In honor of Andy Griffith....
Opie Taylor left the Law Office of Ernest Theodore Bass, Jr. with an envelope stuffed in his pocket. His cell phone buzzed.
“Hey, Eunice.” The lump in his throat stopped him short.
“Opie, are you coming back to the house? There are tons of people here. They came straight from the funeral. I want you to eat something.”
“Ernie gave me a letter,” the lump was rising again, “from Pa. I think I’m gonna take a walk and I’ll be back in a while. You’ll be alright with Andrew and Kathy?”
“Yes, our new daughter-in-law already has everything well in hand. She is presiding over that mountain of food in the kitchen and making sure everyone is served. Andrew follows her around like a puppy. Her wish is his command. Newlyweds, still, those two.”
His Pa had loved that grandson of his. He loved Andrew’s wife as well.
“And Helen?” Opie asked.
“She’s lying down, and Thelma Lou is hovering over her like a mother hen. It must be hard on her, with Barney gone only a couple of months,” Eunice said.
“I reckon so, I‘ll be back soon.” Opie answered. Eunice giggled at his use of that old familiar Mayberry dialogue. Opie was amazed at how quickly he reverted to the old country speech whenever he came home. His staff at the New York Times wouldn’t believe their ears if they could hear him now.
Andrew Jackson Taylor hadn’t been Sheriff of Mayberry for the past ten years, but he was still considered the father of the town. The townspeople were reeling and lost at the death of their beloved Sheriff Andy Taylor. They seemed to look to Opie for some kind of strength or direction. He felt the weight of it. How could he help anyone, give any kind of stability when he felt the foundation of his life kicked out from under him? His dearest friend, father and mother, confidant and counselor, greatest fan and cheerleader, but most of all his shining example and greatest inspiration was gone.
They’d never sing together, talk about current events with his Pa’s unique perspective, skip rocks on Meyer’s Lake or fish together again. For so many years Opie and his father talked nearly every day. Opie was always running ideas or family problems through his Dad’s infinite wisdom, cracking jokes old and new, and generally sharing the every day details of their lives with each other.
Andy, over time, had told Opie many things about the townspeople that he grew up with, things he hadn’t known as a child. Opie felt he knew the people of Mayberry like the back of his hand, even better now than when he was a kid, thanks to his father’s faithful tales. His mind wandered back to that morning on the Lake after they’d fished. Andy had praised Opie for his catch then they fried it up for breakfast. Opie had seen Indians become blood brothers on TV and he wanted to make a pact by slicing their wrists and rub them together and be blood brothers forever. His Pa had played along but instead of cutting their wrists he drew a mark on their wrists with a charred rock from the fire and led them in an oath; they raised their right hands and said something like, “In the name of Boujum Snark, spirit ‘o the water, Trillen Camp, spirit ‘o fire, and”, oh, what was it, somebody “spirit ‘o the air, we do hereby make a pact to be blood brothers and never be separated forever.” Opie had tried to sabotage Andy’s efforts to date after that, until Andy sat him down and told him how much he loved him. That memory stayed in Opie’s heart all the years after, and they really were blood brothers. Opie didn’t know how he was going to live without his father’s presence.
Now it seemed like Mayberry was looking to Opie for some kind of strength, for guidance. Shoot, he didn’t even live here anymore. He could hear his father’s voice in his head, “Act like somebody.” Somebody who? Somebody who gives up his dream job at the New York Times to come home and take care of Helen, the whole town for that matter? Why couldn’t Helen move to New York with Opie and Eunice and Mayberry take care of itself?
And now the letter. Ernie’s eyes had filled with tears when he turned the letter over to Opie. “I’ll never forget what your father did for me, for my family. If there is anything I can do, Opie, please just say the word. If it weren’t for your pa…“ he choked up and extended his hand for a shake. The letter was scrawled on the front in his pa’s handwriting, “Go on up to Meyer’s Lake.”
Ernie’s office was located in the old Walker’s Drug Store across the street from the Courthouse. Opie took a few steps across the street toward the old building. No, he couldn’t deal with that now. He’d better head on up to the Lake, read the letter and then get back to his pa’s house and help Eunice with all the company.
The walk would clear his head, and the solitary, still pristine atmosphere at Meyer’s would shield him from onlookers as he read his pa’s letter. They’d said everything there was to say. What could his Father have written to him and wanted delivered posthumously?
At least it was a beautiful day, cool and clear. They were past the North Carolina summer humidity but not yet into winter’s cold. Meyer’s Lake was surrounded by pines and evergreens, but sprinkled throughout were oak and sycamore that showed their fall colors.
The air was crisp and fresh. Even in his grief Opie appreciated the clean air of the country, one of the things he missed living in New York.
He sat down on the ground at the edge of the Lake, where he and his pa sat fishing countless times. He closed his eyes and pictured the two of them on their old faithful canoe, Gertrude, casting their lines and talking quietly. He could taste Aunt Bee’s bologny sandwiches that she always packed for them when they fished. He got up and plunked a rock into the still, shining water. He watched the ripples fan out and he stood there until the water stilled again.
Opie sat back down on the ground, thinking Aunt Bee would have a coniption because he was in his best suit. He missed her.
He opened the letter and was taken aback at the scent of his father’s after shave. He knew his dad hadn’t purposely scented the letter. He probably had started writing it right after shaving and applying the Aqua Velva.
“Dear Opie, if you’re reading this then I’m gone. I hope I’ll be sittin’ on a heavenly porch somewhere having coffee with Aunt Bee, Barney, Brisco Darling and all the others who went before me. I hope you’ll think of us that way, all a talkin’ about how proud we are of you and your family. I know you’ll take care of Helen, that’s not what this is about. There are some things that I wanted you to know, things I couldn’t tell you while I was there, just too precious, painful and sweet. Maybe it’s because it involves people we know and love. I just couldn’t talk about it while they were alive, in case they didn’t want people to know. It’s nothing earth shattering, just very personal to Mayberry, to us and why I am the way I am (was, ha). It all started when your grandma died...