All Creatures Great and Small

“It’s just like ‘Opie the Birdman’!” my wife blurted out as we both stared at the sad little creature in the pet carrier. And I would have to agree. I had unintentionally played out my favorite episode of The Andy Griffith Show in real time.

Rewind six weeks. I was in the attic to determine how the squirrels had worked their way in. For the past few days we could hear something in the attic, and with all the trees around our house I just assumed squirrels. However, I had just come face-to-face with the largest raccoon I had ever seen. In such close quarters, my first thought was that a small bear had invaded our attic. And to make matters worse, the creature showed no fear of me whatsoever.

The next few weeks were a blur. I tried everything to discourage this beast from calling our attic home. I sprayed it with ammonia, set off bug bombs, and tried to thrash it with a fishing pole. We even hired a pest control company to set live traps, but that only resulted in fattening the animal as it became a master at stealing the bait.

Finally, one night I had had enough. It was 2:00am and it sounded like a bowling party was going on above our heads. Being a little less rational at that hour, I decided to take things into my own hands. I grabbed my pistol and threw open the attic door. There it was, my nemesis, not fifteen feet from where I stood. Suddenly, it darted for cover near a big pile of attic insulation. But instead of diving to safety, it sat up on its haunches as if to say “Can’t touch this…” At that moment the gun fired. It was a clean shot and the ordeal was over – or so I thought.

The next morning I opened the front door to find another visitor on our front porch. It was a baby raccoon, and slowly everything began to make sense. The mama was raising her young one in our attic, and was actually in the process of moving her cub to a safer location when I intervened. Like Opie, I had inadvertently taken a mother out.

As we cared for our little fella, the details of the classic episode came quickly into focus. I thought of all the emotions Opie experienced after accidentally killing the mother bird. Initial guilt and sorrow at what he had done, then courage and responsibility in taking the baby birds “under his wing”, and finally faith that he had done a good job and a sense that somehow he had made a difference for good.

On a grander scale, I think this attitude progression is a key to our own lives. Sure, we’re all going to make mistakes and do things for which we are sincerely sorry. But as Andy said to Opie, being sorry isn’t the magic word that makes everything right. What’s important is what we do after our blunder. And learning from Opie’s experience, our rewards are definitely worth the effort.Joey Fann is the author of the inspirational book, “The Way Back to Mayberry.” The website is

The Mayberry Poem: A Tribute to Mayberry
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