Just a few weeks ago, I spent a beautiful fall Saturday morning in Decatur. I was there to connect with people just like you who had gathered to connect with their cooperative. What I didn’t know, however, is that I would connect with great memories, a new understanding of some things that mattered to me and a lot of smiles.
Growing up with my last name, folks would often ask if I was a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show.” With big smiles, they would often tell me about their favorite episodes. Kerosene pickles. Citizen’s arrest. Nip it in the bud. The fun girls from Mt. Pilot. But when I shared that my father’s name is actually Don Knotts, well, the smiles always got bigger.
To this day, I can’t help but stop and watch when I see the black-and-white images of Mayberry on my television and smile during the opening theme song when my dad’s name appears on the screen, just like I did when I was a kid. In those days of phone books and prank calls, the line at my parents’ home would sometimes ring with callers asking if we had a date with Thelma Lou that night or if our bullet was in our pocket. The jokes about Barney Fife were easy because the character is so memorable and so funny, and there was only one Don Knotts in the white pages.
So I was surprised those few Saturdays ago when I arrived at the co-op annual meeting in Decatur. I was greeting a nice woman who asked me about my columns here in The Tennessee Magazine and then walked around the corner only to come face to face with Barney Fife himself — sort of. He was busy issuing citations (probably for jaywalking) to other attendees of the meeting with the same seriousness that Barney had those many years ago. But I soon had the opportunity to say hello myself.
A longtime Tennessee treasure and resident of Bristol, David Browning has been appearing as “The Mayberry Deputy” for over 32 years. For much of that time, Mr. Browning was opening for Don Knotts at venues across America as Don toured and performed his own stand-up comedy. When he took the photo with me you see on this page, for just a moment I felt like perhaps we were in Mayberry.
And the feeling lasted as The Mayberry Deputy took the stage and performed for the very large crowd that had come for the meeting. The jokes were wholesome, the laughter was loud and Mr. Browning had the imitation down pat. What I didn’t know, however, was that this might have been the last performance of a long career. David actually retired in 2021 but felt so strongly about the co-op that he donned the uniform and put the single bullet in his shirt pocket one last time.
Here is to a job well done — not just to Mr. Browning but to Volunteer Energy Cooperative for connecting us to our community, our co-op and some great memories.