Article from the Mount Airy News…
Author hopes book helps people find ‘Mayberry’
By BRYAN GENTRY Staff Writer
MOUNT AIRY — Scott Dickson grew up in Mayberry.
Not in Mount Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown that inspired many aspects of the fictional town in his 1960s TV series.
Dickson grew up in Hillsborough, a different Mayberry. There was no Snappy Lunch or Floyd’s Barber Shop, but people did say, “Hello,” when they passed each other on the street. Kids rode their bikes downtown and played in the front yards. Neighbors helped each other and went to church together.
“I found my own Mayberry because my family is from Hillsborough,” Dickson said. “Hillsborough was probably my first Mayberry.”
He enjoyed many trips to downtown Hillsborough while taking his grandmother, the city’s first female tax collector, to work. They would go and get ice cream and, when they got home at night, they watched “The Andy Griffith Show” together.
“There’s something about the show that people just embrace,” Dickson said. “It takes you back to a place where you were growing up. This show was more than just a situation comedy. It taught you lessons about life and love and honesty.”
Growing up with the show, Dickson learned to love Aunt Bea, Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle and the rest of the show’s characters. He also learned to love what they stood for: The smalltown way of life that surrounded them.
But somehow, sometime, he lost that feeling for a small town.
His family moved to Pfafftown, near Winston-Salem, for a few years. Then Dickson moved to Boone, earned a communications degree from Appalachian State University and moved to Charlotte. For seven years in the advertising industry there, Dickson fought the heavy highway traffic daily. He settled into the life of a big city, where neighbors don’t speak as often and children need to play indoors.
In the process, he admits, he lost touch with Mayberry.
But not forever. “The Andy Griffith Show” helped him find his way back.
“While I was getting ready for work one morning, I was flipping channels and I found it (the show),” he said. “It struck a chord with me and I embraced it again. It wasn’t long before I packed up and moved back to Pfafftown.”
There he found another Mayberry. The streets were less congested. Neighborhoods had picnics. “You’re driving down the street and see someone you know and they wave at you,” he observed. Living in a small town also made him less stressed and happier, Dickson said.
Then he started scouting the hills and plains of the Old North State, looking for more Mayberrys. He visited many small towns, jotted down notes, interviewed people and took hundreds of pictures. He had it in mind to create a guide to North Carolina’s small towns. He wanted to shine the spotlight on those towns and show people their beauty.
“I wanted to entice people to go out and find their own personal Mayberry,” he said.
Parkway Publishers of Boone released Dickson’s book, “In Search of Mayberry,” in April.
The book highlights 12 North Carolina towns, from the mountains to the coast, where people can still find Mayberry.
“I could have put 50 in there, but I narrowed it down to 12,” Dickson said. “These 12, out of all the ones I researched, most closely resemble the town of Mayberry as portrayed in the show. I wanted to make sure the towns had the Mayberry warmth, charm and benevolence.”
The book represents four years of Dickson’s visiting and researching Mount Airy, Dillsboro, Black Mountain, West Jefferson, Mount Olive, Liberty, Hillsborough, Elkin, Davidson, Southport, Beaufort and Swansboro. Each chapter takes the reader into a different town and gives elegant descriptions of what makes that town a Mayberry. Almost every page includes several pictures.
“I wanted to highlight downtown areas and anything that’s scenic,” he said.
The photos show landmarks, historic sights and other interesting features. The chapter on Mount Airy contains several shots of Main Street, a picture of the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the statue depicting Sheriff Andy Taylor and Opie, Andy Griffith’s Homeplace and the War Memorial across the street from the post office.
Dickson was careful to choose only live, thriving, clean towns when he selected subjects for the book. Sometimes he was positive he wanted to include a town, but arrived to find that it did not represent Mayberry. The disappointments still helped him find material for the book, though, by leading to other towns.
“I had driven to a town that I had planned to include in the book, that didn’t fit the bill,” Dickson said. “I was driving back and I saw a sign that said, Liberty, 15 miles. I thought, that’s one I haven’t heard of.” He took that exit and fell in love with the beautiful small town that made it in the book.
Dickson also discovered Swansboro by accident while driving back from Beaufort. He said these discoveries were the most rewarding parts of writing the book.
Many of the small towns in Dickson’s book have common threads of cultural background. Bluegrass is a common point.
“Especially in the mountainous areas, bluegrass is huge,” Dickson said. “All these towns have very strong arts councils that showcase bluegrass and old-time country music.”
“Culture is alive and well in these small towns,” he said, and many have art venues. Many of them have coffee shops and art galleries to help boost the economy.
He said all the towns are working to keep their economy growing, while retaining their small-town charms. And in those coffee shops, people sit and visit with their neighbors. They listen to bluegrass music. They live the friendly, lovable small town life.
“I don’t expect to quit my day job for this,” said Dickson, who works with on-line advertising at The Winston-Salem Journal. He has spent much of his time since publishing the book by traveling to the featured towns to sign copies and market the book.
He sells the books in stores that fit in with the vision of a small town.
“I’m aiming for the small, local bookstore and gift shop,” he said. “I haven’t approached Wal-Mart yet, and I probably won’t.”
Pages Bookstore, Main-Oak Emporium and Specialty Gifts are among stores selling the book in Mount Airy.
He also sells some from his Web site.
The marketing has proven to be hard work, but even long days with few sales are worth the effort, he said.
While signing copies of “In Search of Mayberry” Saturday at Main-Oak Emporium, Dickson met a couple from Maryland. They recently purchased a home in Mount Airy. They told him how they had found Mount Airy on the way home from a disappointing visit to Lake Norman (they found it had become a city bigger than they would like to live in). When they saw the exit for Mount Airy, they took it and were sold on the area immediately.
“It’s worth sitting here three hours to sell five books if I get to meet people like that, people who are moving in from out of state because they fell in love with the town,” Dickson said as the couple walked away with a personalized copy of his book.
“People are looking for something more wholesome,” he said. “They want to feel safe and comfortable having their kids in their front yard. They want to send their kids to school and not worry about drugs in the school or guns on the street. They like knowing the people they go to church with, the people they see in the grocery store.”
“In Search of Mayberry” offers hope to people who seek those qualities in a community.
“It exists,” Dickson insists. “Mayberry still exists today.”
He also hopes the book will reach those who have grown accustomed to life in a large city — as he once did — and who might wonder if there is anything else.
“Maybe this book offers them an escape from that,” he said. “Some people might think that sounds silly, but this book offers them the chance to go out and find Mayberry.”