Today is the official start of Mayberry Days, when fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” descend upon Mount Airy, visiting the city’s shops, taking in shows and other activities, and generally celebrating what has become one of the most iconic television shows in history.
Some of our town’s visitors this week have a more intimate connection to that show, as actors playing roles during its 1960s run on TV, being a child of one of those actors, or having become one of the widely recognized tribute artists, portraying those long-ago television characters.
By some estimates, more than 20,000 people will be here this weekend for this event.
Those visitors, all of the local shows and activities associated with Mayberry Days, are about more than a television show. It’s more about the values associated with “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The television series was a comedy, with some memorably funny episodes and characters. Even more, it was about people caring for one another, taking care of one another, listening and meeting needs, and understanding there’s something more important in a community than the daily grind of a job or the rush and dogged pursuit of the business world.
As much as local merchants and tourists try to make Mount Airy like Mayberry, with events and store decorations, catching slogans and advertising campaigns, Mount Airy is not Mayberry.
Yes, Mount Airy has long claimed to be the inspiration for Mayberry because its star, Andy Griffith, grew up here. And Griffith, on several occasions during the latter years of his life, admitted that was true.
But Mount Airy is different. Like all southern towns, the city has its challenges. Crime, unemployment, the occasional squabble between governing officials, and mundane details such as leaky water or sewer pipes and the like exist here. Not everyone who lives in Mount Airy is as friendly as Andy and Aunt Bea and the gang. Not all stories in Mount Airy have a happy ending.
Mayberry is fictional place, frozen forever in time, its creator fortunate in that he could pick and choose the best of his memories from growing up in Mount Airy while discarding the not-so-great parts of life we all experience.
Mount Airy, on the other hand, is a living, breathing community. It has weathered the growth and death of several industries, its people have gone through recessions and good economic times, have dealt with the sometimes difficult parts of life that Mayberry never faced.
And through it all, at its core, Mount Airy has remained a city where those Mayberry-type values still emerge every day in the way merchants smile and help customers, even those not buying anything in their stores; in the manner in which local residents give and give and give to take care of the less fortunate; and in the way area residents make visitors feel welcome, like maybe this is really Mayberry.
In many ways, we believe that makes Mount Airy, imperfections and all, a far better place to live and work than Mayberry.