If Opie Were Gay
Imagine. Long after they’d whistled and walked that same dusty path down to the creek and shortly after they’d plopped their fishing lines in the water, Opie shifted his feet back and forth, looked up at his father, the sheriff, and said softly, “Paw, I’m gay.”
Paw’s pause seemed to Opie to last an eternity. The sheriff stared out at the creek, exhaled slowly, “Well, Opie, I reckon I’m happy you told me first.” From Mayberry in1968 to modern day “Gayberry” it’s the dream sequence where, even in small town America, every kid is loved for who they are.
For it was Andy who worried about everybody and his broad shoulders shouldered the trials and tribulations of everyone in Mayberry. As we say “so long” to America’s sheriff, here’s more of that imaginary updated version of Andy guiding Opie after he shared his truth at the creek. Think of it as Will and Grace meet Andy and Aunt Bea.
As they pull up to the house, Andy sets the brake on the truck, “You know, Opie, I’m sure Barney will keep an eye out for you so’s you don’t get bashed. I’ve heard of this thing called SMYAL where all kids in your situation have a community where they feel safe and can meet others. Let’s see if we can find a chapter nearby. And I suppose we should talk to Floyd, too, Opie. You know he has a lot of friends that go with him to that hair dressers convention, and then there’s Gomer, and, well I think somehow Gomer’s got a second sense for this kind of thing. I’ll talk to your school counselor and Miss Helen, and I will see what we can do to start a GLSEN chapter at Mayberry Middle School.”
Opie, gratefully, “Gee thanks, Paw, but who’s gonna tell Aunt Bea? You know she’s not as young as the rest of us.” Andy smiled down and said, “I’ll handle it, Opie. Don’t you worry.”
Aunt Bea, quietly knitting in front of Antiques Roadshow smiles gently as Andy shares the news. “Oh, Andy, I’ve known for years. Here, I’ve knitted Opie this rainbow scarf, and take a look at this pamphlet—we both need to go to PFLAG up in Mount Pilate next Thursday. You’re the P and I’m the F, Andy! And you know, Floyd has a lot of gay friends, and Thelma Lou has this nephew that I’m just certain is...” (Fade to pink.)
Back to reality. I’m not sure who first called Rehoboth “Gayberry” but it caught on—and I’d like to personally thank them. Indeed, my first weekend visit as a guest of my dear friends Howard and Patrick introduced me to Pearl, the proprietor of “Painting by Pearl.”
My hosts had gone into town for provisions and I was weeding the garden when a truck pulled up and this woman in comfy shoes said, “Hey, where are the boys?” I explained they were off to town, so Pearl introduced herself, explaining that she had painted the house the week prior.
Pearl chatted for a good 20 minutes about the weather and fishing, and as she was leaving she said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I never took my hands out of my pockets.” I hadn’t really noticed, but she went on, “I’ve been to a funeral and I hadn’t had time to clean the paint off my hands, so I just keep them in my pockets.”
Okay, that rarely happens in the big city. That was 15 years ago, and today I take stock of who’s out here now and how many of us have reinvented a life in the country, alongside the Andys, Barneys, Goobers, Floyds, and even Aunt Bea (whom our friend Richard, when in drag, could be a stunt double. If only Aunt Bea did stunts). But these are the characters with whom we mingle daily. And instead of the ‘60s where we were MIA in Mayberry, we’re GAY in Gayberry. We have support from the mayor, the governor, lieutenant governor, state representatives and senators, and even our U.S. Senators. Those who happen upon a Rehoboth Beach City Council meeting, will find two—and sometimes three—openly gay commissioners. Yes, we’re welcome here, and many of us will spend our sunset years here. Most of us found our way here through major metropolitan areas where we could find others just like us. Only later did we choose this small town idyllic life—bucolic charms and an out life to boot.
The Washington Post’s Emily Langer concluded Andy’s obituary with a great story about how when Opie hit a bird with his slingshot Andy made him raise all of its offspring. Over time, as each bird flew away under their own power, Opie lamented how empty the cage was. Andy’s sage observation, “Yes, but don’t the trees seem nice and full.” For most of us it was a long and winding road to Gayberry, but we’ve left our nests, found our power, and each other.
We’re birds of a feather, which, when translated into French, is rumored to be La Cage Aux Folles.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC, but lives in Rehoboth Beach.