Living in a sitcom: What it was like growing up in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, NC

There is something to be said for a small, Southern hometown

It’s 6pm and I am on a run in my hometown of Mount Airy, NC. It’s my usual route, marked by two of the churches on Main Street – start at Grace Moravian, turn around when you get to First Presbyterian and run back. Grace Moravian Church is where Andy Griffith, star of the 8-season Andy Griffith Show, learned to play trombone as a boy.

This is just one small memory of the man who brought fame to Mount Airy. A mile down the road and I’m running through downtown, dotted with family-owned stores, mom-and-pop diners and Mayberry souvenir shops. I can hear “The Fishin’ Hole” (the Andy Griffith theme song) on one side of the street and some locals playing bluegrass on the other.

It’s just another day here in Mayberry, NC, the idyllic town your grandparents tuned into every Tuesday.

The happiest town in the USA

“Mayberry” is the name of the town on The Andy Griffith Show, and the nickname for Mount Airy. Everything downtown has ties to the show. Stores sell shirts with Andy, Barney, Opie and the rest of the cast. There’s the Andy Griffith Playhouse, the local theater, which is located right beside the Andy Griffith Museum.

For New Year’s, we drop an illuminated sheriff’s badge instead of a ball. It’s an interesting way to live because tourists automatically assume your lives are like the lives of the characters on the show – simple, happy and full of small-town problems but not much else.

But nothing is ever that simple, and living in a small town comes with problems of its own, just like you see in any town. But there are also so many wonderful things about living in Mount Airy, things you do not see in a city.

Just beyond the Blue Ridge

Mount Airy is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 10 minutes from the Virginia border and 45 minutes from a Target, a Moe’s, and until 2012, a Chick-fil-A. This is a place where mountains crown the horizon and your neighbors grow Southern magnolias in their front yard.

Your childhood is spent outdoors, riding your scooter up and down the driveway or playing in your best friends’ tree house. Once you get your license, you begin to value drives along the parkway, into Virginia, passing the produce stands and an old hotel with a water wheel. There is a beauty here that I have yet to find anywhere else in the United States.

Love thy neighbor

Yes, we are on a tractor and wearing camo. No, this is not normal for us.

You feel like you know everyone here. I went to a high school with 500 kids. I knew everyone by name. Some of my teachers were also my former Girl Scout troop leaders, members of my church, or my friend’s mom. It’s impossible to be in public without running into someone you know.

One time I had a kidney stone, and the doctor who saw me was my ex-boyfriend’s dad. As an adolescent, you can’t wait to leave and go somewhere where you don’t know anyone. But there is something to be said for a town of this size. Everyone looks out for everyone. I never worry about running downtown with headphones in, or being somewhere alone, because chances are there are people I know around who would help me if I got into trouble.

Moms look out for everyone’s kids at the pool, not just their own. We can have a huge rivalry football game on Friday nights and go out to Cook-Out with the other team immediately afterwards, no matter the outcome. There is friendliness between folks who live here that you can’t find in a city.

Watercolor and wine

Mount Airy is not just a tourist town because of Andy Griffith. We have several festivals, ones dedicated to crafts, music, or wine. Our largest festivals include the Autumn Leaves Festival every October and the Mount Airy Fiddler’s Convention every June. Both of these events draw thousands of people to our tiny town.

We host an annual Fiddle Crawl, where local artists are sponsored by downtown businesses to paint a fiddle so it can be displayed outside their store. There are several vineyards in Surry County that you can tour. Craft breweries are popping up downtown. We are proud of our heritage in music and art, so y’all should come visit.

The downfall, the revival

The ghosts of American manufacturing can be seen when you drive around Mount Airy. Old factories and warehouses are everywhere, reminding us of a different America, a place where jobs weren’t outsourced and towns like mine weren’t dying because these businesses left. But even in the midst of these ashes of a former life, we are finding new and innovative ways to build ourselves up again.

Two tobacco warehouses have been turned into apartment buildings that are almost always at capacity. The Spencer’s building, a factory that sat abandoned for decades, was recently bought and is in the process of being renovated. We are learning to take a bad situation and make it better. And we are helping each other with it every step of the way.

I run past Grace Moravian, down the street, past my neighbors, until I get to the brick house I’ve lived in since I was one. So maybe I don’t live in Nashville, or Atlanta, or even Raleigh. But I live in Mount Airy, and there is no place I would have rather grown up.