I don’t know if Matthew Mayberry knew that a hurricane bearing his name was hurling toward the East Coast as he lay dying in the Woltz Hospice Home last Friday but if he did know, he would have appreciated the irony.
I’m also not sure if he knew that when he checked into the hospice home 10 days before to end his earthly days, Mayberry Days was beginning just up the road.
Mayberry Days, the celebration of a fictional Mayberry, began as the days of a real Mayberry ended. Hurricane Matthew stormed in as another Matthew, something of a hurricane himself, quietly withdrew. The poetic symmetry of these events must have been catnip to Matthew, if he was aware of them, for he was a marvelous storyteller, a raconteur of the old school.
Somewhere on a beach in the far-flung reaches of the hereafter, Matthew is pouring wine for the other dearly departed while regaling them with the story of his demise. And he is doing a much better job of it than I am. I am not at all sure I have all of the details straight in my recollections of Matthew, but they are my memories and they are precious to me.
Matthew will probably begin his heavenly storytelling with the fact that he was not born with the name of Matthew. That name was given to him by a shaman in the wilds of Borneo who proclaimed it to be his true spiritual name. Well, not exactly his true spiritual name. He wasn’t ready for that yet but it did start with an “M.”
So he legally changed his name from Richard to Matthew. He hated the name Richard anyway. He especially hated the diminutive form, Dick. As Matthew sometimes said, “Nobody wants to be a Dick.”
I would imagine he was finally awarded his true spiritual name, which begins with an “M,” at the gates of heaven. I hope he likes it.
But I will begin my recollections of Matthew with our meeting. I met Matthew on the front porch of Galloway Episcopal Church’s parish house in Elkin a week or so after I arrived in town. We introduced ourselves, and he casually announced that he had been a childhood playmate of my wife’s mother. This came as something of a surprise as Lynda’s mother lived her entire life in Long Beach, California, and died when she was quite young.
Turns out Matthew’s parents had been friends of Lynda’s grandparents, and their children were the same age. This portly Southern gentleman rocking on the front porch of the church parish house looked as if he had never crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and maybe not even the county line but had, in fact, spent part of his youth as a surfer boy in Southern California.
Of course, as you already know but I did not at the time, California was only the beginning. He had traveled the four corners of the world, prospected for gold in Kalimantan and lived in a tree house in the depths of the rain forest with a monstrous wild orchid growing in the fork of a tree outside the front window. An orchid that was stolen one night under cover of darkness.
Long before Susan Orlean had made orchid thieves a matter of common knowledge, Matthew, and his wife Ann, had fallen victim to one. I believe Ann was the one who told me the saga of the stolen orchid. Ann was bound to come up in any story about Matthew. It is impossible to talk about Matthew without talking about Ann, his bride of almost 70 years.
She is the quintessential Great Southern Lady — a title I do not bestow lightly — and had been the apple of Matthew’s eye since they were children. She is the sort of woman who always knows which fork to use without making you feel foolish if you do not. She sometimes pursues the making of art, with pieces ranging from an Easter banner proclaiming the Risen Christ to a naked female torso with nipples that light up. A woman of many moods, it is not surprising she held Matthew’s attention and devotion for so many years.
Matthew’s face would light up when he told the story of how they met, or how they were briefly separated when she spent her freshman year at Duke because UNC-Chapel Hill (Matthew’s school) didn’t accept female undergraduates at the time, or their subsequent many decades of marriage.
If one happened to be standing behind them, as I sometimes did when working behind the tasting bar of their winery, it was not unusual to see Matthew put his hand on Ann’s butt when recounting the tales of their ongoing romance. She removed his hand if his flirtation lacked subtlety but left it there if she didn’t think anyone could see.
About the time Matthew was pushing 80, he decided to open a winery. Eighty is a fairly advanced age to start a business that is such a notoriously long game. But he did it. That fact alone continues to be an inspiration to me. A few years ago, when I worried about making a career change at 56, all I had to do was remember that Matthew started a winery when he was almost 80 and then it didn’t seem hard at all.
Some of Matthew’s best stories came from that winery. He had a knack for naming wines that bordered on genius. Maybe because of this, he preferred blends. After all, why have chardonnay when you can have “Booger Swamp?” “Booger Swamp” was perhaps his crowning achievement, followed closely by “Bugaboo Creek.” Ann drew the line at “Dinkin’s Bottom.” Those are all real places in the Yadkin Valley AVA and Matthew knew the back story on all of them. Ranging from Prohibition-era speakeasies in the woods outside Ronda to a stop on the Underground Railroad in Yadkinville, the stories were fascinating. The winery’s customers loved them and Matthew never tired of telling them.
Jay Leno even had a little fun with “Booger Swamp” when he was host of “The Tonight Show,” making sport of the label on his headline news segment. He should have had Matthew on as a guest. That would have been “must see TV.” Afterward, Matthew sent Leno a case of “Booger Swamp.” I doubt that many of the people Jay Leno made fun of on national TV sent him a case of wine.
But Matthew Mayberry was a gent.
Bill Colvard is lifestyles writer for The Mount Airy News and can be reached at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.