"Andy Taylor and Opie"
carryin' fishin' poles...
If anyone claims to not reminisce about a simpler time in their lives, – typically their youth – they’re lying. The simple fact remains that childhood is easier than adulthood and we all, at one time or another, long to go back to those bygone days… days before paying bills, political debates, and 40-hour work weeks.
It doesn’t matter where or when that childhood took place. We all dream and daydream about an easier life. Was life easier and simpler in the 1920s? Not really. The 1950s? Nope. The 1980s? Hell no. Every era of human history has been plagued with its own perils and pitfalls.
The '20s had to deal with Prohibition and the stock market crash. The '50s were engulfed in segregation and polio. Thanks to Reagan and his failed trickle-down economics – coupled with the Cold War – the '80s were perhaps the most confusing decade in American history.
What about places? Did people growing up in midtown Manhattan have a better youth than those who grew up in rural Smalltown, Ohio? What about the people in other parts of the world – the Middle East? Japan? South Africa? Nah. There always have been advantages and disadvantages to every nation and every locale.
The constant throughout all of this is our human need to look fondly on the days of our past, whether that meant cool glasses of lemonade following an afternoon swimming in the ol' watering hole or living on a city street where all your neighbors knew your name and acted as surrogate parents when yours were working.
The pop-country trio, Rascal Flatts, from Columbus, Ohio, is no different than the rest of us. On their 2002 release Melt, the power group catapulted to the top of the charts with their No. 1 hit "Mayberry," a peaceful, nostalgic, and heartwarming tune about growing up in a small town. The song’s composer, Arlos Smith, no doubt reached back into his personal memory banks for much, if not all, of the imagery in the lyrics, but neither he nor Rascal Flatts hailed from a town called Mayberry.
Sometimes I dream I’m driving down an old dirt road not even listed on a map. I pass a dad and son carrying a fishing pole; but I always wake up every time I try to turn back.
What and where is Mayberry? For those of you old enough to remember, the town of Mayberry, R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery - a quaint old postal code), is the fictional community setting for the popular television sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show," which ran between 1960 and 1968 on CBS, when - as the song says - everything in TV-land was black-and-white; color programming was too expensive for most networks. Andy Griffith played widowed sheriff, Andy Taylor, father to Opie (a young Ron Howard), whose profession causes him to cross paths with bumblers, spinsters, inept deputies, and temperamental girlfriends. Watching the old episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" feels more like looking through a window into the 1930s than one into the 1960s – a further testament to the fact that even then, the creators wanted to harken back to an even simpler time.
Due to the show’s success, the name has become synonymous with idyllic, small town simplicity. While Mayberry in both the television show as well as the Rascal Flatts song remains fictitious, the setting is obviously drawn from typical, rural communities in Virginia and the Carolinas. In fact, Andy Griffith himself is from one such town, a town that this writer has visited himself… the town of Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Mount Airy, the tiny community just south of the Virginia border, began as a stagecoach stop between Winston-Salem and Galax, Virginia. Although Mayberry had only one traffic light and Mount Airy has quite a few, the two locations share quite a bit more in common than one might think. For instance, the real-life restaurant, Bluebird Diner, is based on the fictional version where Barney Fife (Sheriff Taylor's aforementioned lovably inept deputy) spoke to Juanita. Additionally, there’s a Floyd’s Barbershop in both places.
Other than being famous as the inspiration for "The Andy Griffith Show," Mount Airy is well known for its bluegrass and old-time music, another nostalgic aspect to this quaint town. WPAQ AM is one of the few bluegrass and old-time music stations still operating. Weekly jam sessions attract musicians from across the country. Both music legend Tommy Jarrell and country singer Donna Fargo hail from Mount Airy.
And for added historical spice, Eng and Cheng, the original Siamese twins, lived there for a spell, albeit long, long before Andy Griffith was ever born.
Walking down the main street area, one cannot help but feel they’ve been magically transported through time. Passers-by wave. Cars honk. There are smiles on the faces of children and adults alike. The town boasts at least three vintage clothing and second-hand stores on top of ice cream parlors, old-time department stores, diners, and even a mom-and-pop toy store where children are encouraged to touch the merchandise. All in all, simpler times live on in our hearts and minds, and perhaps, just a little, in Mayberry… er, Mount Airy.
~ Justin Novelli
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