By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South
Christmas Eve night. The mountains of North Carolina were giant silhouettes in the darkness. Sheriff Andy Taylor sat on the bench outside the courthouse, watching the stars.
It had been a hard year. Maybe the hardest of his career. The sheriff was downhearted, which didn’t happen often. But then, sheriffs have feelings too.
When it started to snow, Taylor shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets and slipped into a trance. Christmas morning was only a few hours away, and he wanted to feel cheerful, but he couldn’t seem to make it happen.
His deputy joined him on the bench. The scrawny, high-strung lawman had just finished doing his nightly rounds, shining a flashlight into storefront windows; checking doorknobs. All quiet in Mayberry.
“Whatcha doing, Ange?” said his deputy. “Why the long face?”
Taylor flashed a fake smile. “I’m just looking at stars.”
The deputy was obviously concerned, but Taylor hardly noticed. He was too busy thinking about all he’d seen during his years serving this sleepy hamlet. He’d seen it all. Or just about.
He’d once seen the town drunk ride a cow down mainstreet. He’d seen a local goat eat dynamite. He’d jailed bank robbers, swindlers, chicken thieves, speeders, escaped convicts, moonshiners, and Danny Thomas.
Life was moving too fast. The world had gone from AM radios to color TVs. He’d watched the tailfins on Chevys and Fords get taller each year. He’d seen skirts get shorter, hairstyles get shaggier, music get louder, and people get meaner. Airplanes gave way to rocketships. A man hit a golf ball on the moon. Divorce was becoming more fashionable than blue jeans.
But this year…
This year was a humdinger. It was worse than the rest. This was the year the world fell apart. People in town were more frightened and skittish than ever before. And sometimes it seemed like nothing in Mayberry was going right.
Taylor looked at the nightscape and tried to figure out which constellations he was looking at. But he was never very good with astronomy. A single star hung in the distance over the nearby backwater of Mount Pilot.
“You see that star?” said Taylor to his deputy.
“Yeah. I see it.”
“You reckon that’s how the Bethlehem star looked?”
“Bethlehem? Are you sure you’re okay? You worry me.”
The sheriff never took his eyes from the sky. “What do you think it was like, Barney? Bethlehem and everything?”
The deputy seemed to be thinking about this. The sheriff could hear the cogs in his friend’s head.
His deputy said, “Well, I think it woulda been darn crowded in that stable, for one thing. All them goat herders and wise guys.”
“Men. You mean wise men.”
“Correct. Males. No ladies were present.”
The sheriff paused. “No women? It was a childbirth.”
“Well, except for Mary. She stopped in for a little bit.”
Good old Barney.
The deputy went on, “I, for one, think it woulda been pretty dang exciting to see the Three Kings bearing their gifts, the gold, the silver, and the bronze.”
“You mean the frankincense and myrrh.”
“Do you even know what myrrh is, Barn?”
“Do I? What do you take me for? What I know is that it was quite an important night. There were angels in the sky, and cherubs proclaiming, ‘Peace on earth! Goodwill to men! Glory on the eggshells day-oh!”
“It’s French. Read the book, Ange.”
The sheriff and the deputy fell silent. They watched their tiny hometown do what it did best. Which was nothing at all. Wreaths adorned each window. Shopfronts featured twinkling lights. The snow was picking up tempo.
Sheriff Taylor asked his deputy, “You think we’ll get through this year, Barney? It’s been a difficult one.”
It was a serious question indeed. And it hung between them for a while. Even the sheriff could feel the weight within his own voice. There was doubt in it.
“Yes, I do,” said his deputy. “I know we’re gonna get through it. In fact, I’m certain.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“What makes me sure?” The deputy raised his voice. “Because, Andy. I just know it.”
“But how? How do you know?”
His deputy looked away like he was blowing a fuse. “You beat everything, you know that? Because I know, Ange. I just do. You wanna know how I know?”
“You really wanna know?”
“Well, then I’ll tell you. I know because this morning I drove to pick up Miss Emma Brand from her hospital checkup. And do you know what I saw when I walked into the hospital?”
Taylor shook his head.
“Babies, Ange. I passed the maternity ward and saw all kinds of babies. Lots. The nurse even let me hold a few. They spit up on me and everything.”
“Is that right?”
“It was beautiful. And last week, when I directed traffic for the school crossing, do you know what every boy and girl did when they passed me? They said ‘Merry Christmas, Barney,’ and gave me handmade Christmas cards.”
“Every last one. I got forty-three cards. It’s enough to make a grown man go all to pieces.”
The sheriff looked at his shoes. The somber silence made his deputy uncomfortable.
“Andy…” The deputy’s voice was breaking now. “You can’t be sad. Cheer up, pal. You’re the heart of this town. You’re my best friend. I need you. If we lose you, we’ve lost everything. C’est la vie, man! E pluribus unum! Status quo! Non sequitur! Et cetera, defacto!”
“It’s Latin, it means ‘tit for tat,’ and qué será será, and livin’ la vida loca.”
Taylor was laughing now. “What are you talking about?”
“It means we’re gonna get through this, Ange. One day we won’t even remember this horrible year, and it’ll be like old times.”
Then the skinny deputy threw his arms around his old pal in an embrace and slapped the sheriff’s back so hard it stung. Taylor could hear his deputy sniffling in his ear. The sheriff smiled, then squeezed his oldest friend in earnest.
And somehow Andy Taylor knew that no matter what happens in this raggedy world, a person can face anything if they have a friend.