One on One: Mayberry today

Published 10:13 am Sunday, August 28, 2022

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By D.G. Martin

Sheriff Andy still lives in Mayberry, or does he?

A recent episode of CBS-TV Sunday Morning featured a repeat of a feature hosted by former news anchor Ted Koppel and bringing the country’s attention to North Carolina again.

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Reporting from Mount Airy, Koppel noted that it had been almost 55 years since Sheriff Andy left the popular Andy Griffith show, along with other favorite characters such as Ron Howard, who played Andy’s son, Don Knotts, who played Andy’s deputy Barney Fife, and the actors who played Aunt Bea and Floyd the barber. All are dead now except Howard.

With all these important actors gone, Koppel said, “It may come as something of a surprise to learn that Mayberry is doing just fine even though its actual name is Mount Airy, and its only genuine link to the Andy Griffith show is that Andy was born and grew up here.”

Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, explained how important the memory of the Andy Griffith show has been to his town, especially, Koppel added, “after tobacco and textile industries had the stuffing knocked out of them and the mills closed.”

Koppel continued, the TV show “captured a memory that never was true. Mayberry is fictitious.”

Collins agreed, “most everyone knows that except maybe some of the rabid fans of the show, they believe it’s real.”

Today, people from all over the country visit Mount Airy to see Mayberry, but the connection did not happen automatically.

Collins continued, “I think a lot of the town fathers and the business owners got together and said, hey, you know, what about this Mayberry thing? Maybe we can do something with it, and businesses were born or reinvented. It’s a little bizarre, isn’t it?”

Koppel explained, ‘It went off the air more than 50 years ago. Yes sir, it captured a reality that never was true.

In fact, as Collins explained, “We are constantly looking at other ways that we could promote the community because we know the Mayberry generation won’t be here forever. But now with streaming television Andy will be forever with us and we hope the younger generation will pick it up.”

One visiting family explained they liked Mayberry so much because they could get clean comedy. “Yeah, good clean comedy with moral values. You don’t see that a lot today in TV.”

Another said that Mount Airy’s real Snappy Lunch played a part even though it only got a few mentions on the TV show: “We drove from Louisiana for the famous pork chop sandwich.”

Another visitor explained, “I think the generations now long for that simplicity of the episodes of Andy being real with his son about stealing or doing the right thing and as a godless society that we see today is longing for simple life that when neighbors were neighbors and they provided for everybody else.”

Koppel tried to measure the political views of a group of visitors on a trolley bus. When he asked if they thought the 2020 presidential election was fair, only two hands shot up.

One visitor explained, “We don’t even watch news on TV. We don’t feel like that we are being told the truth, and we found our truth in other ways, and I won’t say what those other ways are, but I feel like we’re not being told the truth because we’re trying to be swayed in a direction that we know is not the right direction.”

Another complained, “This conversation about politics is what people come here to get away from. We don’t care what color you are. We don’t care what your politics are. We just want to be good neighbors and treat everybody alike and that’s why they’re coming here.”

If only Mayberry were real.

D.G. Martin, a lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.