In need of a safety net

Pat Haley

Pat Haley

The young guitar player, Jim Lindsey, who was down on his luck, ran his fingers across the cold, hard bars of the Mayberry jail, looking out at Andy and Barney as they played checkers across the room.

Lindsey’s crime was playing his guitar in the street after downing a couple glasses of whiskey, annoying the shopkeepers.

Andy wondered if the young prodigy wasn’t squandering his God-given talents, and reasoned that Jim could be bigger than “that fella we see every now and then on television, shakin’ and singin’ at his hound dog.”

Andy sobered up Jim Lindsey, restored his confidence, and obtained a job for him with a popular traveling band.

Over time, Mayberry became for us, then our children and now our grandchildren, a world of stability, innocence and joy. Seldom was there a problem that Andy couldn’t fix by the end of the show.

Although Mayberry was a fictional town, still every September people travel to Mount Airy, N.C. — the hometown of Andy Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor — seeking a bygone America.

Griffith always denied that Mayberry was based on his hometown.

Just don’t tell the people of Mount Airy.

In 1990, Mount Airy began to turn itself into Mayberry, recreating on its main street the fictional setting of “The Andy Griffith Show.” At one point, there were discussions among town leaders about formally renaming Mount Airy to Mayberry, but cooler heads prevailed.

It wasn’t a bad strategy, as Mount Airy realized $83 million in tourism business last year, with shops and attractions keyed to the myth of a town that didn’t exist.

It was nearly 70 degrees last week when Brenda and I did what tourists sometimes do in Mount Airy. We sat down in a big, brown wooden swing and began to “people watch” as a steady flow of folks strolled past us.

A man stopped and said, “Now, y’all come on ovah hee-yah and seet down for a spell. Even Satan’s sweatin’ today.”

We weren’t exactly sure what he said because of his profound accent, but we figured if you couldn’t trust a man dressed in overalls in Mayberry, whom can you trust?

Our next stop was the Andy Griffith Museum where a bronze statue stands. It depicts a father with a fishing pole resting on his right shoulder. He wears a sheriff’s badge and a smile. The sheriff’s left hand clasps that of his little boy as they stroll toward their favorite fishing hole.

At the feet of the two is a plaque. It reads: “‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ a simpler time, a sweeter place, a lesson, a laugh, a father and a son.”

Author Jim Clark wrote that people love Mayberry because it never changes, regardless what happens in the outside world.

Change may be foreign to Mayberry, but change did come to Mount Airy. Traffic is clogged, a string of new businesses, motels and restaurants now stand where cows once stood in the fields, calmly chewing their cuds.

“Mount Airy was like Mayberry when I was growing up,” said the owner of a local loan company. “Not anymore. We have had to triple our police force, drugs are rampant, and there is little respect for others or their property.”

It wasn’t long before we met another downhearted guitar player by the name of Andrew. James Easter, one of the members of the Easter Brothers, a gospel group who were all born and raised in Mount Airy, owns a small music shop downtown full of banjos, guitars, bass fiddles and more.

James is a religious, gregarious man. He spoke about how he and his brothers first started touring the country in 1950 spreading the gospel through their ministry of music.

As he continued, we noticed a handsome, middle-aged man sitting quietly on a chair next to James, strumming an acoustic guitar. “This is Andrew,” James said enthusiastically, as the musician smiled a shy smile and nodded his head.

James told us Andrew had been released from a mental hospital recently due to drug addiction, and was now on the road to recovery.

“Andrew accepted the Lord,” James said quietly. He said Andrew had never written a song before. “Once Andrew accepted the Lord, Jesus opened his mind,” James said. “Andrew, will you sing one of your songs for the Haleys?”

“This song is called, “I’ve Been Waiting,” Andrew said as he began to sing. It was obvious he was an accomplished, professional musician.

He sang, “I was on a downhill slide. With no safety net.” Brenda and I stood motionless, captivated by his rich voice as it resonated throughout the store.

After the song ended, James tried to lighten the mood and said, “If Otis of Mayberry can recover from his alcohol addiction, then Andrew can beat these drugs.”

One look into Andrew’s eyes told us he had been on a downhill slide, and was in need of a safety net.

But like Jim Lindsey, the other guitar player, perhaps a stop in Mayberry is just what Andrew needed, too.

We pray that is the case.

Pat Haley is a former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.

Pat Haley Haley