Last night, I realized I had failed my daughter. She was home from college for a brief visit and we settled in for some TV time. We flipped through a couple of thousand channels, most of them permutations of various “Law and Order” franchises, until I stumbled across a 1961 episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
I was taken aback when my bright, well-read and well-educated daughter asked innocently, “What’s that?”
Turns out, she had never seen this iconic program. I gave her a quick rundown on the characters and the evening’s viewing was decided.
It was one of the best episodes ever, the one where Buddy Ebsen, a charming hobo, passes through Mayberry. Barney’s eager to either lock him up or run him out of town.
Andy, of course, takes a more laid-back approach until he realizes Dave the hobo has been showing Opie how to steal gumballs, avoid work, ditch school to go fishing and even talk back to Aunt Bee. Dave also perpetrates Mayberry’s first crime wave, stealing a chicken and an apple pie. At Andy’s gentle urging, Dave moves on, but not before he helps Andy get Opie’s values back on track.
I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t yearn for those simpler Mayberry days when good old common horse sense ruled and deputies kept their bullet in their pocket.
I thought of how far we’ve strayed from those sensibilities when I read of a central Florida woman who was jailed for feeding crows in her yard. Mary Musselman is 81, a retired gym teacher who suffers from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
She was arrested last year for feeding a black bear. The bear was euthanized and Musselman was placed on probation. One of the terms of her probation was that she was not to feed any wildlife.
The intrepid agents for the state’s game and fish enforcement agency recently staked out her house and discovered they had a serial offender on their hands when they spotted bread and birdseed left out in the yard.
Musselman was hauled in front of a judge. Her lawyer presented evidence of her health issues and suggested that she be allowed to live under her brother’s supervision in Illinois.
The judge thought otherwise. He remanded her to jail pending a full psychiatric assessment. Since the only wheels that move slower than the ones of justice are the wheels of the mental health system, she could be there a while.
I understand how important it was to stop Mussleman’s bear-feeding activities. It endangers the public and it’s a death sentence for the bears. I think the disconnect came when the judge expected this poor, ailing woman to understand and abide by his orders.
My grandmother lived with Alzheimer’s disease for over a decade, 10 long torturous years. Midway through, she became stuck on auto-pilot, repeating familiar behaviors no matter how inappropriate or dangerous. No judge in the world could have stopped her from cooking the dinners she had faithfully prepared all of her life, even after I found her trying to fry up an issue of The Times. She thought it was catfish.
She spent her last few years in a nursing home where she rocked a Cabbage Patch doll and ran circles around the staff each evening as they valiantly tried to keep her out of the kitchen.
I look at Mary Musselman and I see myself in 30 years. I fear as I approach my twilight time, given no major medical breakthroughs, I may follow my grandmother into that dark valley that is Alzheimer’s disease.
I have an affinity for feral cats. They’re considered wildlife, so feeding them could be against the law in some communities. So could activities such as trapping, spaying, neutering, vaccinating and then releasing them back into the wild. All of which I’ve done on occasion.
Years hence, I hope if my unabashed love of wildlife leads me to commit infractions that go against the best interests of the community there will be Mayberry justice for me.
I pray there will be someone there who understands that these acts are not committed out of malice or defiance but a deep internal setting that can’t be changed.
Yes, I’d like to think that but, realistically, we live a world where there are far more mentally ill persons in jail cells than in hospitals. Every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease.
And hospitals are closing at an unprecedented rate. It’s a recipe for disaster any way you look at it.
I feel so sorry for poor Mary Musselman. And I sure am homesick for Mayberry.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.