Barney Fife, Opie and the bird whisperer

Published 8:49 am Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

“You remind me of Barney Fife,” she said.

That’s something I’ll move to the second page of my resume.

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I wasn’t sure how to take that. It wasn’t as bad as an old and supposed girlfriend saying, “I love you, like a brother,” but it was far from a woman saying, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Brad Pitt?”

“Really? Why do you say that?” I asked.

“He talked to the birds, too,” she answered.

I do talk to birds, but I’ve talked to tractors, basketballs, cameras, softballs, canoes and test papers, too.

I like Barney Fife. He’s every man. We’ve all been Barney. Barney has his peculiarities. We all do. Barney keeps one bullet in his shirt pocket. He isn’t the only one who does that. Woody Allen claims to carry a bullet in his breast pocket in case someone throws a Bible at him.

There is so much uncertainty in the world. It’s nice to be certain of something. I’m certain that when I see Barney on “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV, it’s a rerun.

A favorite episode of mine, called “Opie the Birdman,” opened with Deputy Barney Fife helping Sheriff Andy Taylor’s son Opie make a slingshot. The materials used were a Y-shaped forked branch as a frame, strips of inner tube for power-supplying bands, and a piece of leather for a shot pouch. Barney helped Opie with the slingshot, warning the boy not to stick his tongue out while working. “It’s a bad habit. You could bite it off,” advised Barney, unable to keep his own tongue from protruding. Barney added, “Generally speaking there are two main requirements in becoming adept with the common slingshot. One is keen, sharp eyes and two is a good, strong set of pinching fingers.” Opie stumped Barney by asking how David in the Bible made a slingshot without inner tubes.

Despite warnings to be careful, Opie shot a mother songbird and orphaned three nestlings.

Opie pleaded with the dead bird, “Fly away. I didn’t know you were a bird. Honest. It’s probably just a scratch. It’ll be okay. Please fly away!”

Opie was reduced to tears.

Andy learned of Opie’s mischief. You couldn’t keep secrets in Mayberry. He confiscated the slingshot saying, “Do you hear that? That’s those young birds chirping for their mama that’s never coming back. Now, you just listen to that for awhile.”

Andy added, “Being sorry isn’t the magic word that makes everything right.”

Opie took responsibility for his actions. He found “bugs and worms and things” to feed to the baby birds that he’d named Wynken, Blynken and Nod from a popular poem written by Eugene Field in the 1880s.

Opie fed the birds with tweezers after Barney warned him that he shouldn’t touch the birds because “all wild creatures shy away from anything with man-smell.”

The birds were caged for safety and thrived under Opiecare.

Opie, looking at the cage: “They seem to like it, Pa.”

Andy: “They sure do, especially Blynken. Look at the grin on him. He’s a healthy fella.”

Barney: “Wynken’s comin’ along good, too. ‘Course, he’s smaller, but he’s wiry.”

Opie: “Nod’s not as pretty as the other two.”

Andy: “That won’t make any difference. He’ll catch up.”

Barney: “Sure he will. You know what they say — homely at the cradle, pretty at the table.”

Barney: “You can tell by the way they’re chirping. That’s them communicating. They are saying things in bird talk.”

Opie: “Really? Like what, Barney?”

Barney: “Well, uh, a bird that’s feeling chipper will chirp nice and chipper. Well, like, (chirps sprightly) ‘Gee I’m feeling’ good.’”

Opie: “Gosh.”

Barney: “And then it works the other way around, too. When a bird’s feeling sick, why he chirps, (chirps sadly) ‘Gee I’m feeling’ bad.’”

Barney whistles loudly: “Here comes a cat! Let’s fly away! OK.”

Opie: “Gosh!”

Barney: “Yep, the ways of the creatures of the wild are many and wonderful.”

Andy: “You keep taking care of them the best way you know how and they will grow up to be birds you can be proud of.”

Opie: “How will I know if I’m doing right?”

Andy: “Wynken will tell Blynken and Blynken will tell Nod. Nod will tell Barney and Barney will tell you.”

Opie released the three birds.

Opie: “Cage sure looks awful empty don’t it, Pa?”

Andy: “Yes, son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”

There were three more birds singing.

Three more birds for Barney and me to talk to.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.