For most visitors, Mayberry Days is a chance to hearken back to a simpler time and enjoy a refreshing dose of small-town Americana, but for Tom and Peggy Loyless, who traveled to the festival from Tallahassee, Fla., this year, it is about much, much more.
And it all began in 2003, when Peggy Loyless, 60, was serving as the bureau chief of the food safety lab for the state of Florida. She was presenting a lecture at a conference in Chicago.
“At the time, she had undiagnosed hypertension, which blew out an artery in her brain while she was on stage giving her speech,” her husband, 67, said.
But ever the professional, she finished her speech, then said she didn’t feel well and went to bed.
“(Colleagues attending the conference) took her to her room, where she developed a very severe headache and began projectile vomiting,” Tom Loyless said. “They then carried her to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed her as having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.”
The doctors at the suburban hospital immediately transferred his wife to the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center, where they opened her skull and placed a clip on the aneurysm, which helped.
Meanwhile, her husband was frantically trying to get to Chicago from Florida.
“Within a half hour of us getting there, the clip failed and the artery opened,” her husband said, looking at his wife sitting across the table at Old North State Winery Friday. “She was bleeding massively into her brain.”
Which led to an eight-hour surgery, where she was finally stabilized.
“The doctors told us that they didn’t know if she would recover, or how much damage had been done if she did, but about a week later, she woke up,” he said.
But she had no memory of her previous life, and couldn’t speak.
“Over the next month or so, she slowly began regaining function, but she still couldn’t talk,” he said.
Which led to years of speech, occupational and physical therapy to regain a semblance of her former life.
“But it’s never been the same,” he said quietly. “She was very educated, very bright and great at public speaking.”
His wife, once a leader in her field, was now confined to a couch, which led to deep depression and agitation.
And then it happened.
“She would watch television all day, and her favorite show became ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” Tom Loyless said. “I don’t know why, but it made her feel very comfortable. It seemed to calm her down. I don’t know whether she remembered it from her childhood or what, but I know I went out and bought the entire series on DVD.
“That show, more than any other, has buoyed her spirits and helped her speech improve,” he added. “She began speaking phrases and words from the show.”
So a few months ago, when he was in Florida reading a magazine, he read about a little town called Mount Airy and Mayberry Days.
“She told me we had to come,” he said, noting that this is their first visit to the festival. “I made the reservations, and here we are.
Tom Loyless said he doesn’t know why the show had such an effect.
“Trust me, if there were an ‘I Love Lucy’ convention, we wouldn’t want to go, but she kept reminding me about Mayberry Days, wouldn’t let me forget, so here we are,” he said.
Still struggling to speak, Peggy Loyless said she doesn’t understand why the 1960s-era show had such an effect either.
“It just meant something to me. I don’t know what,” she said quietly and with halting speech. “But for some reason it just struck a chord and made me feel better.”
She looked out over downtown Mount Airy.
“This is something I wanted to do because that show meant so much to me.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.