For about 45 minutes during a cool early fall morning in downtown Mount Airy, reality merged with make-believe to captivate hundreds of people attending the annual Mayberry Days Parade.
During that brief period, folks could forget about the turmoil in the nation and world and essentially be whisked back to a simpler time. It’s one existing within the confines of a black-and-white television series from the 1960s which is still wildly popular today.
Die-hard “Andy Griffith Show” fans of all ages, from both local communities and a number of states, began lining North Main Street well before the scheduled 9 a.m. start time for Saturday’s procession.
“It’s just a big family reunion every year,” Kenneth Sullivan of Cowan, Tennessee, said as he watched it from a spot near Holcomb Hardware.
Sullivan said he regularly attends Mayberry Days and its parade, during which all the visiting celebrity guests and others who have participated in various activities during the week come together in a single spot.
This provided an opportunity Saturday for those in the crowd to interact with individuals such as Ruta Lee. The familiar actress appeared in two episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” including one in which she played a female reporter trying to dig up dirt on Sheriff Taylor.
On Saturday, Lee was much less threatening as she rode in a Ford Mustang convertible while waving to and chatting with admirers along the way when the parade slowed on occasion.
Among additional celebrity guests was actor Daniel Roebuck, a cast member with Griffith in the “Matlock” TV series during the local native’s post-Mayberry days who also has had key roles in “The Fugitive” and other movies.
While Roebuck was another attending Mayberry Days for the first time, others were making return visits such as Ronnie Schell. He logged guest appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” but is best known for portraying Duke Slater on the “Gomer Pyle” program starring AGS alum Jim Nabors.
Margaret Kerry was another visiting guest star, who was the model for Tinker Bell in Walt Disney’s “Peter Pan” and rode in a vintage vehicle Saturday.
Characters come alive
The passage of time has meant that many of the performers from “The Andy Griffith Show” have passed on to Hollywood Hereafter. Those no longer around include Griffith himself, who died in 2012.
But in a sense he lived again on Saturday in the form of a Sheriff Taylor impersonator whose large mask formed the spitting image of Andy and was warmly greeted as he meandered down the street on foot.
The parade also featured many Barney Fifes — in numbers too abundant to count — easily making that character the most-imitated on Saturday. Others were there in the guises of Opie Taylor, Floyd the barber, Otis the town drunk, members of the Darling family, Gomer and Sgt. Carter and even one man carrying a briefcase who bore a striking resemblance to Howard Sprague.
If that were not enough, there were individuals portraying characters such as the Potato Queen and Pork Princess reminiscent of the show.
Rivalling the number of Barneys who appeared Saturday were more than a few Mayberry squad car replicas, along with a number of antique vehicles of varying makes and models.
One squad car was at the front of the parade with “The Andy Griffith Show” theme music blaring from its speakers to help set the tone for the occasion.
The marching band of North Surry High School also lent its talents to the parade downtown, further inhabited by the obligatory mini-cars that have a way of infiltrating just about every such event.
The legions of loyal “Andy Griffith Show” disciples who faithfully attend Mayberry Days also have become an attraction unto themselves.
Some, including Sullivan, the visitor from Tennessee, have been a regular part of the annual celebration since it began in the early 1990s, when his son portrayed Opie.
Similar to other fans of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Sullivan has a favorite character and episode. “You gotta love Barney,” he said, almost without hesitation.
And the episode he likes most?
Sullivan mentioned “Aunt Bee’s Medicine Man” as having that distinction, about a con artist named Colonel Harvey who comes to town promoting his Indian elixir — really just repackaged booze that Aunt Bee and her friends drink and become intoxicated as a result.
There generally are no such antics exhibited by Mayberry Days fans each year — who always draw praise for being a well-behaved, engaging bunch of folks.
“It’s a good Christian environment,” Sullivan observed.