Nostalgia needs a plan, and some focus

By Bill Colvard -

On the way to work today, I somehow ended up behind a sort of faux-Conestoga covered wagon which was impeding traffic considerably. But why should I be surprised? It’s Mayberry Days, that one week of the year when Mount Airy fully and completely embraces its fictional sister city.

But what does a covered wagon most famous for moving settlers across the plains in the 19th century have to do with a small, fictional city in North Carolina in the 1960s, you might ask. Or you might not. Clearly, someone did not. But I certainly found the time to ask that question as I cooled my heels on Graves Street waiting for the wagon to slowly make its way across the intersection.

Fortunately, the wagon rumbled straight through to Dixie Street so I could turn right onto West Pine and resume a motorized speed.

But once I got out from behind the wagon, I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the road to get a gander at the horses. Draft horses aren’t my favorites, but a horse is a horse — of course, of course. (Sorry about that, but with classic TV being the order of the week here in Mount Airy, it’s only natural a horse is going to make me think of Mr. Ed.)

But there was no horse. The wagon was being pulled by a mule team. Which begs the question, Is this Mayberry Days or Dodge City Days? Apparently, I am not the only one free associating in Classic TV Land.

Now I love to wallow in nostalgia as much as the next person but “The Andy Griffith Show” took place in the 1960s. Not the 1860s. I just feel that needs to be said.

And for all I know, there might have been an episode of TAGS with a mule-drawn wagon on the streets of Mayberry. I was only two when the show premiered and we didn’t get a television set that would pick up CBS well enough to see anything through the snow our antenna was picking up until I was at least five or six, so I missed the early seasons.

If you are under 40 and completely befuzzled by the terms “antenna” or “pick up” in regard to television reception or to the concept of “television reception” itself, find an old person and ask them. The streets will be full of them this week. Any of us will be able to fill in the blanks for you. And clearly, wallowing in nostalgia is not something we object to.

But I’ve been told by life-long residents of Mount Airy that farm wagons were a much more common sight on Main Street at that time than one might think. And some of the more, shall we say, ‘refined’ members of the community were not particularly happy about it. And some of the decisions made regarding that division of opinion about the image of the city had a permanent impact on what is where to this day.

[Sound familiar? But let’s not bring the 21st century into the mix until we sort out the 19th and the 20th. That’s another topic for another day.]

The subject of small-town snobbery was not an untapped well on TAGS. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Aunt Bee went down that rabbit hole from time to time, being concerned about propriety and appearances and not being shamed by her snooty friends. Clara, for instance, being the worst of them. Now there was a judgey, old witch. Clara would not have put up with a mule wagon in downtown Mayberry. No, she would not have. I know it and you know it.

So I sincerely hope that somewhere along the mule train route some old doll is dressed up like Clara and will run into the street and loudly engage with the mule driver, taking him to task for bringing his mules to town. And in a perfect world in which the gods of drama smiled upon this improvisation, that would be exactly the time for one of the mules to take a poop. Right on the street, sending our impromptu Clara into orgasmic frenzies of righteous indignation and small town, morally upright fury to the great amusement and edification of the wagon’s passengers, and anyone else within earshot.

A bit of class warfare, if you will. Played out for the people on the streets. And, I can’t help it, but as I imagine this scene, the driver of the covered wagon talks like Festus from Gunsmoke. Actually, in my imagination, I have cast Festus in that role. I have been assured by my colleague, Tom Joyce, who knows far more about TV westerns than I do, that Ken Curtis is dead. Therefore, he is not available for Mayberry Days, to fight with Clara or for any other reason.

Which brings up another point no one wants to address. Interest in Mayberry is not waning, it seems to be spanning generations. But time is marching on. And taking along with it, more and more of the actual cast members and people with a legitimate connection to the show.

So though now we’re making do with descendants to fill in the ranks, sooner or later, a more permanent solution will be needed. I suggest impersonators as the way of the future. We’re already headed in that direction. David Browning has been embracing his inner Barney Fife for years. But let’s move beyond Barney. Let’s treat this thing like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mayberry Edition. We dress up like all the characters. and not just in the seclusion and safety of a midnight showing, but out in the wild. In real life. Reenacting episodes and improvising.

I say, if we’re going to be Mayberry, let’s Mayberry the hell out of it.

So, I implore you. Put on your Clara bun, work up a full head of righteous snobbery, take to the streets and pick a fight with a muleskinner. It’s called performance art and it is the future.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699

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