Sometimes a TV show can remind you of life’s little truths. That’s what happened to me while watching a rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show.” If you don’t recall this 1960s television series, it took place in the idyllic town of Mayberry and featured Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widowed father who lives with his son, Opie (Ron Howard) and Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier).
The episode revolves around what happens when Andy hires Malcolm, a visitor to Mayberry, to help Aunt Bea with her chores around the house. Aunt Bea, for those who don’t know, is like a lovable grandmother who cooks, bakes, cleans and generally cares for her loved ones. Andy hires help because he thinks she’s overworked and deserves to be a woman of leisure.
As Aunt Bea’s life of leisure progresses, we witness her becoming less joyful and ultimately losing her spark for life. While Andy meant for her to relax more, Aunt Bea finds she has lost her purpose. She lives to care for her loved ones and didn’t mind all the seeming impositions. There’s a scene where Opie comments that Malcolm sings while he does his work. Malcolm responds that he sings when he works because it gives him purpose, which makes him happy. Opie then says that Aunt Bea used to sing a lot when she worked, but now she doesn’t sing at all. Realizing that he has actually done a disservice by taking on so much work, Malcolm leaves Andy’s household and Aunt Bea happily resumes her old routine.
This story resonated with me because Aunt Bea reminded me of my grandmother. Even when she hit her 90s, she wanted to stay busy. She would cook for herself, my uncle and sometimes for me and my parents. She was always dusting, sweeping and washing the porch.
Much of her life had consisted of this kind of caretaking, especially the many years when my grandfather suffered from Parkinson’s disease. We thought she’d ease up when she got older — and she did to a degree. When she reached 85, she stopped shoveling snow (though she did sweep the light stuff off the porch). I couldn’t understand why she didn’t take it easy more because we, her family, always offered our help.
Then I saw this episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” and it registered. My grandmother’s work gave her life purpose. She had loved ones for whom she could do things. That made her happy. And she was still in surprisingly good shape in her 90s so this approach was obviously working.
Even in the final months of her life when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with fatal leukemia, we let my grandmother continue to do some cooking because it made her feel useful. I tried telling her to relax so she could preserve her strength but that just made her angry. Her hardworking, independent streak remained with her until her final couple of weeks.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to do nothing. And for an occasional short period of time, it is nice to do nothing. But we all need some kinds of activities to give our lives purpose, especially when those activities are geared toward people we love. It may require some hard work and sacrifice on our part, but sometimes that’s a good thing regardless of how old we are.
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