Nobody knows when it started. But it did. The first jar of pickles to appear on Aunt Bee’s grave in Siler City, North Carolina, showed up in in 1989, the year she died. Legend states that the pickles were probably homemade. Although some claim they were store pickles.
Since that fateful day, nobody has found a good reason to stop leaving pickles. Pickles show up by the hundreds. Maybe even thousands. From all over the United States.
“I think it’s just a form of respect,” says Billy, age 73, from Bentonville, Arkansas.
Billy traveled 840 miles to Siler City in his 2007 Ford Ranger, which is more rust-colored than green, to deliver a single jar of Kosher Dill Snack’mms to the grave of Frances Bavier, the actress who played Aunt Bee on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“She was America’s mom,” says Billy. “She was my whole childhood.”
The pickles are a salute to season two, episode 11, “The Pickle Story.” In the episode, Aunt Bee makes pickles that taste so bad they could take the paint off navy ships. “Kerosene cucumbers” they were called in the episode.
“That’s my favorite episode,” says Billy.
“Mine, too,” says Billy’s brother, Roger, who is busy taking Billy’s picture with his phone camera. Roger is 80 this year. He is vaping. His flavor du jour is tropical cherry, and he is puffing so frequently that we are all able to enjoy this flavor with him.
“Best show ever,” says Roger between puffs. “Period.”
Billy and Roger have visited this cemetery twice before. And they say that each time they come, there are multiple pickle jars sitting on the gravemarker.
“Sometimes there are ten or twenty of’em,” says Billy. “Depending on if it’s tourist season or not.”
The Oakwood Cemetery is a nondescript burial place, nestled within the black gums and post oaks of the Old North State, with headstones stretching back toward the horizon. You’d never guess that this particular plot belonged to one of America’s most beloved celebrities.
There’s nothing remarkable about the marker. Nothing glitzy. Nothing fancy. The gravestone looks just like the headstone of, well… Your favorite aunt.
On Aunt Bee’s tomb are a few handwritten postcards, a couple dozen pennies, dragon tears, various trinkets, and I count six jars of pickles. Among the brands represented are: Best Maid, Famous Dave’s Spicy, Wickles, Claussen, Mount Olive, and Walmart’s flagship brand Great Value.
I read one of the handwritten notes. It’s more personal than I expected. “Dear, Aunt Bee… You raised me… I love you.” It was signed by a woman from Marietta, Ohio.
Another vehicle pulls up. A Honda SUV. It is a family of five. They are from Salina, Kansas. They have been hanging out in the nearby town of Mount Airy all week, hometown of Andy Griffith. The kids leap out of the dusty vehicle. One of them is carrying a jar of pickles.
“My kids all wanted to bring their own jars,” says Melinda (age 44). “And I was like, um, no, guys. Three jars of pickles is expensive. And it’s not like Aunt Bee is gonna eat them, since, you know, she’s dead.”
Melinda says her kids are religious fans of the show. It all started a few years ago when her husband lost his job. The family had to cancel their movie streaming services to save money. They had nothing to watch.
“So,” Melinda explains, “I went to the store and bought a television antenna. Like in the old days.”
A local station out of Hutchison-Wichita played Andy Griffith in all its black-and-white glory. After the very first episode the children were spellbound.
“We plan our whole days around that show,” Melinda says. “To my kids, it was like the show was brand new, like it’d just come out.”
I watch the children stand reverently before the gravestone of everyone’s favorite aunt. Hands in their laps. Heads bowed. They are solemn. Much the same way you’d behave at the graveside of a loved one or a close relative.
And it makes me feel pretty good to be an American right about now. Because say what you will about us, but our country’s children know Andy Griffith, Jim Nabors, Frances Bavier, Don Knotts, Ron Howard, and Betty Lynn.
I am a lot like the other people here today; Andy Griffith practically raised me. Our station played two “Andy” episodes every evening after school. I was a fatherless kid who needed someone to pay attention to me, to love me, to teach me, to make me laugh, to show me how to be a man. Andy did this for me. Every weekday at five o’clock.
After all these years, I’ve never gotten over him. And I don’t want to, either.
The words on Aunt Bee’s tombstone read: “To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”
Would that the same be said of you and me someday.
I left a jar of Vlasic.
Lisa - April 9, 2022 7:07 am
When my grandson was 5, he didn’t have cable in his room. He went to sleep every night watching Andy Griffith. One night he called me all excited. He was watching a brand new episode. I’m like what do you mean a new episode. He said it’s in color.
Anne Trawick - April 9, 2022 7:11 am
I love your heart.
Steve McCaleb - April 9, 2022 9:27 am
And today’s kids are watching the Car-dash-eyuns. Jeeze……I tremble for America’s youth and their future. And what’s of mine. God help us all.
Becky+Souders - April 9, 2022 6:00 pm
Amen, Steve McCaleb… I yearn for the day that the word Kardashian doesn’t appear in the headlines. However, I am 79 and probably won’t live that long.
🇿🇦🇿🇦Norma Den - April 9, 2022 10:51 am
Here in South Africa we didn’t have regular TV until mid 1970’s. Never saw Andy Griffith but have read many of his wisdom quotes. Wonderful how someone can affect so many even in todays crazy world. God bless them all. Just one question. Do the pickles get donated to needy or just left till inedible. Can someone reply or post for me.
Melanie Sapp - April 13, 2022 1:54 pm
See Sandra’s post below
Melanie Sapp - April 13, 2022 1:56 pm
Oops! I see that you responded already. Just wanted to make sure you saw that the pickles are donated. I’m glad, too!
Leigh Amiot - April 9, 2022 11:18 am
And The Waltons. In my three generation household (was four until my great-grandfather died in ‘63) watching The Waltons included the comments made by my mother and her mother about what was historically accurate, and from their words it seems a whole lot of it was—from clothing styles to rations to the furnishings. They had lived that era and in hindsight I realize now they enjoyed revisiting it. The hardships were not overly exaggerated by my mother and grandmother, mostly recounted as fact.
Donette Lee - April 9, 2022 11:52 am
Sean, the memoir “The Boys” is narrated on the audiobook by Clint and Ron Howard. It is a heartwarming account of their childhood in Hollywood. He tells about his years on The Andy Griffith Show. As a fellow redhead, you would enjoy hearing Opie recount his love of the show and those who were his family there. It’s a wonderful book.
Cheryl Newsome - April 9, 2022 12:28 pm
Sean, I’d really like to know your favorite Andy Griffith episode. I can quote a line, and you’ll know mine…”She’s nice. She’s REAL nice.”
Paul McCutchen - April 9, 2022 12:35 pm
Old memories are the best. I can’t watch Gunsmoke to this day and not think of my brother,
Suzi Bonifay - April 9, 2022 12:39 pm
Aunt Bee and Andy are a staple at our house. My best friend, who thought she’d died and gone to you know where after leaving elementary teaching and moving to middle school, used Andy Griffith to teach English to 8th graders in SW GA to lots of black, white and Hispanic students. They might watch a portion of the show and write the ending, look for all of the grammar mistakes, or discuss/write about the moral of the story. Andy Griffith was easy to use as it had no profanity and, while it featured an all-white cast, it was revered by all students. Those same students, well into adulthood now, still stop my friend in the Winn Dixie, give her a hug and tell her they continue to watch the shows and so do their children. Aunt Bee, Andy and Barney are still teaching and raising lots of kids.
JonDragonfly - April 9, 2022 1:43 pm
I’m told that there is a whole Sunday School program that involves watching an episode and discussing the moral of the story.
gaffstergal - April 9, 2022 1:44 pm
So lovely….to keep the main thing, the main thing, as we say in our household. Generous love, respect for those who give it, and celebration of the good in our culture….not entirely out of date….just harder to find.
Helen De Prima - April 9, 2022 1:56 pm
We visited Siler City back in the 90’s, a fitting resting place for Aunt Bee.
Sandra - April 9, 2022 2:19 pm
My daughter who is 52 now, watch Andy everyday. ALL DAY. She knows every episode. And to Norma who ask what they did with the pickles. I heard they were donated to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
Sean hope you and Jamie enjoy your new home in Birmingham. Alabama is a great place to live.
🇿🇦🇿🇦Norma Den - April 9, 2022 4:57 pm
Thanks Sandra for answering my question about the pickles. Wasted food worries me with the amount of hungry people even in first world countries.
Susan H Poole - April 9, 2022 2:24 pm
Patricia Gibson - April 9, 2022 2:57 pm
The Andy Griffith show never gets old.
LuAnn Carpenter - April 9, 2022 3:05 pm
That drawing of Aunt Bee is awesome! If that’s you Sean, you are becoming a fine artist too!
Ann Davis - April 9, 2022 3:36 pm
I love this! My husband and I grew up with Andy and the rest too. Now, especially when the news is so depressing and our country is turned upside down, we watch Andy every night – two episodes- and just laugh and enjoy the simple life and simple lessons taught – and laugh with Barnie especially. We are thankful we were alive to enjoy the way things used to be and like to go back and just remember.
Sue Ann Holmes - April 9, 2022 3:45 pm
I still love to watch episodes of Andy and the gang. Always a lesson to learn!
Wyatt - April 9, 2022 4:38 pm
Linda Moon - April 9, 2022 4:40 pm
Aunt Bee’s Pickle Story is sort of like my overall cooking story. My cooking’s not considered to be very good, and Mount Olive Bread and Butter Chips are my favorites. I’m so glad our children got to know Andy and the rest of these folks, and I’m especially glad you did too, kid. I’m saying the tombstone’s words from my heart to you right now, Sean Dietrich. You won’t die.
Shelton A. - April 9, 2022 4:55 pm
Your dogs are (and have been, as far as I know) named after characters on Andy’s show. What more needs to be said, Sean. In college, they played 2 episodes at 4:00. Five us were there to watch. Even episodes you knew by heart were still funny. Andy helped raise a lot of us. I watched him as a kid and into my 60’s. Andy is timeless and so are the show’s characters. Aunt Bee was all our aunt. Even with kerosene pickles. God bless
Shelton A. - April 9, 2022 4:57 pm
Echo Wyatt, “Citizen’s arrest!!” My favorite episode. Pickles, second.
Linda Moon - April 9, 2022 6:15 pm
Aunt Bee’s Pickle story is like my cooking in general, so we get together with a good cook in the family who’s not me!
teresabeasley05 - April 9, 2022 6:41 pm
I loved the episode about Aunt Bee’s pickles, but the one about Aunt Bee and the Medicine Man was also hilarious. “To-to-tootsie, goodbye!”
Linda Moon - April 9, 2022 6:41 pm
teresabeasley05 - April 9, 2022 6:45 pm
Speaking of cemeteries, now that you are living in Alabama, I hope you will make a pilgrimage to the Coon Dog Cemetery. My sisters and I went in honor of our brother who always loved and owned coon dogs. We were in Alabama for my son’s Dixie League World Series, but when we realized we were in the vicinity of the Coon Dog Cemetery, we had to check it out.
Gloria Knight - April 9, 2022 7:02 pm
I enjoy Mayberry & Andy as well as “In the Heat of the night” which was filmed in a small town outside Atlanta.. Many of the characters remind me of the wonderful South GA folks I grew up knowing.
Meemaidgrammy - April 9, 2022 7:32 pm
It will definitely be said of you. Me? Not so much
Nell Thomas - April 9, 2022 7:40 pm
Loved Aunt Bee. Intrigued by her housekeeping.
Everything always so neat and tidy.
Debbie - April 9, 2022 10:36 pm
I still hear the tune she played on the piano in The Medicine Man and can see the shot from behind as her bottom bounced on the piano bench to the tune of the
music! 🤗 It’s still funny! 😂 I love that family❤️
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 10, 2022 4:23 pm
Dick - April 11, 2022 4:39 am
The irony of your story…
I was reading an article on Frances Bavier’s last days.
Apparently, she was never the warm & fuzzy type on the AG set.
After the show, for some reason?? she moved to Siler City.
The problem was that everyone but Frances, as your story confirms, thought Aunt Bee had come to town.
Everyone she spoke with referenced back to her role. “Hey did I see Opie mowing your lawn?”
She eventually became a recluse & died apparently with a house full of cats.
What a shame.
Susan Carter - April 11, 2022 7:40 pm
One of my favorite memories is watching episodes of Mayberry with dad during his time in Hospice. We laughed and shed a few tears reminiscing. I still remember telling him this was my idea of a perfect morning. Hot tea, Andy, Mayberry, and Opie. 🙏
Cynthia Lynn Staton - April 12, 2022 2:01 pm
When I worked for a particular physician in Birmingham, he called me “Aunt Bea” because he thought I looked like her. Everyone thought it was funny but I thought it was an honor because of the type of person she was.
Ricky Wilson - April 13, 2022 1:49 am
“Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”
Michael - April 14, 2022 4:49 pm
I visited Mt. Airy on my birthday a few years ago. Had a pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch and my girlfriend treated me to a haircut at Floyd’s Barbershop. Took the city tour in the old Ford squad car too. That was a fun day.
Cindy Purdy - April 17, 2022 1:05 am
Michael, we stayed in Andy’s old homeplace. Lots of memorabilia in there plus the fun of sitting at the dining room table and waving at the squad car tours. Book it through the Hampton Inn.
Theresa Peterson - April 14, 2022 8:56 pm
Thank you, Sean! That was great! I watch Andy every night before I go to sleep.. it helps me mellow down. Then, I love reading you the next day! I’m so blessed!
Cindy Purdy - April 17, 2022 1:03 am
I grew up about an hour from Mount Airy aka Mayberry. My children grew up about an hour from Schuyler (Walton’s Mountain). Both are great places to visit, but I’m not sure if the Walton’s museum is still in Schuyler. You’ll never happen upon it, must be looking. Takes you back to a simpler time, and makes me remember my great-grandmother who made a fire in her old cook stove every day even in 100+ degrees in August. Had to make biscuits.
Vivien Gorski - April 21, 2022 4:24 pm
The good that emanates from aunt Bee’s kerosene pickles goes on negating any wastage.