At my house, on any given weeknight, I’m caught watching The Andy Griffith Show reruns. Invariably, my son walks by and says, “You know, Mom, that’s not real life.”
“That’s why I like it,” I say. Conflicts are all neatly wrapped up in thirty minutes. Problems run the gamut from hilarious to absurd: Opie’s crush on Thelma Lou, Goober’s teaching Aunt Bee to drive (to Andy’s disdain), Barney–dressed as a mannequin—tracking down robbers, Floyd’s diagnosing Goober’s whiplash, or Aunt Bee’s constant rivalry with busybody Clara.
Everyone’s happy at the end. Good wins. Warm fuzzies abound. It’s therapeutic. The worst consequences might be Otis’s weekly hangovers.
Later, I shared my son’s “not real life” comment with Rebecca—my AirBnB host in the original “Mayberry” (Mt. Airy, North Carolina). She replied with her charming southern accent, “Honey, that show’s more like real life here than you can ever imagine.”
Incidentally, that was the first of a dozen times I was called Honey, Sweetheart, or Darling in Mt. Airy–by women of all ages, including twenty-somethings. I’ve never been called so many pet names in one day in my entire life. Or in one month. As my daughter says, “That’s the South!” (She’s a transplanted northerner living in Chattanooga.)
Speaking of “real life,” if characters who exhibit kindness, humor, generosity, hospitality, and empathy aren’t real life, then what is? Sure, the show doesn’t plumb the depths of human evil and dysfunctional relationships (well, a bit), but I’m happy to make that trade-off for a little thievery, mischief, and a few white lies. Including Otis’s letting himself in and out of the jail cell on Saturday nights.
I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s. It ran from October 3, 1960 to April 1, 1968, airing 249 episodes, followed by Mayberry RFD till 1971. In the first RFD episode, Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) finally marries Helen Krump (Aneta Corsaut) and leaves the show.
In 1986, the movie Return to Mayberry brings the characters together one more time. Barney Fife (Don Knotts) finally marries Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn). That made-for-TV movie was the season’s highest rated television show.
My own personal “Return to Mayberry” was 1) watching reruns in the 1990s while nursing my firstborn; 2) watching reruns the past four years; and 3) taking a road trip to North Carolina in May, 2018.
Mt. Airy, NC is Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry. This charming setting has embraced that TV connection, growing into its own version of Mayberry since the early 1980s. First art mimicked life, then vice versa.
At home in Wisconsin, when I told an acquaintance—a Mt. Airy native—that I was going there, she said, “My mom would love to show you around!”
Really? I’m imagining my own daughter volunteering my services and my not being too happy about it. But this lady was. Josie, a local resident, treated me to genuine Southern hospitality with a personalized tour.
My arrival to “Mayberry” (I might inadvertently use Mayberry and Mt. Airy interchangeably) was by way of Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia by map. Yes, a plain old-fashioned map–to get the full 1960s Mayberry effect. Seems anachronistic to use a GPS.
Mt. Airy is nestled in the hilly terrain of Surry County, just south of the Virginia border, ninety miles north of Charlotte, and east of southern Appalachia. It’s tucked in amongst other mountain towns with names like Fancy Gap, Pine Ridge, Flat Rock, Toast, and, of course, Pilot Mountain, the inspiration for the show’s Mt. Pilot.
I stayed overnight at Rebecca’s Oakdale in Mt. Airy AirBnB. She is designated a “superhost”. I thought I was reserving just one bedroom, but ended up with private access to the entire main floor, consisting of a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms, a nice size double-sink bath, and a back porch with a private backyard.
Rebecca only rents one room at a time so guests don’t have to share the bathroom. This would be great for a family or group of friends who need all three bedrooms. I highly recommend this attractive and superbly clean home–and I don’t get any commission. I figure you might need a good, inexpensive place to stay if you’re planning your own trip here.
I met my tour guide Josie in the Andy Griffith Playhouse parking lot. The Playhouse is the auditorium of Andy’s Rockford Street Grammar School. He attended school and performed there in the 1930s and ’40s. Next door is the Andy Griffith Museum with the life-size bronze statue of Andy and Opie heading for the fishing hole.
Josie drove me around, offering a bit of the historical flavor of the area, including an antebellum house called the Moore House and the world’s largest open-face granite quarry. Mt. Airy is known for granite and textiles. Dozens of beautiful granite buildings grace the community, such as this First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).
Due to the company Renfro, established 1921, Mt. Airy is also dubbed the sock capital of the world. Renfro, where Josie’s husband works, makes leading brands such as Fruit of the Loom, Dr. Scholl’s, Keds, and more, as well as their own brands. At the Renfro Sock Outlet downtown, I bought several three-pair packs of Fruit of the Loom socks for $1.50/pack.
Remember the episode “Alcohol and Old Lace”? Andy and Barney try to track down moonshiners, with a little help from the Morrison sisters, the town florists. It’s Opie (Ron Howard) who helps crack the case when he discovers a still that he thinks is a “funny-smelling” flower-making machine.
This hints at Mt. Airy’s dark side. The man at the visitor center informed me that back in Prohibition days, Mt. Airy was known as the Appalachian Chicago, due to all the moonshining. Even today, Surry County is known for its dozens of fine wineries and vineyards.
Josie explained how the musical Darling family who fiddled and sang on The Andy Griffith Show for six episodes, along with Andy, brought awareness of mountain bluegrass music to the rest of the country. (More about that later.)
We drove to Andy’s Homeplace on Haymore Street, just south of downtown, close to the water tower with Andy and Opie’s image. Andy lived in this humble abode as an adolescent. It’s available for nightly rentals. Later, I drove by it again. The 1960s patrol car was parked in front, as part of a guided tour.
Surrounded by hilly landscape, even Main Street is on a slant. Nothing flat about this area. Elevations are as varied as Mayberry’s residents, from Andy to Aunt Bee to Goober.
First stop: Floyd’s Barber Shop. After Bill Hyatt greeted us, asking where we were from, he seemed to derive great pleasure from repeating “Wis-CON-sin” the way he claimed I said it—with an accent.
What? Since when am I the one with the accent?
He pointed out a framed plaque amidst 1000s of snapshots on the walls: the Barbershop Hall of Fame. His father, Russell Hiatt, was inducted in 1980 for his unique contribution to barbershop history. He’d started taking pictures of visitors and customers in the barber chair over sixty years ago and put them on his “Wall of Fame.” Later, he renamed his shop Floyd’s, after Mayberry’s barber shop. This drew more Andy Griffith Show fans to Mt. Airy, a big boost for the town.
Besides masses of snapshots, another framed picture stands out: a painting of Russell Hiatt cutting Andy Griffith’s hair, an event that occurred a few times in the 1950s. Supposedly, the character of Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear) was based on him. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to see a physical resemblance.
Russ’s son, Bill, continues the tradition today, posting each picture on Facebook, too. Josie’s and my picture is posted on May 17, 2018.
Bill said that Andy officially returned to Mt. Airy only three times after moving to New York to start his career, but privately visited often to see friends and family.
After two hours, Josie left me to my own devices, so I did more exploring. First I headed to Bear Creek Gifts & Fudge Factory, recommended as a first choice for souvenirs. It offers the typical fare of T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, keychains, magnets, spoons, postcards, and more.
Noon—Lunchtime! Next door to Floyd’s is the Snappy Lunch, which closes at 1:15 on Thursdays (1:45 on other weekdays).
Walking into the Snappy Lunch is taking a step back in time. Doesn’t seem much has changed from the 1930s diner. Andy ate there as a boy in the ’30s and ‘40s. With no cafeteria or lunch program at the local school, students often came for ten cent hot dogs or five cent bologna sandwiches and soda pop, still on today’s menu.
This is the only real original business mentioned in the show, in episode #9. In “Andy the Matchmaker,” Andy stages a robbery to boost Barney’s self-confidence enough to ask Miss Rosemary out on a date. He suggests to Barney that they go to The Snappy Lunch for a bite to eat.
Additionally, Andy mentions The Snappy Lunch in the song “Silhouettes,” recorded in the 1960s. Incidentally, the restaurant name comes from early customers who ordered lunch with the request, “Make it snappy.” And it was.
Since the diner is known as the home of the Famous Pork Chop Sandwich, I had no trouble making up my mind for lunch. The pork chop is dipped in batter and fried until crisp, embellished with chili, cole slaw, mustard, onion, and tomato.
Before the food arrived, the server Beverly marched me over to a back corridor and said, “Darling, this is what you need a picture of.”
The menu contains the Snappy Lunch’s history. Charles Dowell, who passed away in 2012, had worked there since 1943, bought half of business in 1951, and became full owner in 1960. He developed the pork chop sandwich which later accrued national reviews. His original intention was to make the sandwich without a bone so anybody could eat it.
Coming next: the Mayberry Courthouse, Wally’s Service Station, the Andy Griffith Museum, and more!
What is your own favorite Mayberry moment? Do you have a favorite episode?
I’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Join me next time for the rest of the “Mayberry” tour.