From Mayberry to Myrtle Beach

bdickerson@thesunnews.comJuly 7, 2012 

— This is stating the obvious; Myrtle Beach looks nothing like Mayberry.

Consider the two images: Sheriff Andy Taylor and his young son, Opie, walking toward their favorite fishing spot - rod and lures in hand - ready to make that big catch.

If fishermen look to catch a prize winner off Ocean Boulevard, they’ll make their way past thousands of bikini-clad vacationers and head out to one of the piers, where other visitors are nibbling on sandwiches at a pier restaurant and perhaps planning a trip later in the day to Broadway at the Beach.

Yes, Myrtle Beach probably isn’t a place people could picture Aunt Bea visiting.

With the passing this week of Andy Griffith, the legendary TV star who maintained law and order as sheriff Taylor often without the use of a gun, much has been written about whether his death signals the last connection to small-town, rural America. After all, the fictional town of Mayberry is said to be modeled on Griffith’s own hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, which had a population of 10,388 as of the 2010 Census.

In thinking of the demise of rural culture, one has to wonder whether Horry County has lost touch with its southern heritage as it’s grown into a tourism-based economy.

Herb Pauley seems to think so.

The 83-year-old retired judge first came to South Carolina in 1947 for military training at Columbia’s Fort Jackson.

“It was really the south then,” Pauley said.

He’s been living in Myrtle Beach since 1997 and has definitely seen the area shift away from the southern culture. Pauley feels a lot of that stems from the out-of-county and out-of-state residents who have moved to Horry County over the years and brought their own traditions and cultures with them.

That’s easy to fathom. The 2010 Census lists Horry County’s population as 269,291, which represents a 37 percent growth from the 2000 total of 196,629 people.

Walter Hill, director of the L.W. Paul Living History Farm in Conway, had virtually the same line of thinking as Pauley about the shrinking southern and local culture; as the tourism industry started growing in Horry County, and retirees decided to call the area home, that changed the cultural landscape as new ideals were mixed in with existing ones.

“Whenever that starts happening, you get that wonderful melting pot approach,” Hill said.

However, that also means something ultimately gets scraped off the top of the pot.

At the Living History Farm, Hill and the other operators are working to preserve a culture that once was a driving force in Horry County - the self-sustained farm.

Between 1900 and the 1950s, 90 percent of farms in Horry County were self-operated, Hill said. By the 1960s, things started to change, and that number dropped to just 2 percent.

Tobacco used to dominate the culture in Horry County, and the Living History farmers were busy on Saturday working in their tobacco crop.

Hill recalled how tobacco-growing families in Horry County would never think of taking a vacation until after Labor Day, because the preceding months were prime harvesting periods. That goes against the rest of the world, he said, that took family trips before Labor Day.

“You have to study what we were doing here,” Hill said.

The Mayberry effect

Farming is an obvious aspect of southern culture, and one that isn’t as prevalent as a person gets closer to the beaches. But further inland in Horry County, farms can be found.

Still, most will say that it’s definitely not like it used to be, as the Grand Strand has become so dependent on the 14 million visitors who come to the area annually.

Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and its depiction of rural, small-town America also might argue that, as a whole, life in the 21st century is nothing like it was in Mayberry during the 1960s.

“The show is kind of like a step back in time, especially for my generation,” Molly Jones, 24, of Raleigh, N.C., said after learning of Griffith’s death Tuesday. “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, this is how it used to be,’ and ‘Why isn’t it this way still?’ Things were so much simpler back then.”

Hill said he’s also seen southern culture reduced to caricatures and irrelevancy over the past 25 years.

“Being southern meant being backwards and redneck,” he said.

And “The Andy Griffith Show,” it could be argued, embraced those stereotypes in some ways via the characters of Gomer Pyle and legendary cutup Barney Fife, played by the late Don Knotts.

However, in the last few years, Hill has seen southern conventions make a comeback, and it’s been via the most recognizable of all cultures - food.

Celebrity chefs like Paula Deen and programming on the Food Network have brought a national and international resurgence to such southern comfort foods as fried chicken, country ham and cornbread, all dishes that Aunt Bee certainly knew a thing or two about.

And while life on the tobacco farms of Horry County, or in small, rural towns like Mayberry may no longer be as relevant as they used to be, signs of that time can still be found in the crops that are sown each season, and the fried chicken served at suppertime.

As for Griffith, his southern charm and adherence to that culture will continue for generations via the magic of reruns.

“There’ll never be another one,” Pauley said of Griffith.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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