I was born in Atlanta and we lived there until I was 8. I was born in the middle of the time when racial tensions were rising. In my boyhood, the Vietnam War began to escalate and that created a different kind of tension.
My parents moved to Social Circle because it was a lot like Mayberry. I could ride my bike to town and visit places like Bessie and Clarence Morrow’s dime store or Lester Malcom’s hardware store.
In the daytime, Chief Louis Shepherd was the lone policeman on duty. There was no dispatcher, except for Minnie Lee, who was the city clerk and answered the phone during the day. When she wasn’t there, a bell rang down by the barbershop and a horn sounded over by the bank, where they parked the police car. There was a box mounted on a utility pole that contained an extension of the police phone.
To the best of my memory, the phone number for city hall, the water department and the police department was the same.
The only place in town with any kind of alarm was the bank. Someone decided that the best location for the alarm was in the drug store. If someone were robbing the bank, the druggist would take appropriate action, which meant finding Chief Shepherd.
There were three white churches and two black ones. Your denominational choices were Baptist or Methodist.
The closest thing to fast food was “The Grill,” a dimly lit poolroom that was smack in the middle of the business district. Mama never cared for me to go there. You could look in through the window and see older boys smoking cigarettes and shooting a game of 8-ball or rotation.
There was no street delivery of mail in the city limits and everyone had a post office box. Harry Adams became the postmaster while we lived there. Mr. Harry was also the correspondent on the Social Circle page of “The Walton Tribune.” He reported on important events, like upcoming meetings of mission circles at the church or the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
When I was baptized, I had a pretty significant headline on the Social Circle page. After the Sunday school social at our house, there were two pictures published courtesy of Tom Baccus, who lived in Social Circle and worked for the Tribune’s printing department.
In the summers, we went swimming in the pool beside the Bertha Upshaw house. It had been donated to the city for the use of white citizens. When the federal government found out, the city had to give it back. The house, incidentally, is now the home of the famed Blue Willow restaurant.
My boyhood in Social Circle was as close to Mayberry as many people will ever get. Looking back, I can see the flaws of my little town and realize it was not the utopia that I thought.
I was reminded of this when I heard of the passing of Andy Griffith.
There have been stories that Griffith, the actor, was not as congenial as Andy Taylor, the fictional sheriff he portrayed.
I’m glad that the continual series of reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” will only show us the kind, gentle father and sheriff that we all loved.
Just like my boyhood vision of Social Circle, the Mayberry of my life.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.