Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part III

I did not take as many photos as I should have during the Mayberry Meet-Up as my phone battery was low and my car charger needed to be replaced, so I will share some taken and posted on Facebook by my friend, Mona Cooper.

The second evening of the Meet-Up, a tribute artist contest was held. This was the first year this was done and there was a lot of great and entertaining participation.

One of the more ingenious was Maddy Fitzwater as Sarah the telephone operator leading her husband, Nick, who was dressed as Mr. McBeevee, around by a telephone line. Maddy even had the phone numbers provided on the show on a portable switchboard she had to connect the calls. 

Juanita and Mr. McBeevee. By the way, that is Terry Varvel on the far left who is the Barney Fife tribute artist at Mayberry events and Allan Newsome holding the microphone who plays Floyd the barber. Photo by Mona Cooper.

Eventually the field was narrowed down to a few finalists, including those portraying in the photo (left to right): Ellie Walker, Lydia Crosswaithe, The Keeper of the Golden Door of Good Fellowship, Asa Breeney (moldy bullets, a gun that fell apart, and a ball of tin foil included!), Rafe Hollister, and Clarence Earp. Mike Creech who was dressed as Clarence was the winner. 

Photo by Mona Cooper.

Of course, a highlight for me was getting to see my buddy Sarah, also known as Miss Mayberry.

Every year, Steve Jackson arranges a raffle to raise money to support Allan’s podcast. This year, he asked if I would be willing to donate a copy of my book, Mayberry Firsts. The book was still at the printer while I was there, so we auctioned off the galley copy, which is the actual book but with a plain white cover that was used to okay the print job. The winner not only received this literally one-of-a-kind memento but was also the first of two to be mailed a copy of the actual book once it was in stock as well as the 2020 Mayberry Day-by-Day Calendar. (The person who won the raffle at Mayberry in the Midwest was mailed the book and calendar on the same day.) And I can’t fail to mention, the winner also received a bottle of pickle-flavored pop. We raised well over $200 to donate to Allan.

Selling some raffle tickets. Photo by Mona Cooper.

The Mayberry Meet-Up is a much different experience than Mayberry Days. 150 or so people make Mount Airy much easier to navigate than the tens of thousands who descend on the town on parade day during Mayberry Days. While the only thing nearly everybody does is gather each evening to watch episodes of our favorite series under the stars outside the Mayberry Motor Inn’s gazebo, there are lots of other activities many participate in, including seeing Betty Lynn for an autograph and photo at the museum on Friday and watching a wonderful presentation on a particular episode by author Neal Brower on Saturday. If your time and budget allow, I highly recommend the Meet-Up.

Photo courtesy of The Vermeer Bed & Breakfast.

One last note to add. After several days in Chapel Hill looking through Andy Griffith’s original scripts, I returned to Mount Airy for one additional night and stayed in another wonderful bed and breakfast. The Vermeer Bed & Breakfast was a real treat and is another option if you ever want to visit Mount Airy and treat yourself to a pampered experience. You will be hearing more about The Vermeer in next year’s project (along with where I found what I thought was the best sonker to be found).

My room at The Vermeer was luxurious.

Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part II

As part of my research for an upcoming project, I wanted to try several varieties of sonker. So what the heck is sonker?

I think virtually anyone who tried sonker would answer, “Oh, it’s a cobbler.” And in fairness, it basically is. But the New York Times recognized the variation as unique to Surry County where Mount Airy is located, so “sonker” it is. Most say it differs from a cobbler in that it is deeper and contains more fruit making it juicier. My experience was it depends on where you are having the sonker.

The Surry Arts Council has established a “Sonker Trail” so I wanted to try a variety of the options while I was there. The knowledgeable innkeeper at the Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast where I spent the first night said it was generally agreed that the best sonker in the county was at the out-of-the-way Rockford General Store. Rockford is a small community on the banks of the Yadkin River in the southeast corner of Surry County,  Rockford used to be an actual town. In fact, when what is now Surry County split off from neighboring Stokes County, Rockford was founded in 1791 to serve as the county seat. (The county seat was moved to Dobson in 1851.)

Rockford General Store.

My friend, Mike, was also attending the Mayberry Meet-Up by himself so we hung out together a good deal of the time, visiting wineries and eating lunch at the Dairy Center. Mike liked the restaurant so much he and his wife Carol ate there not once but twice during Mayberry Days a couple of months later.

But during a period when we were not together, I made the drive to the Rockford General Store. The old-time store is only about 20 miles from Mount Airy but due to the only access being winding country roads, it took more like half an hour to get there.

The store was great. It serves a more utilitarian function to people in the area as there is not an abundance of restaurants. The store opened in 1890 and has the same, days-of-yesteryear ambiance as the Mayberry Trading Post in Virginia. The wood floors are uneven and creak when you walk on them. Lots of old photos hang on the walls and there are plenty of glass jars with what was at one time known as penny candy. But of course, I was there for the sonker.

The type of sonker I would really like to try is sweet potato sonker, which would be unlike any cobbler I have ever had. But I was happy to get a dish of whatever they had available. And that was cherry sonker.

When I ordered a serving, it was spooned out of a relatively large baking dish, but not a huge industrial dish. Rather, the same type most people have in their kitchens. It was served in a styrofoam bowl and I opted for the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. While it still tastes like cobbler to me, it was delicious. I should add that they make it throughout the day. I was told if I wanted to wait about 25 minutes, they would have a batch of peach sonker ready.

While the Rockford General Store may not be on the way to anywhere in particular, if you are looking for a short side trip while visiting Mount Airy and a really beautiful drive through the countryside, I would recommend it highly. And while the sonker was excellent, I would have to say it was the second-best I had during my trip. The best I had was in Mount Airy itself. But you will have to wait for the completion of my afore-mentioned upcoming project to hear about that.

You don’t see wooden Indians too often.

Mayberry Meet-Up 2019: Part I

I previously blogged fairly extensively about my experiences researching Andy Griffith’s original scripts in Chapel Hill following my attendance at the annual Mayberry Meet-Up in Mount Airy, North Carolina, but I did not discuss the Meet-Up itself.

This was just my second time to attend the Meet-Up but it was the seventh to be held. Back in 2013, Allan Newsome (the Floyd the barber tribute artist and the podcaster behind the long-running Two Chairs, No Waiting podcast I participate in) knew he would be traveling to Mount Airy to interview Betty Lynn. Betty, or Thelma Lou to her many Mayberry fans, had recently loved from the Los Angeles area to Mount Airy. Allan mentioned on his podcast that is anyone was around at the same time and wanted to meet up, he would be happy to do so. More people showed up than he anticipated but he still thought it was a one-time event. However, he was soon being contacted by people saying they wanted to go to the next Meet-Up the next summer. Long story short, there were roughly 90 people there when I went for the first time two years ago and close to 150 last summer.

This van sits atop a pole easily 20 feet off the ground.

When I attend Mayberry Days with my friend Rob, we always stop at Hillbilly Hot Dogs on my way home. But on this trip, I was by myself and instead stopped on the way down. Since it was a weekday, it was not nearly as crowded as it has been during my previous visits, but work on a bridge as I drove south along the Ohio River on the West Virginia side slowed me down considerably.

I am working on a project which I will announce next year which resulted in men wanting to try a couple of alternative lodging options on this trip since I have stayed at chain hotels and at the Mayberry Motor Inn previously.

Photo courtesy of The Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast.

My first night in town, I stayed at the lovely and quite luxurious Heart and Soul Bed and Breakfast. I will be sharing more about this lovely place in the afore-mentioned project, but if you want to treat yourself, I could not recommend it highly enough.

My room for the evening.
I got some time to read on the front porch before breakfast, something I often have trouble finding time enough to do.

Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. X: Mexican 7 Up

Last week I posted about Retro 7 Up which is unusual since it is sweetened with cane sugar and not the more pervasive high fructose corn syrup. It would not be unusual in Mexico, though, as soda pops south of the border are normally sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS.

Mexican 7 Up is, of course, no exception.

When I was a kid, pop bottles that were returned were washed and re-used. I can remember that upon rare occasion, setting a bottle down too hard on a counter could cause the bottle to break if the bottle had been re-used one too many times

Mexican stores still take returns on bottles that are then washed and re-used. As a result, the bottles are often scratched up on the exterior. Bottle reuse also results in differing versions of the logo being available. (Not to mention differing amounts of pop, depending on the bottle!)

There is an urban legend or myth that 7 Up takes its name from the fact that it has a pH acidity level over seven. In reality, its level is 3.79 which is in the same range as other soda pops. The true origin of the name is not known though there are plenty of theories, from the original formula containing seven ingredients to the pop being originally sold in seven-ounce bottles when most brands at the time were sold in six-ounce bottles.

What is not a myth is the origin of the marketing term “the Uncola.” By the mid-1960s, the drink was thought of primarily of being a mixer or a drink to soothe an upset stomach. As to the former, a mixed drink of Seagram’s 7 Crown and 7 Up is called a Seven and Seven. As to the latter, I vividly remember being given 7 Up to soothe an upset stomach as a child while visiting my grandma in Gayscreek, Kentucky.

When the late 1960s saw the emergence of the counter culture, 7 Up saw an opportunity to be the “oppositional” drink of choice. Since the drink lacked caffeine and artificial coloring, a Chicago ad firm came up with the idea of branding 7 Up “the Uncola,” and often marketing it with ads filled with psychedelic “hippie” art, resulting in the idea that the dominant colas Coke and Pepsi by implication were the establishment.

Famous Soda Pops I Have Known, Vol. IX: 7 Up Retro

The lemon-lime flavored 7 Up soda pop was created in St. Louis in 1929. Like many early sodas, 7 Up was originally pitched as a patent medicine, though perhaps with more reason than some. The pop’s original name was “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” Until 1950, it contained the mood-stabilizing drug lithium citrate.

Questionable advice…

Early in the 1970s, high-fructose corn syrup began appearing in soda pops. By 1984, it was in virtually all of them. HFCS is a sweetener made from processed corn starch. Many do not like the fact that it is now so pervasive in all our foods since it has negative health consequences but manufacturers point out it is easier to handle than granulated sugar and is more cost-effective.

Regardless of where you come down on HFCS, about 10 years ago soda manufacturers began producing more pops sweetened with natural sugar. One of those is 7 Up Retro, which is bottled in glass and is sweetened with cane sugar.

The pictured bottle features the 1980s logo, not the current one.
The current logo.

7 Up’s formula has been changed several times since it was launched in 1929. In 2006, 7 Up reformulated the pop by removing chemical ingredients and then began calling their pop “100% Natural.” However, like most of the big brands, it was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. After public health advocacy groups complained, the next year, a lawsuit was threatened so 7 Up switched to the “Naturally Flavored Soda” description.

This retro version actually is 100% natural but is still referred to on the label as “naturally flavored” like the regular 7 Up.

Mayberry Days, 2018 – Part VI

While 2018 was the first time I did a calendar signing for Tamera at Wally’s, I did so again this year and will be doing so next year, too. I always start at 11:30 which is pretty much right after the parade with enough time to get down there and set up. I always end at 1:30 because I would never want to miss Professor Brower’s Lecture, the high point of Mayberry Days for me.

We ran into the mayor on the way to Neal Brower’s lecture.

In 2018, Neal Brower had three of the childhood stars who had appeared in The Andy Griffith Show. Clint Howard who had played the silent Leon; Keith Thibadeux who was billed as Richard Keith when he played Johnny Paul Jason; and Dennis Rush who played Howie Pruitt. Keith is more widely known for having played “Little Ricky” on I Love Lucy. Dennis was attending Mayberry Days for the first time.

Left to right: Clint Howard, Dennis Rush, Keith Thibadeux, and interviewer Neal Brower.

That night, we saw a concert by the Malpass Brothers. It was a great show. I even had the opportunity to meet some of the brothers’ biggest fans, a group of fun girls in pink poodle skirts.

 

All good things must come to an end. Sunday morning we finally grabbed a photo all together in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, though how we had failed to do that at an earlier point in the weekend, I don’t know.

Matt headed home to Raleigh while Rob, Dick, and I headed home via Lesage, West Virginia and our annual stop at Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

I have teased Allan Newsome about this fine dining establishment and he has usually shown some of my photos on the Two Chairs, No Waiting podcast with unsure comments about eating there. Hillbilly Hot Dogs not only allows graffiti, they encourage it. So I left a message for Allan on a pumpkin while waiting in line and sent a photo of it to him.

I will post about this year’s Mayberry Days soon, but I can not encourage people enough to attend these Mayberry events like Mayberry Days. If you are a fan, you will not regret the trip which is definitely worth the effort.

Mayberry Days, 2018 – Part V

In an effort to get Mayberry fans to know who I am as I was publicly launching Liberty Grove Press, I had earlier reached out to the Surry Arts Council about being in the parade. I learned that their entry fee was covered if I placed an ad in their annual free newspaper The Mayberry Confidential. Some of starting a new business is learning what to do better next time. My ad mentioned the upcoming book This Week in Mayberry History. I will eventually release the book which I am still writing, but “coming soon” was a bit off since I have released Mayberry Firsts and another Mayberry Day-by-Day desk calendar as I write this and still have not released the book mentioned in the ad.

Just as I had been told to be at the country club early on Thursday night and found myself the only one there, I had a similar experience Saturday morning when I showed up at the parade staging route when I was told to be there only to find literally no one else was there yet. It did allow me to get a great early-morning photo of Main Street in Mount Airy.

We had breakfast as Snappy Lunch where Rob insisted his son Matt have the world-famous pork chop sandwich even though it was breakfast, so the rest of us followed suit.

We were back at the parade staging area in plenty of time to visit with others, which is a really fun aspect of being in the parade  had not anticipated.

Signing a couple of calendars for Jeff Koontz at the parade staging ground. Jeff does so much to make Mayberry Days a reality.

That included Rob and me getting a photo with the tribute artists who play my Facebook chapter’s namesakes.

The parade itself was a hoot for me. I threw out candy and pencils, the latter with my website printed on one side and Andy and Barney’s high school alma mater on the other.

After a quick trip to show  Matt the largest open face granite quarry in the world which is also in Mount Airy, my friends dropped me off at Wally’s to do another signing. Tamera runs the fantastic gift shop inside the service station. Many Mayberry fans have discovered that her pricing on Mayberry items is the best in town. Wally’s is on Main Street but is a little removed from the main part of town. Tamera hosts bluegrass bands, food trucks, and other vendors, meaning a trip to Wally’s is a must. Not to mention the squad car tours that leave from the business. In fact, while I was doing the calendar signing, Rob, Matt, and Dick took a tour.

You never know who might show up at Wally’s.

As I mentioned in my last post, someone asked me how much he owed me for signing their calendar. I had laughingly told my friends about this over dinner the previous night and assumed this was a one-time occurrence. But it happened two more times during my signing at Wally’s.

Now, this is a tribute artist who is a dead ringer for the actual character actor.

Mayberry Days, 2018 – Part IV

In my last post, I described how Friday morning began with a couple of mild disappointments followed by the never-disappointing Andy Griffith Museum. The day just continued to get better when I ran into my buddy Sarah who even happened to be wearing one of our Gomer and Goober Comic Book Literary Guild t-shirts! You can’t spend a few minutes with Sarah and not smile!

We also had a chance to check out the newly-built “whittling wall.” The wall used to be a spot where local men gathered and whittled while their wives were in the stores shopping. This was actually a common sight in small Southern towns. I remember seeing the same thing in Jackson, Kentucky when we visited during my childhood. Mount Airy commissioned a series of sculptures made from bricks showing, of course, a whittler as well as a textile worker since the textile industry had been one of the town’s main employers years ago. Local celebrities are also pictured, including country singer Donna Fargo.

Friday afternoon we attended the trivia contest at the Blackmon Amphitheater. It was extra fun to see my buddy Mike Haviland take second place (based on a tie-breaker) while wearing one of our chapter shirts. Even better was that the afore-mentioned Sarah always hands out the trophies in her guise as “Miss Mayberry.” Sarah also still had on her chapter shirt, so The Gomer and Goober Comic Book Literary Guild was well represented!

Mike with his Gomer and Goober Pyle Comic Book Literary Guild t-shirt on, front and center!

As I previously said, a special aspect of the 2018 Mayberry Days was that my old college roommate, Dick, attended with us. Dick and I along with another college friend had attended Mayberry Days together for the first time in 2006. Making it even better, my buddy Rob’s son, Matt, came over late Friday afternoon from Raleigh to attend his first Mayberry Days with us.

While at the group photo Allan Newsome always arranges after the trivia contest, we met Hal, a member of my Facebook chapter I had never met in person. When I learned he was attending the festival by himself, I invited him to join us for dinner.

The five of us ate that evening at the Derby restaurant which had been recommended to me by locals. I had breakfast there during the previous Mayberry Meet-Up by myself, but I had been told the Friday night fish fry was a must. We had all-you-can-eat fish, potato, coleslaw, and hushpuppies for—would you believe $5.65?! We likely would not even have asked for seconds on fish but the server brought another plateful without being asked. I guess she could tell we were a group of hearty-eatin’ men.

We ended the fun day with the VW Boys concert which was as entertaining as always. And of course, I had to get my annual photo with the lovely Christie as the grown-up Andelina.

A lot of the Mayberry tribute artists joined Tim White of the VW Boys on stage at one point.

Mayberry Days, 2018 – Part III

As is our tradition, we got up early Friday morning and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway. By doing so, we miss the Mayor’s Proclamation first thing Friday morning but we also know the hectic day ahead of us, so it is nice to start off at a more relaxed pace.

Rob and I usually eat at the restaurant at Maybry Mill, but the year before we were in a small store in Meadows of Dan that had a food counter in the back. Whatever they were cooking that year smelled really good, so we decided we would try it out on this trip. My college roommate, Dick, had never been, so he was up for whatever we wanted.

The food counter in the back of Poor Farmer’s store in Meadows of Dan.
Biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon served in a styrofoam “to-go” box: the breakfast of champions.

 

While the store is definitely worth the visit with a pretty nice selection of unusual soda pops, the breakfast was a bit disappointing. Not bad but not what we had hoped. But you don’t know if you don’t try.

 

After our annual stop at Nancy’s Candy Factory, we still went up the parkway to see the mill, one of the most photographed spots on the parkway.

 

Maybry Mill.

We then headed back south to see Peggy at Mayberry Trading Post. We were disappointed that Peggy was not there due to some minor eye surgery but still had a good time looking through the store. I also dropped off the order of calendars Peggy had ordered, the last of the deliveries I had to make.

The first time I ever visited the Mayberry Trading Post, Peggy was impressed I knew who Lum and Abner were.
A framed collection behind the counter commemorates when Betty Lynn came to see “the real Mayberry.”

Between our inferior breakfast and Peggy not being at the Trading Post, that was two disappointments in a row. Luckily, after we returned to Mount Airy, we toured The Andy Griffith Museum which is never a disappointment.

Shot from a different angle by a better photographer, this would make a nice cover for a book!

Mayberry Days, 2018 – Part II

Likely just because I was new, Tanya at the Surry Arts Council asked me to do a calendar signing at the banquet on Thursday evening. While I was happy to do so, it did cramp any relaxation for the evening. When I finally left the autograph room, I had to wolf down my meal in order to be done before seeing the main act, comedian Henry Cho.

I was told I needed to be at the country club by 4:00 as the doors open at 5:00. I was there at 4:00—virtually by myself! Other than Allan Newsome, the Floyd tribute artist who served as emcee for the evening and so was going over his notes, literally no one else other than the staff of the club was there.

Of course, as it got close to 5:00, the celebrities started streaming in. The biggest perk for me was where I sat. I was not actually selling the calendars themselves. The arts council had bought them and were the ones actually selling them; I was just there to sign them. Since I would not be handling money, they put me at the one table where the only other person there did not have to handle their own money—the ever-lovely Betty Lynn! A person from the arts council sat between us to take money. Of course, that also meant I spent the evening at the table with the longest line of people seeking an autograph since Betty always has that effect.

My view throughout the banquet signing session.

I was able to distribute copies of the calendars as gifts to many of the celebrities in attendance before the doors were opened, including Betty, Maggie Peterson-Mancuso, Rodney Dillard, LeRoy McNees, Clint Howard, Karen Knotts, and more. So other than me, everyone seated had either been on the show or was the child of a cast member.

I am not sure the thought of me doing a signing there was the best. I signed a LOT of calendars that night, but the vast majority had been purchased in town at one of the shops carrying them so they were not buying them from the arts council. Not all, mind you, but a lot. The celebrities in attendance charge a nominal fee for their autographs, usually around $10. I got quite the chuckle when someone came up and explained they had bought two of my calendars at the store Mayberry on Main in town and asked if I would still be okay with signing them. I told them I would be happy to. After doing so, the person asked me, “How much?” I was confused and asked if they meant how much the calendars were being sold for at the banquet. He responded, “No, how much do I owe you for signing them?” It was everything I could do not to explode with laughter. Instead, I just chuckled and said that it was my pleasure.

My friends Johnna and Marsha were in line to get Betty’s autograph. A man behind them saw me and asked if they knew who I was. They told him my name and explained I was an author who had just released his first publication, a desk calendar. He asked, “Oh, okay. But who was he on the show?”

I love that.