A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.





Monday, June 20, 2011

Waldronberry

The TV Land statue outside the Andy Griffith
Museum in Mt. Airy, NC
While on vacation in North Carolina last week, my wife and I took the opportunity to make a little pilgrimage up to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, which happens to be Andy Griffith's hometown.  Although the fictional town of Mayberry was never intended to be a replica of Mt. Airy, there are lots of places in Mt. Airy that are referenced on The Andy Griffith Show, so it was really neat to visit the town and look for the places that Andy might have visited himself when he was a boy growing up there. 

The people of Mt. Airy, being no fools themselves, have cashed in on their connection to The Andy Griffith Show, so a walk down Main Street provides you the opportunity to step into many different Andy Griffith Show themed shops.  But the best (and busiest) place on Main Street was The Snappy Lunch, a little diner that started in 1923 and was certainly in business when Andy was growing up.  The Snappy Lunch offers a full diner-style menu, but my wife and I had their signature dish, the pork chop sandwich.  This is a breaded and fried pork chop (no bone) served on a bun with slaw and a bunch of other toppings.  It was delicious, and well worth the wait (as I said, the little place was busy!) 

Another real highlight of the trip was our visit to The Andy Griffith Museum.  The museum contains many artifacts from the show and from Andy's life in general.  The exhibits have been acquired by Andy's childhood friend Emmett Forrest.  No photos were allowed in the museum, but it had some really great authentic memorabilia, including Barney's famous Salt and Pepper suit (great for dancing, just right for dips), Otis Cambell's beat up and ragged suit and straw hat, Goober's brown pinstripe suit (and his famous beanie, which had been bronzed), Andy's gavel and eagle from his sheriff's desk, the keys to the jail cells (including the pair that Cousin Virgil filed down to nothing), the original Sheriff and Justice of the Peace signs from the front door of the courthouse, and TONS of other stuff.  We missed seeing Thelma Lou by one day; we were there on a Thursday and Betty Lynn, who lives in Mt. Airy, appeared the following day to sign autographs (while we were sitting in the Atlanta airport foolishly believing that our delayed flight would finally take off, which it didn't).  They also had some beautiful prints of artwork based on the show, and my sweet wife bought one for me.

The iconic signs from the Mayberry Courthouse doors (photo from
web)

As you walked down the street, the theme from The Andy Griffith Show played from speakers located all over that part of town.  It really took me back, and started me thinking about how much Waldron was like Mayberry.  Of course, everyone from a small southern town probably thinks their home town was like Mayberry, and in many respects it probably was.  But I started thinking about Waldron specifically, and for purposes of this blog managed to come up with ten ways that Waldron resembled Mayberry.  For instance...

Main Street was the center of action.  In Mayberry, when you wanted to go shopping, get a haircut, go to the bank, or just sit and visit,  you went to Main Street.  That's also what you did in Waldron in the 1960's.  OTASCO, Marsh's, Plemmons' Department Store, Rice Furniture; whatever you needed was probably on Main Street.  People gathered on the sidewalks to see the gold truck go through Mayberry, or to see the rodeo parade go through Waldron.  Everything BIG happened on Main Street.


The Drug Store was more than a place to get medicine.  In Mayberry, you could get your prescription filled by pretty Ellie Walker, or you could get her to make you an ice cream soda.  In Waldron, you could visit Owens' Drug or B&B and get your meds, or you could sit at the counter or in a booth and have a cup of coffee or some ice cream.  You can't do that at Walgreen's.

Kids spent money they earned.  Little Opie knew better than to ask his Pa for a new toy just because he wanted one.  Even though the Spoiled Kid tried to teach him how to throw a fit to get what he wanted, it didn't work with Andy.  Opie used his allowance to get a new ball glove or fishing rod.  (Okay, he may have used part of the $50 that Parnell Rigsby lost that one time, but that was an exception!)  Most of the kids of my generation didn't get whatever they wanted either.  We saved up birthday money or allowance money or chore money before we visited Parsley's toy counter.  Because of that, we valued our things more, and that's why many of us still have some toys today that we bought at Parsley's or Ben Franklin.

People were known for their occupations.  In Mayberry, everybody knew that Floyd Lawson was the barber, that Mr. Foley ran the grocery store, that Orville Monroe ran the funeral home (with a sideline of TV repairs).  In Waldron, everybody knew that Earnest King was the barber, that Robert Davis or Buddy Gray or Kelly Ashford ran the grocery store, that J.D. Martin and Webby Rice ran the funeral home, and that TV repairs were taken care of by Omer Brigance.  Everybody in town knew that Wendell Henderson was the Postmaster, that Si Rice was down at the Revenue Office, and that Doug Bivins was in charge of the Water Department.  Not only were they known, those folks were also respected.  Owning a business or being a manager was something worthy of respect.

It was cool to sit on your front porch.  At least cooler than sitting in the house.  Most folks didn't have air conditioning; some of us had "water cooler" fans that cooled the house but also raised the humidity.  So, after work, as dusk approached, lots of folks took to the front porch.  Many of the greatest scenes from The Andy Griffith Show take place on the Taylor's front porch.  Barney, almost comatose, stating his plans for the rest of the afternoon:  "Yep, I'm gonna go home.  Take a nap.  Then over to Thelma Lou's to watch a little TV."  After the plan has been recited for the third time, The Man In A Hurry, Malcom Tucker, looses his patience and shouts, "For the love of Mike, DO IT!  GO HOME.  TAKE A NAP.  GO OVER TO THELMA LOU'S FOR TV.  JUST DO IT!"  A befuddled Barney, somewhat startled, gets up and as he leaves murmurs, "For heaven's sake, what's the rush?" 

Everybody had a party line.  Waldron's telephone system did not advance to the point of everybody in the city having a private line until late in the 1960's.  We all shared a line with one or two or maybe three other families.  You had to be patient; if you wanted to make a call and you picked up the phone and heard someone else talking, you put the receiver back down and waited to try again.  But it wasn't as bad as in Mayberry, where evidently the whole town was on the same line.  In the aforementioned "Man In A Hurry" episode, Mr. Tucker is desperately needing to call ahead to the city of Charlotte to let his people know that he is stranded in Mayberry.  But he can't use the phone, because the Mendlebright sisters are having their regular Sunday afternoon chat.  The impatient Mr. Tucker tries to interrupt to persuade the ladies to let him have the phone, but his attempts only lead to confusion. 

People knew most everyone else's business (but didn't necessarily talk about it).  Maybe it was the party lines, or maybe it was just because people visited each other more, but nobody really had many secrets.  If someone had lived in Waldron most of their life, their biography was pretty well known.  But families didn't talk about other people's information very much.  You might be encouraged to avoid certain people, but you were never told why and you didn't really ask.  In Mayberry, Gomer was once serving as a temporary deputy on guard duty on top of the roof of the courthouse, and he could see all over town, including seeing which old ladies slipped out to their barns to take a dip of snuff.  And Barney, under cross examination by an attorney trying to make trouble for Andy, was asked, "Is it true that Otis Cambell is the town drunk?"  Barney sheepishly replied, "Well, we don't say it out like that."  

"Daylight's precious when you're a youngen."  Andy accurately described the importance of getting to play outside until it became absolutely necessary to come inside.  In the summers, we were outside as long as we could possibly be.  At dusk, when the lightening bugs came out, we would chase them endlessly.  The cool evening air gave us renewed energy, so that when we had to come in and go to bed, we slept well.

You didn't miss church.   "Sermon for Today" has to be one of my all time favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  A guest preacher is visiting, so everyone is interested in hearing what he has to say.  However, as the sermon goes on, Opie gets distracted trying to catch a fly, Gomer falls asleep and begins to snore, and Barney likewise begins to drift off until the preacher, for emphasis, shouts, "WHAT'S YOUR HURRY?"  The calm Sunday afternoon then deteriorates into very unMayberry-like chaos.  It's probably not the case, but in my mind it seems to me like I was at church every single Sunday morning, as well as Sunday night and Wednesday night.  I didn't hear any sermons as mild as the one in The Sermon For Today, but those fire and brimstone sermons that I did hear managed to keep me out of trouble.

School was of paramount importance.  The only discipline problems Miss Crump ever had came from the time Earnest T. Bass was in her class.  In Mayberry, students sat in desks that were bolted to the floor in rows, just like we did in the red brick building in Waldron.  We didn't have to stand and recite like Opie and his friends did, but we sure didn't even think about talking back to our teacher.  When Opie had trouble with his long division, Andy tried his best to help him.  He didn't write a note to the teacher about how unfair the homework assignment was and how it was interfering with Opie's family activities. 

So, I guess Waldron was a lot like Mayberry.  But Mayberry was fiction, and there were no problems in Mayberry that couldn't be solved in thirty minutes.  Waldron was real, and we sometimes had real problems that couldn't be solved that quickly, or maybe even ever.  But we get to pick our memories, and so we remember the good and happy times, so that's why Mayberry resonates with us today.  And that's why whenever the TV is on and I hear that familiar whistling tune, I stop what I'm doing and take a little trip back to the 1960's, to a simpler time, and let it be real to me for just a few minutes.

A pork chop sandwich from The Snappy Lunch

1 comment:

  1. Tremendous, wonderfully well-written piece. MY WIFE and I have wanted to visit Mt. Airy for some time, and this will only make us both want to do so more (me already, her when I show her this.) The comparison to your Waldron was great. Much of the same for me (although I grew up in Dorchester, a city neighborhood in Boston, but it was a gentler time and neighborhoods as far from downtown as ours were almost bucolic compared to how they are now.)

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