By Tom Joyce
September 28, 2013
I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve gotten wet in the past year while doing my job for The Mount Airy News in the face of record rainfall during that period.
For a while there, it seemed as if every outdoor event I covered occurred at the same time Mother Nature took her daily shower (and she had more than one each day in some cases). I have experienced more wet socks, and wet underwear from sitting on soaked car seats and the like, than one person should be expected to endure.
One notable example was back in late July when I interviewed Tim Smith of the “Moonshiners” reality show on the Discovery Channel. Smith was making a public appearance at Veterans Memorial Park during the annual Run to the Ridge motorcycle rally.
On that particular Saturday morning, however, the place should’ve been named Veterans Memorial Moat and the event the Swim to the Ridge rally.
I remember standing with Smith under a tarp where the never-ending rain still managed to splash in on us; at times, neither of us could even hear what the other was saying because it was so loud. At the end of the interview, I thought I needed a drink of Tim’s moonshine just to bring me back to life and overcome the shock.
Then there was another time when I journeyed to Veterans Memorial Park — excuse me, Veterans Memorial Lake — for the annual Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza there. One distinct memory of that evening involved standing under the overhang of a roof with a bunch of other people just trying to keep dry from a steady deluge.
Sure enough, the precipitation finally stopped and the fireworks went on as planned. But the weather had done its damage, I muttered after having stepped into ankle-deep puddles on more than one occasion at the park grounds.
Earlier on that fateful Fourth of July, I had covered a holiday parade and other festivities downtown, where — you guessed it — rain was also an issue. I remember a friend asking me at one point if my camera was water-proof, leading me into a profanity-laced diatribe, something to the effect that by now, it d—- well better be!
But I endured the mother of all rainstorms one year ago today, on Mayberry Days Saturday when the festival’s annual parade was held downtown. That’s also when my eyes became open to a major realization, an epiphany if you will, despite the relentless downpour on my face.
It was a moment of truth about the awesome power not of thunder and lightning, but something greater: that of Mayberry.
While the rain definitely put a damper on every event I have covered in which it occurred, that was not the case with the Mayberry Days Parade. Police estimated the crowd at 3,500, which was evident with people taking up nearly every square-inch of space in the entire central business district.
As the 45-minute procession rolled by, filled with Mayberry characters and attractions highlighting the unique flavor of “The Andy Griffith Show,” I marveled at the undying love people have for the Mayberry Days festival and the phenomenon it represents.
How else can you explain fans’ willingness to leave their dry shelter early on a Saturday morning and stand in the rain to watch — anything? (I, as did many, had brought along my trusty umbrella and cap, but once again still managed to end up with wet hair, wet socks, and yes, wet underwear.)
No such weather situation is expected for today’s parade, with sunny skies forecast. But I don’t think it would matter one bit. The diehard Mayberry fans have the postman beat in making their appointed rounds in times of rain, sleet, snow or hail, in the sense that pitchforks falling from the heavens also can be added to the list.
That also goes for a hurricane, tornado, monsoon — whatever (even a downtown beer garden).
Then and there at last year’s parade, a question was answered, in my mind at least, about the incredible staying power of the so-called Mayberry Craze. It’s become more than just a cultural condition and in many ways resembles a religion, one with legions of dedicated disciples.
For years, critics of the craze have been wondering “how long is it going to last?” Or making statements such as “the young people coming up don’t care about a black-and-white television show from the 1960s.”
These naysayers seemed to intensify their skepticism after Andy Griffith died in July 2012. Yet based on growing attendance at both Mayberry Days in September 2012 and this year’s festival, the phenomenon shows no signs of waning.
It always has irritated me that a small, but vocal group of hand-wringers constantly criticizes the emphasis placed on the Mayberry Craze in our community. I have heard time and time again that it won’t be our salvation economically, but so what?
I’m no economics expert, but would venture to say that being associated with a TV show that has become a beloved slice of Americana and draws thousands of people here — not just during Mayberry Days, but year-round — sure doesn’t hurt local cash registers.
How many communities would give anything to have what we do in Mount Airy as far as its association with a special actor and an iconic program that “The Andy Griffith Show” represents?
The fact is, being “Mayberry” is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every one of us who lives here should appreciate.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.