At night my mother would stir spaghetti sauce on the stove while I sat at the kitchen table, telling her -- in detail - every minute of my first grade existence. Who I sat next to. Who I whispered to on the playground. What my teacher said about my book report. What I had for lunch, and how long it took me to eat it. To her credit, the woman never complained, and for that, my mother is eligible for sainthood.
The mornings, however, belonged to my stepfather, who was in charge of getting me ready for school. Breakfast-eating, clothes-picking, teeth-brushing, book-straightening, homework-adjusting, bus-catching and the obligatory Ninja Turtles cartoon.
Back then I had long hair. Longer-than-any-child-should-ever-have-hair. Hair that covered his clothes, his chair, his truck; hair that stood up on end with static in the wintertime; unruly ringlets that laughed in the face of mere brushes and combs.
It's the hair I remember most about my mornings with my stepfather: how he'd take the twenty minutes every morning, weary as he was, to run that brush through my hair until all the tangles were out. My mother had little patience for my hair - ripping the brush through the burrs, yanking my head back until it would cooperate long enough for a haphazard ponytail. My stepfather, with his calloused hands, roughened from years of metal and wood, was the one who took the time to brush it 'til it shone. He was far from artful, but he was patient and he was kind. Lost from my world of scrunchies, hair clips, and barrettes, he came up from the garage one morning with a Macgyvered Topsy Tail he'd melted together with scrap plastic.
We used it every day.
When summer came, we had our routine down pat. Yawn and pad out to the living room until the other awakes. Let the dog out. Cereal for me, coffee for him. Sit and enjoy the morning in silence - something we share to this day, the quiet of the morning, the birds stirring in the trees, the soft creaks of the house he built for us; the deer, silent as the dawn, stalking its way through our trees; the crackle of crisp bacon, the sizzle of eggs; our hands, warming in winter around our coffee mugs.
I'd read. He'd fix things. But at 10 a.m. we met in the living room, he in his chair, me dwarfed in my mother's, and together we'd wait for that whistle.
Every morning. Every day. Opie and Andy and Aunt Bee and Barney and Goober and Floyd, in all their black-and-white Mayberry glory. And we'd laugh. Always, we'd laugh. And then we'd watch Matlock.
I am well aware that I may be the only 8-year-old in America to ever watch Matlock, but you can be damn well sure I was an 8-year-old that appreciated Mr. Matlock.
The man was a genius. A brilliant lawyer and orator. And a man with damn fine fashion sense.
So today, Mr. Griffith, I know I'm out of your target demographic. I know most Twitter users read of your death today and said "who?" But Mr. Griffith, looking up and playing those two theme songs -- those songs I haven't heard in years, but still, from some darkened place in my memories, could still hum along too, even after all this time - playing those two theme songs today made me cry. And Mr. Griffith, I have to confess, my stepdad and I didn't always see eye-to-eye outside the world of CCR, Led Zeppelin, and your Matlockian suits. We spent more time fighting during my teenage years than I'd care to admit on the public sphere of the Internet. But Mr. Griffith, you remind me of those summers I spent with you and with him, whistling along with your fishing trips, cheering along with every gavel. And for that, Mr. Griffith - for the many laughs and the old memories and the tears I shed today - for that, Mr. Griffith, I thank you.