Howdy, neighbor! The changing face of rural life

Editors note: The following article, about life portrayed in T.V.s fictional 1960s Town of Mayberry, is reprinted with permission. New residents to this area will recognize in it some of rural Vermont as it looks today. But it is also for those older residents who know that rural life is changingirrevocably. They may long for the time when neighbors knew each other by name and front porches were a more human way of communicating than e-mail and cell phones. Every weekend downtown Mount Airy, N.C., comes alive with tourists from all over the country, often from different parts of the world. Most travelers are searching for a utopia called Mayberry, a fictional television town made popular by The Andy Griffith Show. The show aired original episodes from 1960 until 1968 and continues in syndication throughout the world. Mayberry is commonly associated with Mount Airy, the hometown of veteran television and stage actor Andy Griffith. Mount Airy certainly shares many similarities with its show business counterpart, including its location in North Carolina, similar street names, many of the same businesses, and even some of the same residents. Can Mayberry however, truly be found, or is it pure illusion like televisions "Gilligan's Island" or "Petticoat Junction"? What is it about Mount Airy that attracts larger and larger crowds every year? To uncover this treasure, I traveled first back to Mayberry in my imagination and then to Mount Airy in my car. Two annual festivals in Mount Airy draw thousands of people into town every year. On festival draws on the continuing popularity of The Andy Griffith Show, and the other draws simply upon the beauty of the small town. Mayberry Days are held the last weekend in September. This event is sponsored by the Surry Arts Council and includes a parade, a bowling tournament, a golf tournament, banjo performances, lectures on the show and big-screen showings of reruns. Look-a-likes of characters from the show roam the streets, and occasionally an original cast member will drop in on the festivities. Nestled among the hills of North Carolina, Mount Airy is prettier when the leaves begin to change than any Hollywood set. In celebration of the season, downtown Mount Airy is annual host to the Autumn Leaves Festival the second weekend in October. I can stroll down the streets of Mayberry in my imagination almost as easily as I can walk down the streets of my own hometown. I see the sheriff's office with Andy's squad car parked outside and Opie running in just to say hello to his "pa." I walk by Floyd's Barbershop, where Floyd is either sitting on a bench outside talking to his neighbors passing by or inside giving haircuts to the town locals while passing along community gossip. I stop by Snappy Lunch for a bite to eat and then go to Walker's Drug Store for an ice cream cone. Walking away from the downtown area, I wave to Goober at the filling station. Clara Edwards stops me for a chat On her way to practice the organ for Sunday services. There's always time to be neighborly in Mayberry. Most of the homes are modestly built, but all have a front porch where neighbors sit to enjoy after-dinner coffee, gospel sing-a-longs or to simply take in fresh air. Suddenly, I hear my name called. You see, in Mayberry everybody knows your name. Aunt Bee waves from her porch and invites me to have supper with the family. Andy soon arrives and informs Aunt Bee that he has invited Deputy Barney Fife for supper. That concerns me. Barney is a nice enough guy, but the only time I feel unsafe in Mayberry is when I'm around Barney, his gun and his one bullet. After supper, we gather on the porch for coffee and dessert; after that Aunt Bee and I decide to walk into town to see the Cary Grant movie playing at the Mayberry Grand. Two women are perfectly safe on the streets at night in Mayberry. The worst thing we might encounter would be the harmless town drunk, Otis. Walking back to the house our conversation centers around the movie. When we arrive at the house Andy teases us about our infatuation with a movie star. Barney sniffs and says that he doesn't understand what women see in that "sissy boy" any-way. I laugh, say good night and end my day in Mayberry Can Mayberry possibly exist outside of our televisions and imaginations in the 21st century, or does neighborliness belong to another era? On my trip to Mount Airy, I found people who believe that Mayberry is not fantasy but their daily reality. They love to share their town and themselves with anyone who pays them a visit... I walk through the safe streets of the real Mount Airy. As the city grew, some businesses moved away from the downtown area, but it still looks much the same as it did when Andy Griffith walked the street as a child... I try to pinpoint the allure of the experience that keep folks tuning in to a 30-year old television show and traveling hundreds of miles to visit small-town America... Then I realize that while the global village of today allows its residents to communicate with people all over the world in an instant, communication rarely lasts longer than an instant. Quick e-mails have taken the place of long chats on the porch or letters written to dear friends. The global village includes billions of people, but none of the them are neighbors. Mount Airy has a population of approximately 10,000 people andjust like in Mayberrythey are all neighbors, not only to each other, but also to any stranger who wanders into town. Sheri Paris is a freelance writer who lives in Greensboro, N.C. This story is reprinted with permission granted from HomeLife Magazine.

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