Mount Airy

“Why do so many people visit Mount Airy?” I ask the old man at the antique store.

“Hmm?” he answers.

I’m in North Carolina. Andy Griffith’s hometown. A humble American village that receives approximately three kajillion visitors each year.

“Say again?” the old shopkeeper says.

The man adjusts his hearing aids.

So I re-ask my question. Why do so many people visit Andy Griffith’s hometown? And I ask this question, mainly, because it’s always been a minor mystery to me.

I mean, I love Andy as much as the next Joe Six-Pack. But Andy Griffith wasn’t The Beatles or Mick Jagger. He wasn’t a historic figure, a religious icon, a Renaissance sculptor or a sex symbol. He was a TV star, for crying out loud. Which puts him in the same category as, for example, Regis Philbin.

“People come to Mount Airy,” says the shopkeeper, “because you can’t never have too much Mayberry.”

It’s a trite answer, ultra cliché and a little too neat and tidy for me. Although it’s a great line that probably woos the tourists.

But it doesn’t explain why later this afternoon, when visiting the Andy Griffith Museum, I encounter biblical throngs waiting outside the gates. Think: the Children of Israel wearing Reeboks.

Where do they all come from? And why?

It’s 90 degrees outside, but the weather doesn’t stop them. There isn’t a single pair of pants in the crowd without a sweat stain on the butt. And yet everyone is cheerfully waiting in line.

Why? I keep asking myself. Why are we here?

We come from all over. Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, New Mexico, Minnesota and South Dakota. I didn’t even know South Dakota was a real place.

I ask one man how many miles he traveled to see the museum.

“It took us 29 hours by car,” he says.

I ask why he came.

He shrugs. “It’s Mayberry.”

After the museum, I visit all the essential tourist traps. I visit the barber shop. Andy’s childhood house. The bookstore. I go to the Snappy Lunch on Main Street, where I stand in line for approximately 53 minutes to eat a lukewarm fried pork-chop sandwich.

There, I meet two college-age boys from Wichita Falls, Texas.

“We grew up watching the show,” says one kid. “My mom would put it on TV when we were babies. Dude, I have a major crush on Ellie Walker.”

Ellie Walker was played by Elinor Donahue in the 1960s. Currently, Donahue lives in Tacoma and is 85 years young. She could be this kid’s great-grandmother.

“I’d still totally marry her,” says the kid. “She is hot.”

In a gift shop, I meet one woman who traveled here from Rome, Italy. Again I ask, why. Why would someone from the Eternal City visit Surry County, North Carolina?

“I come because Mayberry was my first experience with America,” says the Italian woman. “I always wonder if this is really what America is like. Is America really so wonderful?”

I ask whether the woman still holds the same romantic notions for America, now that she has visited.

She nods. “I love this country,” she says. “But I do not love your interstates. Your drivers are insane.”

At dusk, I drive to the Mayberry Motor Inn. This weekend, several hundred fans gather to watch Andy Griffith episodes on the lawn beneath the stars. They come here from all over the U.S.

I am introduced to a man from Canton, Ohio. I meet a youthful couple from Marceline, Missouri. I shake hands with a software consultant from Scottsburg, Indiana. Georgia. Alabama. Mississippi. You name it.

“We’re a big family,” says Allan, the man who started this event. “That’s what we are. If you love Mayberry, you’re officially part of our family. Because let’s face it, we ARE Mayberry. You and me.”

The episode on the projector played. The crickets rubbed their legs together. The night sky was nothing but constellations.

I sat on a lawn chair alongside hundreds of others and whistled with the opening credits. I was remembering a long lost boyhood I have tried to forget.

Namely, I remembered the kid I used to be. A hapless redhead who sat before a Zenith console TV, cross-legged on the floor, two centimeters from the screen. A kid who always whistled with the opening credits.

I’m remembering this kid’s broken homelife. The turbulent household he grew up in. The shattered family system that formed him. The tormented father who left this world too early. The mother who raised me alone. The entire shipwreck that was my childhood.

I remember growing up, feeling like an outsider among the human race. I remember feeling like nobody.

I remember the pain of each rejection. Every harsh word ever said to me. I remember each time I was belittled. Trivialized. Overlooked. Misunderstood. Downtalked. Spurned. Teased. Disappointed.

Sometimes, I remember too much.

But somehow, here tonight, among all these joyous people, I’m remembering other things, too. Good things.

I remember why I came to love a rural sheriff who taught me to stand up to bullies. To be meek. To listen more than I talk. To do a good day’s work. And to act like somebody.

I guess the old shopkeeper has got a point.


  1. Billie - July 17, 2022 6:25 am

    It’s time for me to turn out my light and go to sleep. BUT there’s whistling…over and over…
    Good night, Mayberry…

  2. Anthony - July 17, 2022 6:30 am

    So glad Jamie kicked you out of the house for a spell.

  3. Genie Krivanek - July 17, 2022 7:07 am

    Sean, I read your posts faithfully and love them all. But this one touched me deeply. I, too, have visited Mt Airy just to feel a small moment of closeness with Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea, and Opie. I loved them all and never missed an episode. I had a wonderful upbringing with great parents who love me and my brother and sister – “the twins.” My husband grew up the son of a violent alcoholic with a homelife that was in constant chaos and fear. Yet both of us feel a deep connection to Andy and Mayberry. It reminds me of my childhood and the things that are now lost. It reminds my husband of the childhood he wanted and the things he learned from Andy which his father didn’t teach him. My husband turned out a lot like Andy. Mayberry is more than a TV show. It’s a state of mind that ties America together and helps us remember who we really are. Amid all the hate an chaos, we all long to sit in comfortable silence on the porch after dinner and share time with friends and loved ones. Mayberry keeps us grounded. Mayberry keeps us home.

    • Carol from GA - July 17, 2022 9:17 am


      • Steven Rafferty - July 17, 2022 1:34 pm

        Well said Carol

    • Ronald Blankenship - July 17, 2022 10:45 am

      Well stated. Mayberry is a state of mind, but it’s REAL too

    • Woods Gary - July 17, 2022 2:12 pm

      Broken home, evil abusing father, loving but weak mother all spelling disaster for a little kid caught in the spin cycle, except for a couple things. An example of parenting done well, not perfect, just well and neighbors that looked after me. Without those, I may have replicated my past. I owe a great debt to a gentle man in a khaki uniform. Flourish Mayberry, America needs you now more than ever.

    • JoAnne in Idaho - July 18, 2022 2:14 pm

      I, too, grew up in chaos. Abusive mother who my father divorced when I was six. She was from Australia, very young and married my father, a Kansas boy, drafted and send to Australia in WWII. My father was suffering from what I now think was PTSD and he sent me to live with my tired, old grandmother in Nebraska.

      I remember the first time I saw The Andy Griffith Show. I was quite young and totally captivated. I still watch it to this day.

  4. Steve McCaleb - July 17, 2022 7:51 am

    Mayberry is the great American hometown. A place to feel loved, valued, appreciated, and part of a huge extended family. This was especially important for those who never actually had this in “the real world” or as the great John Hiatt once so famously said “in the flesh and bone.” Valhalla for us griteaters. I pray to the Lord that Mayberry and all the good things it represents and conjurs up remains in our hearts forever.

  5. Joan - July 17, 2022 9:48 am

    I suffered through a childhood that resembles yours. I wished I had a father like Andy; but mine just deserted us when I was young.

  6. Jocelyn - July 17, 2022 10:17 am

    I live down the road in Charlotte and next time I head up 77 I will stop and visit. I watch Andy and Barney as a youngster. Grew up in a loving household. Dad worked many hours and mom was home and volunteering in community. Americana. Went to Watermelon Festival in Pageland South Carolina yesterday for a little bit of Americana. Seed spitting contests are a hoot

  7. Ronald Blankenship - July 17, 2022 10:41 am

    Thanks for this story, Sean. I love mayberry. I just wish I could have come there this week, and get to meet you. I read your column every day. Thanks

  8. Ed (Bear) - July 17, 2022 11:14 am

    Stick to your good guns! You wear them well.

    Nice piece today! You’re encouragingly consistent!

  9. Leigh Amiot - July 17, 2022 12:02 pm

    I didn’t pay much attention to the television as a child in the late 1960s/early 1970s; my mother said I was the only one of her four children like that. Fast forward, my husband watched Andy Griffith reruns, I enjoyed them. Aunt Bea and Andy sitting on the front porch after dinner, often joined by friends…what a treasure. (Of course in real life that involves bug spray in southern Georgia.) A lot of society’s ills can be corrected, understood, interpreted, put into perspective by sitting a spell on the front porch.

  10. Kellie - July 17, 2022 12:15 pm

    I ❤️ this. Think it’s time I start planning a trip to Mt. Airey. Oh, by the Sean, the kids refer to the sweat stain on the butt as “swamp butt”. 😅🤣

    • Kellie - July 17, 2022 1:34 pm

      *oh, by the way

  11. Joan Crowson - July 17, 2022 12:20 pm

    Just FYI. Next time you are in a traveling mood, head north on I-29 to Sioux Falls SD then go across the state from east to west on I-90. It is absolutely one of the most gorgeous states you will ever see. I think it is a well kept secret and South Dakotians probably like that. But it is a state not to be missed. Do this trip in summer of course!

  12. stephenpe - July 17, 2022 12:29 pm

    Why do so many visit Mt. Airy? Easiest question I have read in a long time. I interupted my morning ritual of Sean to make my daughter and her friend home made sausage gravy for biscuits (not home made). While I was cooking I thought about Andy and the characters he created. I have read all the books on the show and Knotts and Griffith I can find. And the new one by Ron Howard.I have seen all the episodes multiple times. Even better I grew up in a small town like Mayberry, taught in one much like it and now live in one similary to Mayberry. Why? Because the world is going faster all the time. Many people are angrier, sadder and also speeding up. Mayberry rarely speeded up and if it did it was back to normal within 25 minutes. We learned that the pace of Mayberry allowed us to see things you miss when the world flies by. Its like riding a bike where you always drive a car. Suddenly you see and feel things in a new way. You appreciate those things you hear and see in a new light. Mayberry was where we felt safe. We knew Andy was usually right but he would also learn lessons like we do. It was this weekly counselig session to help us understand friends, children and the world. We all could identify with certain situations or characters. I had a PhD in Andy once but age has helped me to slowly forget some of the shows. Thanks, Sean, for reminding us of something truly American and how we used to know about civilty, love and friendsships………….

  13. stephenpe - July 17, 2022 12:30 pm

    btw I love that cariciture of Andy on the side of the story today.

  14. Rebecca - July 17, 2022 12:50 pm

    Thank you!! I love your writing and every morning your soecual stories. Glad you’re not hapless anymore! 😁 It’s time to restart watching the episodes.

  15. Rebecca - July 17, 2022 12:51 pm


  16. Dolores - July 17, 2022 1:13 pm

    Mayberry was normal…but it wasn’t. A widowed man and a great Aunt raising a young boy was out of the norm for the time. Even the characters in the show had their individual foibles. Despite all that, morality, decency and kindness always won out. That’s the Mayberry (America) we all long for.

  17. Denise Walker - July 17, 2022 1:18 pm

    and look at the smart, successful, happy man you are now. I’d say “you done good’

  18. Steven Rafferty - July 17, 2022 1:31 pm

    Oh Mayberry my heart aches for those days and when I watch these precious reruns I get a slice of heaven with peace added in.I hope to make a pilgrimage to our Mayberry to connect with life as it should be.

  19. Jill - July 17, 2022 1:32 pm

    Darn, you made me cry again, Sean. “You beat everything. You know that?” Sending love to you and your lovely wife!

  20. Anita Bowen - July 17, 2022 1:32 pm

    Your writing reminds my why I still live in a small southern town, although I’ve visited towns like mine all over these United States. Warm welcomes, friendly folks, tasty out of the way diners, interesting places to visit, they all remind me of growing up watching Andy. It warms the heart. Thanks for reminding me of those times….but, one point to disagree-Regis will never, never be as wonderful as Andy, Aunt Bee, Opie, and the hee-haw cast!

  21. Diane Haley Toney - July 17, 2022 2:20 pm

    If interested in Mayberry personified, check out my BLOG,, “BACK IN THE 50s TONIGHT”. Lavonia, Georgia could have served as the model for the Andy Griffith episodes.

  22. Paul - July 17, 2022 2:38 pm

    Well you should try going there on a weekday in December as I did last year I had the whole place to myself. I had spent the previous day and night in Asheville which I highly recommend in December. The next day I drove to Rustic Trail Teardrops to pick up a small camper I had ordered 10 months prior. A family business on Mt Pilot road. Mayberry was fun and a little bigger than you would think. And the best meals are on the outskirts. One called Aunt Bees kitchen. And the other a barbecue place I can’t recall the name of but ask any local. If you love the show you should go. And say hey to Andy

  23. William Lowe - July 17, 2022 2:45 pm

    You should go to Lineville, Alabama. There is a guy who has the Maburry Police car and fire engine. He has all sorts of Maburry memorabilia. He hoards all kinds of stuff. He usually sits in a barber’s chair on the front porch. He must be rich because all of his stuff is in pristine condition. I spent hours wandering through this “stuff.” He won’t sell any of it.
    The TV show American Pickers filmed an episode there. He wouldn’t part with anything.
    I discovered the place by accident. You may ask for directions because his hoard is off the beaten path.

  24. Barry Surratt - July 17, 2022 3:10 pm

    And I figured this was going to be all nostalgic but once again, Sean you hit the nail on the head… you didn’t have a Opie upbringing but you got the message Andy was trying to give… maybe a little like Mr. Roger’s in a folksy kinda way

  25. Penn Montgomery - July 17, 2022 3:38 pm

    I grew up with Andy, Opie, and the whole crowd !!!! Mayberry was clean, safe and comforting to the young, middle age and old ! Unlike today there was respect for not only people but animals ! Solutions of problems were negotiated and tried to consider everyone’s point of view. In other words , life was PURE ! It helped people become better people !

  26. Patricia Gibson - July 17, 2022 4:21 pm

    I will have to make a trip

  27. Jane Tallent Shoultz - July 17, 2022 4:56 pm

    My sister-in-law and her husband moved there from Carmel Valley, California. They love it! If they had known you were there, you could have sat on their porch and picked a few tunes with my brother-in-law! You two would have hit it off famously!

  28. Rene - July 17, 2022 5:19 pm

    Sean, oh how you help me heal. My childhood was much like yours. At 70, I’m still haunted. Thank you for helping me put it into words.

  29. L.Grimes - July 17, 2022 5:41 pm

    Great story! I had a wonderful very devoted family. Our Dad was a school teacher who bed in taking his family everywhere with him. So many families go indifferent directions today and never sit down to a meal together at home.This is where we all shared our daily experiences. We coked, had chores and didn’t talk back to parents. E knew to show respect to people no matter their skin tone of religion. Wish it was like that today. No the or nah.

  30. Pat Hephner - July 17, 2022 6:55 pm

    In 2009 my husband and I stayed at the Mayberry Motor Inn on our way to Myrtle Beach.I have pictures of my husband standing by the police car and the old truck. We visited all the places you mentioned. We ate at the diner, took pictures of the house Andy was raised in. It was a very special time. A favorite picture of mine is the one taken of us standing by the statue of Andy and Opie with their fishing poles. Little did we know it would be our last vacation together. He had brain cancer and we didn’t know it. He was gone 7 months later. We started dating when we were 16 so knew each other 42 years and were married 39 of those. Mount Airy holds a special place in my heart. At my husband’s funeral, songs from Andy Griffith’s CD were played , Amazing Grace was one of them.

    • conniekp - July 18, 2022 2:39 am

      So sad for your loss, such a wonderful memory!

  31. Sandy - July 17, 2022 7:22 pm

    Sean, you do such a good job almost always. Why did you have to belittle so much of Mt.Airy in the first part of this story. The last few paragraphs were pretty good . You made sound like a place you actually liked. I live here and know all the little quirks. Most of us do but to have you present them to the rest of the country doesn’t feel right. I know this wasn’t your first time here, hopefully the next time you come it will be a better experience for you.

  32. Neeta Hale - July 17, 2022 8:01 pm

    Andy did a great job helping your mama raise you!

  33. Christopher Spencer - July 17, 2022 8:43 pm

    Sean, I love you and your writings my friend. But I just have to ask.
    While walking part of the Appalachian Trail, did you fall and hit your head on a rock?
    I mean, why else would you compare Andy Griffith to Regis Philbin?

  34. Kate Asbury Larkin - July 17, 2022 8:46 pm

    Mount Airy is on my bucket list when I retire next spring. Also, I would definitely go to Regis Philbin’s house, too. You hit on two of my all-time favorites! Thanks for your great insights, Sean!

  35. Linda Moon - July 17, 2022 9:39 pm

    So, your wife sent you away several days ago and you ended up in Mount Airy? If so, you might want her to send you away again. Sometimes we all can remember too much, but don’t ever forget that regardless of pain from the past, you….Sean Dietrich, are SOMBODY, like a lot of us broken-up folks are. And that includes me and my family!

  36. Layne Unruh - July 17, 2022 10:00 pm

    You are a special writer. Your story’s are touching and give courage

  37. conniekpConnie - July 18, 2022 2:37 am

    The world needs more Mayberry. Thanks for your work!

  38. jgarrison75 - July 18, 2022 2:38 am

    Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your writings. Next time you are in Mt. Airy and want to visit the real Mayberry, head out of town on River Road, crossing into Virginia. Then take a left on Ararat Highway and another onto Squirrel Spur, then another left onto Mayberry Church Road. The community isn’t much these days. It was split by the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid-1930s, but there is still an old country store and one of the original rock churches established and built by Rev. Bob Childress in 1925. It’s about 25 miles from Mt. Airy and three miles should of Meadows of Dan, VA.

  39. Ingrid B Whigham - July 18, 2022 2:58 am

    I loved visiting Mt. Airy and love all things about Andy Griffith–Mayberry, Matlock, etc. Andy was a first-class musician, too!

  40. Dick Villard aka “Goober Fife” - July 18, 2022 3:07 am

    Sean it was a honor to meet you at Mayberry…You were so kind to give me a shout out
    (Guy From Canton Ohio) You are a awesome story teller….

  41. Patricia - July 18, 2022 6:20 am

    I’ve often thought if the kids today who are hurting, getting in trouble, or had family problems, could watch daily Andy Griifith re-runs, it would help them. Maybe they would see the need to straighten up or feel loved enough to want more out of life. Andy gave such common sense, loving advice. I still watch them and I’m no longer a kid.

  42. Robin - July 18, 2022 12:39 pm

    I’m enjoying your travels, Sean. Thanks for sharing your journey! I love your heart!

  43. R Clement - July 18, 2022 1:44 pm

    Thanks for the piece. I’m from there and still own a property in Mt.Airy. Mayberry is a state of mind and that’s why people go. Ted Koppel did an excellent piece on Mayberry as well. The real town is pretty redneck

  44. Susan W Fitch - July 19, 2022 7:05 pm

    Sean, remember that God loves YOU! And obviously a bunch of us love you too! You keep writing and we’ll keep reading! Hugs!

  45. Wanda Dupree - July 20, 2022 2:19 am

    Great article Sean, so identify with this one, I’m a native Carolinian living now in Georgia, raised on Andy Griffin and Aunt Bee, and I do my best to Act Like Somebody wherever I go and never sleep on ironing boards! Lol. Do u remember that episode?
    Blessings, Wanda

  46. JOANNE LAY - July 20, 2022 6:30 pm

    Mayberry is the America we want it to be!!!! Watch every night!

  47. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 2, 2022 1:58 am


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