Sylacauga, Alabama—this is your quintessential American town. Old buildings, lots of Baptist churches, and Mama Ree’s restaurant, which serves fare so good you’ll wonder if Granny isn’t in the kitchen.
This is the hometown of Jim Nabors, better known as Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show.
Earlier today, I toured the city. There is a lot to see.
There’s the Comer museum on Broadway Avenue. They have a room dedicated to Nabors memorabilia. There you can see photos, news clippings, and costumes from the town’s own native son. Up the road is the high school Nabors graduated from.
And of course, Sylacauga is known for more than just Gomer Pyle.
Firstly: it’s one of the only places in the world that produces bedrock marble so pure it was used in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, and the United States Supreme Court Building.
Sylacauga also boasts the first documented case of an outer-space object falling onto a human. It happened one autumn day in ‘54. A meteorite the size of a grapefruit crashed through a farmhouse roof and hit Mrs. Ann Hodges, who was napping.
It didn’t hurt her too bad, but they say she was fussy for several days thereafter.
Don’t get me wrong, I love meteorites and marble as much as the next guy. But I am here today to track down Gomer Pyle. I am looking for glimpses of a world once inhabited by Andy, Barney, Opie, and Aunt Bea.
The truth is, Andy Griffith raised me. After my father died, we lived with my aunt and my cousins in Georgia. Back then, I was a redhead boy, trapped in a house with six females and 1.5 bathrooms.
Every month, for a span of three to five days, these women would become very grumpy—AT THE SAME TIME. Then, they would gang up on me, threatening to behead and roast me on a barbecue spit if I didn’t get outside.
So I disappeared a lot. To pass the time, I read comic books, played solitaire, drew pictures, wrote stories, and planted kudzu in my aunt’s backyard.
A boy without a father is a ship without a compass. I was adrift upon the Sea of Life. Under confident in every way. But.
Every day at 5 P.M. I was born again because Andy was on TV.
When the whistling theme song came through the television speaker, everyone knew dadgum well to leave Sean Dietrich alone.
Andy taught me a lot of crucial lessons. He taught me how to defend myself against bullies, how to tell the truth, how to be a good loser, and the paramount importance of using plenty of Brylcreem.
When I was a young man, most of my friends started traveling a lot after they graduated. They racked up millions of airline miles and saw the world.
My friend Danny, for instance, moved to France to find himself. My friend Eric said he discovered himself by backpacking across Kathmandu, then hiking El Camino in the same year.
But I was nothing like them. I was a young man who once read a Don Knotts biography, then traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit where he grew up.
Just last year, I made a pilgrimage to Mount Airy, North Carolina, to visit Andy Griffith’s childhood home. I laid a penny at the foot of his bronze statue. I ate a pork chop sandwich at the Snappy Lunch with the same reverence of a Holy Eucharist.
And this evening, I shook hands with a few people who knew Jim Nabors. I heard precious few stories about his childhood, and I met someone who remembered how well he sang in high school.
And even though I’m not from Talladega County, hearing those things made me feel like I had found home somehow.
To tell you the truth, my life hasn’t been all that interesting. I haven’t done much. I’ve never been overseas, never owned a car with low milage, and I have never eaten escargot.
But I have enjoyed the little American hamlets that remind me of an era that evaporated. And that is enough for me.
Because no matter how old I get, I will forever be a redheaded child, seated before a General Electric console television, wishing I was Opie Taylor, and wishing Andy was my paw.
Sylacauga was magnificent. No, it was more than that.
It was Mayberry.
Sherri McDonald - February 9, 2019 6:31 am
Sean, you make me smile and/or cry every day. Mayberry was a place many of us kids wished we could live. Please, don’t ever stop writing.
Pat McRee - February 9, 2019 7:07 am
Sean, someday I’m going to tell you the story of my red-headed mother who once walked the streets of Sylacauga after an early (and difficult) childhood in Rockford, Alabama. I’ll tell you how she escaped an abusive mother at the age of thirteen by packing her paralyzed father and eleven year old sister into their old car. She drove them to Atlanta, stopped to apply for a dishwasher job and worked a shift, then rented a walk-up room in an old building. You would have loved her….such a firecracker! I have a feeling we’ll meet in person someday and I can just tell you about her then. In the meantime, thank you for the great stories and the way you bring me close to her. If you want to read a great wacky tale of small time Alabama that you didn’t have to write, check out my daughter’s book, Sway by Amber McRee Turner. Her style is reminiscent of yours. God bless you!
Emjay - February 9, 2019 2:44 pm
I’m guessing that your daughter, whose book has been very well received, learned a lot about how to write from you, Pat. And maybe she’s read Sean’s posts, too.
Pat McRee - February 9, 2019 7:11 am
Sean, it just occurred to me that you’ve brought me and my daughter such pleasure with your daily gifts, I’d love to send you her books. Just email me your address and I’ll send them. Love to you and your sweet wife!
Camille - February 9, 2019 10:47 am
I am still being raised by Andy Griffith and I am 71~!
MT - February 9, 2019 11:41 am
Sean I think Mama Ree’s is on Hwy 280 instead of 20. Wouldn’t want anyone to miss it.
Lynda - February 9, 2019 12:21 pm
Sean and Opie…..two adorable redheads;-)
Patricia Pope - February 9, 2019 12:43 pm
Sean Dietrich, To one who knows that fathers hold far higher
esteem in the hearts of their children, especially sons, than they
too often realize, I love you and thank you for beginning my
day with refreshing life-living Truths. You always make me smile!
?? A mom in Alabama ??
Connie Havard Ryland - February 9, 2019 1:27 pm
I always loved Andy and Opie and the whole gang. Watching the interaction between that family showed me what family should be. It warms my heart still to watch it and I’m an old lady. Thank you for reminding us daily that the world can be a good place. Love and hugs.
Phillip Saunders. - February 9, 2019 2:02 pm
Sean, you’ve left me dog-paddling in a sea of nostalgia – again. “Lost in the 50’s tonight.” Thank goodness we can still watch those great episodes of Andy. Gomer Pyle, USMC was good, but did not quiet measure up to life in Mayberry. For extra worthless trivia points, George Lindsey (Gomer’s cuz Goober) graduated from college in my hometown of Florence. Times change, but as the song by Annie Chapman says, “There’s no changin’ us.” Keep those memories rolling.
Rhonda - February 9, 2019 2:10 pm
Interesting! Good Lord Son, you are better than interesting. You are life’s Cracker Jack Box. We always get something sweet, something a little salty and there’s usually a little prize of some sort at the bottom. There was no need for you to travel. The Lord said stay put and I will bring to you those in the world you need to meet. We hear enough about the “stars”. Its the folks you tell us about that are the lights of the world. The shine that comes off a a heart is a different kind of wonderful. Your words are desperately needed by a world where hurt runs rampant. If you think you are fixing to run out of ink and paper, you call me, we will make sure that don’t happen!
Emjay - February 9, 2019 2:51 pm
Rhonda, I hope you’ve got a classroom, a blog, or some way to share your own gift for putting words together. In enjoying Sean’s writing, I’m also blessed to find so many others with the ability to turn words into life.
Dru - February 10, 2019 3:06 am
Emjay, hear, hear! Rhonda, wow! Sean, I lived in Sylacauga! Score again.
rantsandravescom - February 10, 2019 6:13 am
Rhonda, put me down for a team of paper once a month if you will furnish the ink.
Amy - March 10, 2019 6:45 pm
Jack Darnell - February 9, 2019 2:12 pm
I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying Andy and the cast. Absolutely the one program my family would not miss. I did like the morals embraced by that show. I did not know old Jim was from Alabama… Anyway, good one my friend, always fun to visit Sean of The South. I always forward this to friends…… jack & Sherry
Crystal Blackman Lewis - February 9, 2019 2:39 pm
Love the story. I am from Sylacauga. Born and raised. I love my little town and love to hear the stories. Jim Nabors was a cousin of mine. He was a sweet and gentle soul who loved everyone. Thanks for the story
turtlekid - February 9, 2019 2:40 pm
Never knew Andy and Opie were redheads. Our tv was a black and white.
Phyllis - February 9, 2019 2:45 pm
Sean, as usual I was caught up in your writing to the point of being with you. I enjoyed watching Andy and Barney over an over and still do when I can. This world is so messed up now until old TV shows is the only place some can find normalcie. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading.
Dan Wise - February 9, 2019 2:53 pm
Don’t forget Otis…that’s another article trail…open access to his own jail cell!
Mona P Hickey - February 9, 2019 4:51 pm
Loved reading this story. I was born and raised in Sylacauga. On your next visit, check out Gravity Hill, and you might also want to know about another Sylacauga native, Jimmie Sue Cannon, who was once one of Dean Martin’s Gold Diggers. I think she is Jimmie McCarter now and you may be able to find her on Facebook. She is a beautiful and talented lady.
Randy Jones - February 9, 2019 5:12 pm
Sean, at the Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, they have a room where Jim Nabors would stay at when he would come back home. Cool place.
Debbie - February 9, 2019 5:35 pm
Met Jim Nabors at Fayes BBQ on county road 511 close to my house. Such a great guy. Talk about nostalgia…Mrs. Faye has tons of pictures on her wall of the crew and Jim. It was his favorite place to eat when he came “home”! Several choices of meat, tons of vegetables to choose from and awesome dessert!! Love Mrs. Faye and her crew! Try it out next time you’re in Alabama!! I’m sure she can tell you some stories!!
Kathie kerr - February 9, 2019 6:27 pm
Growing up without a father, too, Andy was my Dad. My favorite episode was the time Opie was raising two orphaned birds and when they were time to go, Andy gave a compassionate speech about raising children to leave the nest. Ron Howard and Andy Griffith personally claimed that this was their very favorite episode during their eight seasons of acting together.
Tim Talton - February 9, 2019 8:20 pm
I love the Golden Rule that Andy Griffith taught us. I too grew up in Sylacauga Al.without a father, but life was easier in the 50s and 60s than it is today. I try to move slower and appreciate life more abundantly these days in the marble city.
Doris Blankenship Poe - February 9, 2019 8:59 pm
I grew up in Sylacauga Al. I knew Jim Nabors. His niece Kay and I were best friends and Kay played the piano at my wedding. Would love to locate Kay. Jim passed away in 2018. Best of luck! Doris Blankenship
John Allen Berry - February 9, 2019 10:41 pm
A few years ago at Natural Bridge, Alabama, at the park at Natural Bridge, I met a woman who had gone to High School with George Goober Lindsey. She said he was a cut up. I believe he was from Jasper, AL. The film festival at the University of North Alabama was named in his honor. Just in case you’re lookin’ for future detinations for your road trip. 😉
Velma Ann McCurdy - June 1, 2021 9:27 pm
My Grandmother Mariah Jane Ward was a resident of Natural Bridge for many years. My Aunt Esterlee Ward also lived with her in her later years. We are related to the Berry’s somehow. My Dad’s name was Billie Ward, brothers named, Leon Ward, Marvin Ward, R.Lee Ward, and another sister Minnie Lee Ward Walling. My name is Velma Ann Ward McCurdy.
Pennie Cushing - February 10, 2019 1:36 am
Did you happen to travel Gravity Hill Rd, off Hwy 280? It’s one of those places where you put your car in neutral, and it backs up the hill all by itself. If not, maybe next time, yes?
Kathy Nelson Dodson - February 10, 2019 2:31 am
I was born and raised in Sylacayga/Mayberry and felt as part of my childhood died when Andy Griffith passed. My mother spoke of Jim also as a great dancer..always winning the jitterbug contest at the local sock hop.Great place …Sylacauga!!
John Brewster - February 10, 2019 4:12 am
Rhonda Housand - February 10, 2019 5:19 am
Enjoyed very much! Mama Ree’s was my mom’s favorite! Gotta love the Cog!! All the sculptors and sculptures (I’m sure someone invited you back for The Marble Festival 02-13Apr2019). Also, Jim Nabor’s childhood home is next door to Buttermilk Hill (GREAT food AND atmosphere). The home is on AirBnB. Did anyone tell you that the Comet Drive-in was located across from where Mrs. Hodges lived and that it was there PRIOR to the meteorite?
Thanks again for writing this article. It’s nice to see our precious town through the eyes of another!
CJ Collins - February 10, 2019 6:22 am
Also known as HomerGomerville ??
Mark Ledbetter - February 10, 2019 1:53 pm
I once sang Christmas carols with him Neighbors. In the mid sixties our church went carolling through the Merry Meadows subdivision. We stopped in front of one house, began singing and the porch light popped on, the door opened and out stepped Gomer, who joined the carolling.
Edna B. - February 10, 2019 5:24 pm
I haven’t done a lot of things in my lifetime either, but I’ve done all the important things. You have a wonderful day, hugs , Edna B.
HJ Patterson - February 10, 2019 6:21 pm
I think this country needs a good dose of Mayberry lessons and values right now.
Shelton A. - February 11, 2019 3:25 pm
Mayberry meant a lot to me, too. In college 4 of us would meet 2 hours every weekday because we could see 4 episodes of Andy. We knew all the lines but it was still a good time. Have you read ‘A Return to Mayberry’? I got a lot out of that book.
Marilyn F. - February 11, 2019 7:28 pm
Oh, my gosh! Mayberry was so important to me as well. However, my “television dad” was Robert Young in “Father Knows Best.” It’s the only way I ever knew what a “real” family should be like. I guess I spent most of my life trying to make it become so, but just as Robert Young was never really the man he portrayed, I also fell way short of my goal to create the “perfect” family. Still, I think it was hugely important to know the possibilities.
robert - March 1, 2019 1:51 pm
Loved growing up in Sylacauga. It was once known as Americas Most Beautiful Small City. Nestled in the Coosa River valley, you can look down Broadway and see the foothills of the Appalachians in the distance. Friday night high school football games were a major event with two high schools in one town, Sylacauga High and B.B. Comer High. Jim Nabors came into town for a hero’s parade in the mid seventies. I got his autograph and sadly have lost it somewhere as the years have gone by. We had some interesting characters in town who would walk the streets. Sadly, they were most likely mentally ill, but of no danger. There was Woody The Alabama Fan who would yell and scream at you if you dared say “War Eagle” and Smiley who would continuously walk the streets singing “Mighty Mouse Is On His Way” ! Great memories of days long gone.
Steve W. - March 10, 2019 9:01 pm
Mom left when I was 5, my brother 2. Dad was our Andy. We had a hired live-in “Aunt Bea”, Ms. Champion. Life was aweful close to the show. I’m the only one left now but cherish the memories. I still watch Andy twice each night. Knotts was a comedy genius.
Mignon craft watson - March 11, 2019 12:03 am
I enjoy the reruns so much. Never get tired of them. Those were the good old days. Thank you.
David Salmon - March 11, 2019 12:39 am
My wife’s mother went to school with Jim Nabors. She said his mother dressed him in knickers for school.
Margaret Green - March 11, 2019 3:49 am
I just love this! I have a picture of him from the University of Alabama Gargoyle graduating with my daddy in 1951… I saw him as the Grand Marshall at a BAMA homecoming parade, too. He was as nice then as you have described him and we all grew up watching him in Mayberry!
In Sylacauga I heard they have delicious home cooked meals with “ Apple Tarts”. Did you get to try any? I love how you make us feel right at home in your stories Sean, thank you and thank you for loving every detail in life just come alive again to truly appreciate and reflect on…
Rita Conville Limbaugh - May 6, 2019 9:04 pm
Sean, I grew up in Sylacauga graduating in 1971 from the same high school as Jim. It was a time I treasure; and though I moved away many years ago, Sylacauga will always be home! It was much like Mayberry. I am so blessed to have been born and raised there! Thanks for your story!
Glenda Busby Fowler-Hinkle - February 22, 2020 4:35 pm
When we moved here, we knew nothing about Sylacauga except that it was the home of Jim Nabors. We found out that Jim was Mr. Pursell’s best man at his wedding (Pursell Farms, I highly recommend it). Another local told us about Jim being the Drum Major for Sylacauga High School and that tall lanky guy could throw his head back and touch the ground with his “Busby” drum major hat on! Would have loved to have seen that!!. I also went to the Catholic Church he attended and saw the balcony on the second floor overlooking the regular seating. People have said they can still hear his booming voice coming from that choir loft. Thank you for this wonderful article on Sylacauga …..errrr, Mayberry…….and Jim Nabors and all the cast.
Dianne Bailey - April 10, 2020 11:02 pm
I live in Sylacauga and love our hometown atmosphere. Thank you for this beautiful description of Sylacauga. I am also a huge fan of Andy Griffith!