A Place Like Mayberry
“Sarah?…This is Andy Taylor. Fine how are you……Well, soak it Sarah. Soak it a lot in warm salt water. Uh, listen Sarah, get me Thelma Lou will ya’? I know she’s Barney’s girl…..Cause I don’t want to..I don’t want to talk to Juanita…just get me Thelma Lou.” I wake up this morning and glance out my window and I find myself living in Mayberry. I roll over and look at my sweet Helen Crump-Taylor lying beside me. How does she wake up even more beautiful every morning? I put on my uniform, straighten my hat, shine my badge, slip on my shoes and walk out the door into the Utopian community that I call home.
“Good mornin’ Ms. Johnson,” I say to the lovely lady walking her dog along the road. “Hi Andy,” she says with a smile. “Did you, Bob and the kids get to enjoy the campfire last night at the lodge?” I ask while picking up a piece of a Hershey’s chocolate wrapper off the ground. “Oh yes! What a lovely program. Becky and Myron had a blast. They made smores, learned about the owls that we hear at night, got to touch a live raccoon, and couldn’t stop talking about it all night long.” I continue my morning stroll through town and get countless waves and hardy grins. “Have you had a cup of coffee yet Andy?” Comes from a cute couple that just moved in yesterday and are sitting by the creek next to their beautiful home. “Naw, I left Mrs. Taylor in bed and wanted to slip out early to see if anyone in town needed anything before they got their day going.” They pour me a cup and I share with them a few of my favorite trails and special places that they have to explore while they are living here in Mayberry.
It feels like Mayberry. It really does. Almost every campground that we have lived in has this feeling. Most of the time we are just citizens of this beautiful village, but this time around, I’m Andy. Ya see, I’m the volunteer camp host. Me and Mrs. Taylor are the ones that greet each and every traveler. We are the folks they come to when they have questions, if there is a problem, when they need to buy firewood, or have a issue with something in the camper. We help first time campers set up their tent and improvise when they forgot an important set of poles. We keep things clean. We make the campsites look fresh and inviting for new guests. We socialize and listen to stories. We fix things, unclog things, unlock things, and sneak around in our golf cart delivering things. When no one is looking, we are the couple who is putting a new coat of stain on the entrance sign, picking up trash along a hiking trail, or helping a person who has never towed a camper, back into a campsite and all the while making them feel like they are kings and that they were meant to do this.
It’s here in our Mayberry where we all go back to a life the way it was in days gone by. Kids run freely. They make new friends almost instantly and instead of using their thumbs and fingers to text or play internet games, they are riding their bikes. They are making believe. They are pushing boundaries so fast that they don’t even know they are doing it. Their parents feel safe. They can sit back and see their amazing creations truly embracing the day and at a place where they can actually witness them growing. We all cook outside. We walk after meals. Couples hold hands. No one is a stranger. Everyone, and I mean everyone smiles and says hello to one another. Some campers have signs at their entrance welcoming strangers with quotes like “A day without Wine is a day without sunshine; Let’s watch a sunset together.” At night we sit by campfires. Year-round there are Christmas lights sparkling on campers. Songs echo from guitars and the night stars are the roof that cover us all.
Oh, and in the morning… may the breezes blow. Whafts of bacon drift in the chilly air. The sweet smell of banana pancakes blend and linger along with the stoking of the hickory wood campfires. The children find their bikes or go to their make-believe castles. The Dad slips away for a quick toss of a fishing line and Mom takes a slow inhale, flips the flap jacks, knows that her babies are safe and happy and without her really even knowing why, exhales a smile from ear to ear.
“Oh Andy.” I hear coming from a camp snuggled in the woods. I look over and see Aunt Bee coming towards me with a plate covered in tin foil. “I thought you and Mrs. Taylor might be hungry later in the day.” “You’re too kind.” I say as I lift an edge of the tin and let a sweet smell of something that I couldn’t put my finger on, come out and tease my nose. I walk back to the house and look back down on my town and count the fires lifting their smoke to the heavens. Each one of those embers is a day well lived. Each sound of laughter I hear is one that comes from the belly. Every person I see is having one of the best days in their life. How blessed am I to live in a place that feels like Mayberry.
(Oh… stick around for Part II. Yes, even Mayberry has a dark side.)
The Mayberry in this story is actually a beautiful campground in the mountains of Virginia called Hungry Mother State Park. This is Virginia’s crown jewel and one of the four original parks first established by the park system in the 30s and built by the Civilian Conservation Corp. We were lucky enough to be here and be a part of the 80th year celebration that took place and got to leave a message in a time capsule that was buried on the grounds and will be opened again at the 100 year celebration. Perhaps we’ll be volunteers again then too. This park has it all. The mountains and elevation keep the park at comfortable temperatures throughout the summer. The 108 acre lake calls to everyone with activities like swimming, paddling, and fishing. We enjoyed the hiking and mountain bike trails almost daily. The restaurant is first class and we snuck away for a couple of delicious lunches out on the patio overlooking the lake.
There are three campgrounds at Hungry Mother. We were volunteers in the Creekside and Royal Oaks loop. The Royal Oaks campsites are all raised decks without electricity but perfect for tent campers. There is water and a modern bathhouse available. Creekside has some beautiful sites right on the creek with water and electric and some that will fit a 35′ camper, but most in this loop are more for campers under 30′. The other campground in the park is called Camp Burson and it is more suitable for large campers with most sites having full hookups. For those visiting without campers or tents, the park has many inviting cabins available too, some originally built by the CCC.
While we were in the area we also got to explore and enjoy the nearby quaint town of Marion, which has all the essentials as well as several nice restaurants and a one-of-kind drive in theater. We also spent time riding our bikes down the Virginia Creeper bike trail which was just 40 minutes away. The AT is here. The New River is here. Too many other cool towns to mention.
I have no doubt that we will one day put on our Mr. and Mrs. Taylor badge and once again be volunteers at this Mayberry in the mountains of Virginia.