Driving down the road in hot North Carolina, objects in the distance can appear like a mirage. A man, with his shirt thrown over his shoulder, wearing low cargo pants, walks down the highway into the sun.
His car is over a mile away. His skin is tan enough to suggest this isn’t his first mini-journey through the heat. Whatever his situation, he will walk until he reaches the gas station.
The cashier might know him, maybe even by name. In small-town N.C. it is likely.
But there is another small town we said goodbye to this week. A small town that, on TV, defined what a small town in America or the South should ideally be. Radio talk people said the characters of Mayberry loved each other, and the members of the cast did, too. That’s where the charm comes from, the ideal charm that we would like small towns to have.
Mayberry is so far away that it doesn’t exist. It is a dream, something for the past generation to believe that was how their parents were raised. Mayberry is an ideal.
The real small town in the South is home to murders, fires and drought. Changes come through the small town like flood; bad news and chaos with rebuilding to follow. People come together over the same things; food, help, God and crime.
Small town will stay small if the people don’t make new roads or build new buildings. And if the people don’t love each other, there will be no small town charm.
That man mirage walking down the sweltering, nearly buckling highway may not have a car broken down or out of gas. He may not be out to help himself or fix his situation. He may be underway to make it worse. Maybe someone is looking for him. Maybe he is afraid.
Tattoos on his back and chest make you think he’s done time, maybe in another county. Is he alone? He doesn’t look a day above 20 but he may be a father, maybe with no job.
The small town woman is busy. She is working and raising youngins with the help of her family. In Mayberry, perhaps the neighbors would help. But in the real small town, she carries a gun and hopes she doesn’t have to use it every time she hears car tires on the gravel in her driveway. Long lines to wait in and many doctors visits come time and time again and life seems to get harder as it gets hotter outside. There are never enough hours.
But Mayberry isn’t gone. You can put Mayberry on TV whenever you like, and can see what a small town could be like. It could be a sweet lie, or it could be the home you know. Even towns that look like that now, like Cameron, boast antiques and quaint fairs, and a soda fountain at the old timey diner, but they are the last remaining stores before the economy leaves altogether and the dust settles. R.I.P. Mayberry, and all the dreams that rest with you.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.