All photos by Gary Wedemeyer.
I awoke at 4:00 on Friday morning to get ready to go to Mt. Airy. I live in Northeast Tennessee, two and a half hours away from Mt. Airy. At 5:00, I hit the road. Interstate 81 was sparsely traveled at that time, so I had the highway all to myself at times. For a while, I drove in silence, joyous in the anticipation of attending Mayberry Days. Then I put my V W Boys CD, entitled “Snappy Lunch” into the player and enjoyed the Mayberrish tunes those boys cranked out. There was even an interview with Mr.. Charles Dowell, owner of the Snappy Lunch.
I pulled into Mt. Airy at 7:30, and barely found a parking place. The crowd was already getting pretty big. I figured I’d drop in the Snappy Lunch for some bacon and eggs on my way to the amphitheatre for the unveiling, but I couldn’t even get in the door. So I just walked on down towards the stage where the statue was under wraps and found a good place to stand. Since the ceremony was still an hour and a half off, I figured I’d pass the time by visiting with those around me. After all, we Mayberrians are a friendly lot, are we not? The first man I spoke to was a vintner from a nearby town. I learned a lot about making wine. Then I met a lady from Canada who taught me a lot about that country and their government. Another fellow I talked with was from near Chattanooga. He was a wonderful gentleman who told me of making and transporting chemicals. It was fun to visit with other folks “like us.” Then it was time for the program to begin on the stage.
First up was the honorable mayor of Mt. Airy, Mr. Jack A. Loftis. Next, an invocation was given by David Beal, Commissioner for the City of Mt. Airy. Then Mr. Larry W. Jones, President of TV Land and Nick at Nite took the mic and made a fine address.
And finally, the moment we’d all been waiting for……Mr. Andy Griffith arose to speak. A hush fell over the audience of several thousand. Silence fell across the land. Time stood still. But then it started again when both Andy and Mr. Jones jointly pulled the covering from the statue, and Andy proclaimed, “Welcome Home!” as he directed everyone’s attention to the bronze likeness of Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole. The silence was broken by the thunderous applause that followed. Andy then proceeded to deliver as fine a speech as he’s ever made. He explained that when TV Land had asked him to attend a function honoring the show some months ago, he had said he’d come if they’d assure him they’d place a statue in his hometown. Then he said, “God bless them, they did!” He went on to tell tales about the early days of filming the show, the actors and actresses involved, and how the producers, directors, and actors all worked together to write the shows. When he arrived at the end of his speech, he began singing the “Mayberry Union High” song in a wonderfully strong voice. I mean to tell you, the finest pipe organ in Europe couldn’t compete with the melodious notes emanating from the depths of Andy’s larynx! I don’t even think his uvula got in the way.
Next on the agenda was a lot of picture taking by the media. Posed shots of Andy and his family members took a little while, but then The Dilliards and Maggie Peterson took the stage and sang some good ol’ Darling tunes. I mean to tell you, it was goooooooood!
I went for a stroll around town after all those festivities, and just sort of soaked up the atmosphere. The line for the Snappy Lunch was already lined away up the street, but everybody was being just as patient as could be, waiting their turn. Floyd’s Barber Shop was also a happening place to be with all sorts of us touristers checking out the place where Andy used to get his hair cut. I made my way down to Mrs. Wiley’s tea party, stopped in later at the Cinema to see the shows and hear question and answer sessions of the stars, then headed back to The Andy Griffith Playhouse to take in the afternoon matinee of The Dilliards. That was some kind of fine show! The playhouse was full, the show second to none. Our own Alan Newsome brought joy to the crowd with his fine rendition of Floyd, while David Browning took off on Barney, much to the delight of all.
About the time the concert was over, it was time for the trivia contest out front. It was an amazing sight to behold competitors answering HARD questions. It was a beautiful thing to watch. Just beautiful.
Then, just when you’d think it couldn’t get any better, Alan announced for the members of the WBMUTBB chapter to gather for a group photo. It was quite exciting to get to meet many of you for the first time and put names to faces. What a great time! What a pleasure to finally put faces with names. When I announced that this was my first Mayberry Days, you’d have thought I’d won the lottery the way everyone was welcoming me. Sure made me feel good. Thanks, y’all.
It was supper time by now, and my lovely wife and two boys made it into town about that time. They had waited to leave TN until they got out of school that afternoon. A lot of the big activity had died down a bit by then, so I just took them on a driving tour around town, showing them Andy’s homeplace, the Playhouse, and the Main Street attractions. We didn’t get to take in the evening festivities since we needed to get the boys in bed if we expected to get up in time for Saturday’s morning’s parade.
We arrived back in Mt. Airy Saturday morning around 8:15. The parade was to start at 9:00 and we wanted to get a good place to watch it. We found that place right in front of the train store and the hardware store on Main. I’d recommend visiting both of those stores. Out in front of the hardware store, Young Life, a Christian organization in the high school, was selling Snappy Lunch shirts. These were special edition shirts, dated 2004, with a line about eating lunch with Ange. My older boy got one of those.
The parade started right on time and made its way along Main Street. I don’t know how many squad cars were in it, but it seemed like maybe a dozen. Several character look-alikes added a festive air to the occasion. The real characters were there too. The Dillards and Maggie rode on the back of an antique pickup truck. Betty Lynn was in the back of a convertible. A couple of ecstatic ladies ran right up to her during the parade shouting, “Thelma Lou! Thelma Lou!” but one of Mt. Airy’s finest who was walking along beside the car politely kept the overzealous fans at bay. George Spence, Leroy McNees, and James Best rounded out the stars. (Did I leave anybody out? Hope not. Sorry if I did.) One of Surry County’s high school marching bands did a rousing rendition of the theme song to TAGS, while the band’s flag corps marched along with little fishing poles, complete with a cardboard fish attached to the line. Several antique automobiles in pristine restored condition were paraded along the route, while the Shriner’s old jalopies were the exact opposite — intentionally, of course. They were dressed as hillbillies, and their vehicles would put you in the mind of The Darling’s truck. Everything about the parade was high quality. I’m glad we made the effort to see it.
Afterward, we did a little shopping up and down the main drag. So many shops to choose from! I also took my wife and boys in to the barber shop. This was their first time in town. My first time was last November, and I actually got my hair cut by Mr. Russell Hiatt. The line to the Snappy Lunch consistently stayed about 50 yards long on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, so we didn’t get to get a pork chop sandwich. Here again, back in November, I got right in to the Snappy Lunch. I’d recommend anybody making a visit not only during Mayberry Days, but also at a less crowded time so that you can take full advantage of the offerings of the town. Another example: The visitor’s center is very much worth visiting, but when large crowds are there, it’s hard to see all there is to see. I was honored, however, to get to shake Mr. Emmett Forrest’s hand, for he was at the visitor’s center when we were there. He’s the man who owns the collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia on display in the visitor’s center.
Another honor was that I got to help with the silent auction sponsored by the WBMUTBB chapter. That was one of the most rewarding things I’ve been involved in. The two hours spent standing behind the tables flew by, setting up the items, answering questions, and helping others, It was such an enjoyable thing to do, and it went to support a good cause: raising funds for the Surry Arts Council, the outfit that puts on Mayberry Days. I got to meet several fellow chapter members from around the country. They were all nice, of course, but I was especially pleased to meet Jeff Koontz’s mom. What a fine, congenial lady! It was exciting to see the bidders start gathering around toward the time that the auction was to end. At high noon, all bidding ceased. But the last couple of minutes prior to that saw some pretty hot and heavy bidding strategies employed. It was fun, and I hope to be able to help again next year.
During the auction, my wife and boys took in some of the other activities around the Andy Griffith Playhouse grounds. They enjoyed riding the little blue choo choo, a small train that took patrons on a tour through the town. There was also a playground with some kiddie rides and inflatable slides and such. My 7-year-old son wore his Goober beanie all the time and regaled in the attention he drew to himself.
I had a ticket for Prof. Brower’s lecture, so I attended that while the wife and boys did some more shopping. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised with the lecture. The professor had done an extra fine job of researching the Dillards and Maggie, and set the stage for a bit of a Darling reunion. The icing on the cake was that all of the Dillards and Maggie were live on the stage, actually reminiscing about their days on the show along with a bunch of other memories. It was a great show, but unfortunately, I had to leave early so that we could hit the road back home.
What would I have done differently? And what should I do differently next year? Well, one of the main disappointments was that I waited too long to get a Mayberry Days t-shirt. I wish I would have gotten one early on Friday, because they were sold out of my size by Friday evening. Another regret is that I hadn’t made plans to stay for Saturday night. If I would have, I could’ve taken in more shows. It’s nice to be able to stroll the streets and see things, but I believe seeing the shows adds a whole nother dimension to the event. I also should have gotten motel reservations earlier in the year so that I could have stayed closer than thirty miles away.
Did I mention attending Leroy McNees’ session? That was on Friday, and I believe I might have forgotten to mention it. Anyway, let me just say that his question and answer time after the showing of “Mayberry on Record” was a most educational and entertaining time. The episode was shown in the Cinema, a downtown movie house with a stage. It’s probably from the 50’s or 60’s, I would guess, and is still maintained in the fashion of theatres from those days. I even got to take a seat in the balcony, something modern movie houses don’t offer. In this setting, everything seemed perfect. We were on Mayberry time. Laid back, in no hurry. Asking Mr. McNee questions and hearing his answers was just like setting around the kitchen table visiting. What a nice man.
Okay, I’ll hush for now. I feel I’m bordering on the chit-chat. Ordinary conversation is okay, but everybody knows how I feel about chit-chat.
Seriously, thanks for everything, y’all. I hope to visit more with you — if not throughout the year, then at least at Mayberry Days. Y’all come and see us when you can.
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Mayberry Days event posters like the one pictured below can be ordered at: http://www.mayberry-emporium.com/
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