it out. Or I could paw through our set of World Book encyclopedias. But neither of these seemed very fun or easy, and neither seemed likely to result in a speech that would be something I'd want to spend my time memorizing, or that my classmates would want to spend their time listening to.
But we did have a record player...
It was at this time that I found an old 45 record of my father's, with a beaten-up cover in black, red, and white 1950s graphics, of Andy Griffith reciting a story, What It Was, Was Football. I suppose I'd listened to it once (recall again that I didn't have the Internet to waste my time and media attention on. It was either listen to the record player or go out into the dirt street and play that hoop-and-stick game. Oh, those were the days). And, for reasons that escape me but probably seemed sensible to a sixth grader, I decided that this was the speech for me.
So I gave my first public presentation, reciting Andy Griffith's comic story.
I'm now known to give occasional technical presentations and even more occasional standup performances. All of these might just be traceable to this start as an Andy Griffith mouthpiece, fake country accent and all.
The speech was recorded, though (thankfully) can't possibly exist anywhere anymore. I can't imagine how awful it was. It did, I recall, win some prize and classroom applause, but I attribute this more to the fact that the other students actually knew what the teachers meant by 'speech' and probably managed to memorize something more appropriate, and appropriately dull. Nobody else, to my knowledge, gave a comedy oration. Nor did they, as I did, close their eyes during the latter half of their talk. I found it to be easier to remember the words when I wasn't looking at the camera and everyone in the classroom. Fortunately, I've left that habit behind me. Even more fortunately, the recording of the event has perished over the generations of video recording equipment.
In any case, I wanted to write some homage to Andy Griffith when I heard about his death this morning. But instead I've written what you see here. In memory of him, and especially his memorable story, I offer this recording of his 'speech'. This time, it's given by the most qualified person to give it: Andy Griffith himself.
What It Was, Was Andy Griffith.