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Penkava: When Mayberry came to Crystal Lake

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

It had one traffic light and virtually no crime. If you needed a haircut, you went to see Floyd at his barbershop. For gasoline you visited Wally’s Filling Station and Gomer would take care of you. Walking down Main Street you could bump into Mr. Foley, the grocer, Howard Sprague, the town clerk, or even the rotund but cherubic Mayor Pike.

Pick up the telephone and you’d get Sarah, the telephone operator, who could connect you with Ellie, the pharmacist. If you needed something fixed, you contacted Emmett’s Fix-it Shop. And for a great lunch, you just had to belly up the counter of the Bluebird Diner, just on the outskirts of town, near Myers Lake, and Juanita would slip you the blue plate special.

For most of you, I need to say no more because you already know the place that I am talking about. It’s the idyllic little town of Mayberry, N.C., and for most of the ‘60s decade, America tuned in to watch Sheriff Andy Taylor and his deputy, Barney Fife, and their friends navigate through their small-town lives with simplicity and unpretentiousness and judicious innocence.

Many of us who watched some of the 249 episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” have yearned to capture some sense of the spirit of Mayberry in our own lives. As one person put it, “Mayberry represented the way I wished it was.” Yes, who of us would not yearn for, as another observed, “a simpler time and a sweeter place?”

I used to think that would be impossible, given our modern, hectic, urban lifestyle. But then something happened that changed my mind. It was so subtle that it almost slipped under my short-range personal radar. But, interestingly, I didn’t find it. It found me.

You see, all summer long our grandkids had devoured books during the Crystal Lake Public Library’s summer reading program. As perks they received tickets that could be used at the library’s EPIC Celebration Event to commemorate 100 years of service to the community. These tickets would morph into coupons to participate in all kinds of fun and games, from an inflatable rock wall climb to face painting to Skee-ball. And this past Saturday was the day to cash in their 200-plus tickets.

My wife and I were invited to accompany our son and his family to the event. Quite honestly, spending an afternoon of Ring Tossing and Bozo Bucketing amid a million screaming kids was not a retired teacher’s idea of merriment. But, nevertheless, I trudged down the street to the library to meet the family and do my duty.

And that’s when it happened. As my wife and I bobbed and weaved through the crowd, I sensed something unusual. Something unexpected. Something surprisingly, well, surprising.

It was kind of like things were moving in slow motion. People weren’t walking, they were strolling. Kids weren’t rampaging, they were frolicking. Tickets were exchanged like handshakes and prizes flowed like honey. Volunteers were volunteering with the spirit of giving and library staff were multitasking with the spirit of camaraderie. Friends and strangers and families slowly melted together until you couldn’t even tell them apart. And there I stood in the middle of it all.

And that’s when it came to me. I wasn’t in Crystal Lake anymore. I was in Mayberry. During those few precious hours, I could taste its sweetness and feel its simple pleasure. For if our community ever did have a humble and common heart, it was beating peacefully that sunny Saturday afternoon at the Crystal Lake Public Library.

So thanks to all you Andys and Barneys and Helens and Thelma Lous at the CLPL for reminding us that Mayberry isn’t just a dream … you just have to look in the right place to find it. Aunt Bee would be proud of you.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. His favorite Aunt Bee quote is, “Opie, you haven’t finished your milk. We can’t put it back in the cow, you know.” He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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