Ken Newton FB image

Let us take comfort these days of isolation in the sweet ring of a banjo. All right, it’s not for everyone.

As dinner cooked the other night, the kitchen television found a 57-year-old episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and this happened to be the one featuring some recurring guests, the Darling family.

True, I’ve betrayed my age with this reference, but who was I really fooling? The Darlings on “Andy Griffith” were a delight within a delight, like a surprise filling inside a pastry.

These bluegrass pickers would break into “Salty Dog” or “Boil Them Cabbage Down” at the least provocation. They exuded mountain stoicism, nearly mute except while singing.

Their paterfamilias was a gruff old cuss named Briscoe Darling, who did most of the talking and played a ceramic jug in the band.

The actor Denver Pyle portrayed Briscoe, his career ranging from another comic turn as patriarch in “The Dukes of Hazzard” to an avenging Texas Ranger in the movie “Bonnie and Clyde.”

When Andy picked up his guitar and asked to play with the Darlings, Briscoe declined to identify a key. “Just jump in where you can and hang on,” the old guy said.

The only female Darling was Charlene, flirty and a big believer in mountain ways, especially when it came to marriage superstitions and life-long mates. She had been the apple of her daddy’s eye, and Briscoe worked to make perfect the musicians’ wedding performance.

“Let’s try ‘Slimy River Bottom,’ and this time make it pretty,” he told the boys.

Charlene replies, “That one makes me cry.”

I would not learn until later in life that the fictional Darlings band was the real-life Dillards, a Missouri ensemble of some renown and influence.

(Three years before hitting it big himself, Don Henley, a co-founder of the Eagles, drove through a snowstorm to see the group in concert. The playing of Dean Webb, an original member of the Dillards, was said to have inspired the use of mandolin in some of Led Zeppelin’s recordings.)

For this broader appeal, the Dillards remain for me the Darlings, simple folk with complex talent, zany in their verbal restraint, captured forever in my mind in black-and-white.

There had been a time in my growing-up when television comedy took a turn down country lanes. There were shows like “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and, true, they had a good old time with yokeldom.

Even as a kid, I couldn’t figure out why Jed Clampett, a corn pone sheik with a penchant for expressing surprise by saying, “Welllllll, doggie!,” would want to live among snooty Californians.

Despite scripts making city folks into the buffoons, some in rustic America imagined the shows casting rural sorts in a bad light. Really? Jethro Bodine and Gomer Pyle might have been a little unworldly, but they had values. No one should run from that.

Andy, his family and friends would often spend evenings in Mayberry on the front porch of the Taylor home, a way of settling the weight of Aunt Bee’s sweet ‘tater pie and passing the time.

In walks around my neighborhood during these pandemic weeks, I’ve noticed more people than ever before on their front porches or steps or driveways.

Pleasant temperatures will do that, but there have been pleasant temperatures before. Maybe the sitting-out provides some comfort, a dash of bygone days, a connection with others now that physical distancing has largely pushed us inward.

Maybe small-town lifestyles will prevail. Could be worse. Welllllll, doggie!

Ken Newton's column runs on Sunday and Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.​