Mount Airy, North Carolina—blue mountains in the distance. Rolling farmland. Picture-perfect downtown. The home of Andy Griffith is just like it always was. Small. Sweet.
I’m on a park bench, holding a bouquet of roses. I’m waiting for my one-on-one interview with the oldest surviving Andy Griffith Show cast member, Betty Lynn—better known as Barney’s girl, Thelma Lou.
An elderly woman is gardening beside me while I wait. Her hands are covered in soil. Her husband is with her. Shirley and Bob Perkins are in their eighties. They’ve lived here since the earth cooled.
I ask if they ever met Andy Griffith.
“Met him?” Shirley elbows her husband. “Why, Bob’s distant kin to Old Andy.”
I ask what “Old Andy” was like.
“Oh, he was exactly like on TV. Don’t listen to nobody who says otherwise.”
When our conversation ends, Shirley says, “Before you leave town, get a pork chop sandwich from Snappy Lunch, there’s always a long line, but it’s worth the wait.”
I’m escorted into the museum.
Ninety-one-year-old Betty Lynn rolls into the room in a wheelchair. Her hair is red, she sports a yellow blouse and yellow pocketbook. My heart sings.
I hand her the bouquet. She kisses my cheek. Yes. My cheek. My very own cheek. She kisses this. With her lips. I’ve had a crush on Thelma Lou since boyhood. Now that I’m with her, it’s gotten worse.
“Tell me about Andy,” I ask.
“Old Andy?” she says. “Those were the best years of my life. I still watch the show and laugh.”
Her personal story is a good one. She tells it, using a trademarked cheerful voice that is unaffected by age.
“Who woulda ever thought?” she goes on. “Little old me, the new face of Mayberry.”
She lets me ask a million questions until our interview ends. She kisses me again. I…