Sylvie and small town manners

Mayberry (as defined by Wikipedia, the closest thing we have to an official “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”: a fictional community in North Carolina that was the setting for two American television sitcoms, The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. It is also a song by American country music band Rascal Flatts. The thing is, if you live anywhere close to where I do, you know that Mayberry is a real town; it just isn’t called Mayberry. Look it up; you’ll figure it out. Hubby and I spent a few hours in Mayberry today. It was bittersweet.

Sylvie was my mom’s first cousin. I have no idea what that means in terms of her relationship to me, but it doesn’t really matter. She was nine years older than me, and in the summer of 1968 she was my almost-nanny. She moved from Mayberry to our house next to the airport in the Star City and lived with us for two months. I don’t remember much about that summer: she shared my bedroom, and her bed had a blue blanket on it…one that I still have. She could drive. We went swimming at a local swim club that didn’t have a pool, only a spring-fed pond that was COLD, and had a playground-type sliding board in it. That’s about it. After that summer she moved back to Mayberry. She went to college for a while. She got married, and divorced. And sometime in her early 20’s she was diagnosed with a very debilitating mental disorder. Her life from that point on was, well, difficult. She tried the standard medications, the ones that left her functional but with no personality at all. She spent time in mental hospitals and group homes. I lived with her mother and her for about 3 weeks when I took my first job in NC in late 1986. We, the family, would see her occasionally, at family reunions (when we used to have them every June,) or more recently, at a funeral. Before last September, I hadn’t seen her for about six years. We had a family reunion in September and she was there with her mother, my grandfather’s sister. She seemed happy to see all of us, but she was very quiet and withdrawn. A side-effect of the medication, perhaps.

Sylvie had three brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother died in 1983. Her mother, my great aunt, has outlived her husband, her parents, and now, two of her children. It seems that life in Mayberry isn’t quite what we’ve been led to believe. Life, just plain old run-of-the-mill life, doesn’t always play out the way it’s portrayed on the tee-vee. It’s not all sunlight and roses. Shortly after our reunion in September, Sylvie got sick. She was in the hospital in Mayberry, and when they couldn’t help her she came here to the big city, only they couldn’t help her either. Hubby and I went to visit her while she was in the hospital here. She said she was fine, she didn’t need anything, that she appreciated our taking time to drop by and see her. She was released, only to be readmitted. The doctors said “cancer” but they weren’t sure how far it had spread. In the wee hours of December 30, she died.

So today we made the trip up the mountain to Mayberry to say goodbye. In some ways, seeing Sylvie today was much less painful than seeing her in the hospital. Her sixty years had been so hard, and the struggle is finally over. Her casket was covered with pink roses, but there were no other flowers, because the family requested that donations be made in Sylvie’s honor to the local hospice, or any charity of choice. I like that. Don’t send me flowers when I’m gone.

There is peace on the other side. We will all miss Sylvie. But the restlessness that was her life is calm now.

About those small town manners: the drive from the funeral home to the cemetery was, in some unspoken way, a much more appropriate tribute to her life than any words any of us could have spoken would have been. There was a police escort. Drivers pulled over, out of respect for the passing of a funeral procession, even on the highway. I was moved by the fact that, even though these people didn’t know Sylvie, they took a moment out of their day to pay respect to a neighbor, a fellow human being who was taking that final journey that we all will take. Hubby and I were chatting about something or other as we prepared to make the final turn into the cemetery. The police escort had pulled his car to the roadside and was standing beside his car.  As we passed by, we could not help but notice him, standing by his cruiser, head bowed, right hand placed over his heart. Whatever words we were sharing stuck in our throats.

Sylvie, her father and her brother are all dancing today. And the gift of the pink roses: perfect happiness, peace, and joy.

Update: the day after the funeral my husband sent an email to the Chief of Police in Mayberry, thanking him for the respect shown by the people who pulled aside as we passed by. The chief answered: “First, let me extend my sympathy on the loss of your wife’s loved on. Secondly, thank you for your kind words regarding the procession. Our department takes a great deal of pride in the way we handle funeral processions. I will pass this information along to the officer who conducted the escort. Thank you.”

Kind words, given and received, by perfect strangers. Try it.

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