THE MAYBERRY SYNDROME

by Randy Reynolds
This night’s revival meeting in Hartwell, Georgia, had been, like all H.R. Appling services, a spectacle to behold. After giving it everything he had, preaching, shouting, dancing, praying, singing, playing his accordian, healing the sick, forcing people to the altar, H.R. (my maternal grandfather), was exhausted and hungry now driving home to LavoniaGeorgia.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse," he said.

His son-in-law-Gene Reynolds, an aspiring minister who had worked half the day selling insurance before making the trip to Hartwell with H.R., said, “They got a place up here in Royston we can stop at, if I remember correctly. Used to be on my coffee route."

“A pound of bologna, some crackers, cheese, and buttermilk would hit the spot right now,” said H.R.

“Amen!” said Gene.

H.R. and Gene’s conversations were usually about one of two things:  religion or baseball.

“I see where the Sox beat the A’s last night,” said Gene.

H.R.’s favorite player in this year of 1950 was his second cousin, Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox, a 20 year major-leaguer whose career was winding down.  “Did Luke play?”

“Got a hit and an r.b.i.,” said Gene.

“They got him playing first base again?”

“Nope. Pinch hit.”

“Getting twenty five thousand dollars this year and they hardly ever play him,” said H.R.

Gene whistled. “I don’t even know what I would do with twenty five thousand dollars.”

“If you go into the ministry, you ain’t never gonna have to worry about it. Ain’t no preacher never gonna make that kind of money,” said H.R. 

They passed a sign that said ‘WELCOME TO ROYSTON HOME OF BASEBALL'S IMMORTAL TY COBB.’  A second sign a little further on read, 'Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.'

“Ty Cobb’s so rich he’s been giving away hospitals all over this part of Georgia,” said Gene. 

“Wish he was paying tithes at my church,” said H.R.

The red lights of two police cars and an ambulance lit up the gas pumps and parking area of the old store as they approached, so H.R. parked his new Buick off to the side, away from the pumps.

“Great day in the morning!  Must have been an accident!” said Gene.

H.R. shielded his eyes with one hand.  “Well, let’s see if the place is still open. I’ve got to have me some nourishment.”

The old man behind the counter saw these two guys come in with their shined shoes, Sunday suits, bow ties and hats and apparently thought they were detectives from the police department.  “I done told the other officers everything I know.  It was justified,” he said.

H.R.’s voice carried the ring of authority.  “Well, tell it again. From the start.”

The old man pointed to the gas pumps and said, “That Buick with the New Jersey license plate out there? Nigger was driving it.  Pulled in here for some gas.  After dark.”

H.R. and Gene looked toward the commotion at the pumps.  

“Another customer, old boy that comes in here all the time, he seen it was a nigger in Royston after dark and went out there and shot him. Pow! Right in the head.”

“Who’s those people they’re puttin’ in the police car?” asked H.R.

“Woman and three little kids that was in the car with him.”

“He was killed in front of his family?” asked H.R.

“Well, yeah! He was in the city limits after dark!  And look at that fancy car, would ya? Prob’ly stole it.”

More than sixty years later, Gene told me, “Little place over there, they didn’t have professional ball or anything. All they had was good revivals and trials. I just happened to go to a few of those trials to kill time on a slow afternoon, you know.”

He attended the short trial of the white man accused of killing the black man caught in Royston after sundown. The defendant said, “Some robberies had been happening in Royston. I thought he musta' been the one that done ‘em.”

He was found not guilty.

Gene sat through a trial involving a white-on-white killing—a wealthy farmer shot his son-in-law in the back with a shotgun and admitted it.

The verdict was not guilty.

A third trial he witnessed was about a black-on-black killing.  An unarmed man killed his attacker in a fight and plead self-defense.  

The verdict was guilty and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Gene said, “In those little old country towns like that they had some strange things that happened some times. You know, a lot of prejudice involved there.” 

The people who lived in these small American towns often reflect on what an idyllic childhood they had. I've heard older whites say that their childhood spent in places called Covington, Gainesville, Bainbridge, Royston, Monroe, Alexandria, McComb, Hammond, New Iberia, and Bogalusa, was like growing up in Mayberry.  Which makes me think that Mayberry (as an avatar for the happy place we grew up in when America was "great") wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

While the white drunkard Otis was sleeping one off in an unlocked cell from which he was free to come and go as he pleased, I imagine a black guy caught drinking, gambling, loitering, or walking while black was handcuffed in the adjoining cell where Andy and Barney worked him over with a rubber hose.

Mayberry tolerated Ernest T. Bass when he threw rocks at houses, but I suspect the black guy that did the same was convicted of a felony and given 10-20 years at hard labor.

When a bully stole Opie's lunch money, he was taught to fight back; but a black kid who fought back was sent to juvie.

When Charlene Darling flirted with a white guy, the Darlings broke out the washboard, jug, and banjo and had a hoedown.  When she flirted with a black guy they had a lynching.

When a rich white guy pulled up to the filling station in a fancy car, Gomer called him "sir" and cleaned his windshield, checked under the hood, and aired up his tires.  When a rich black traveler pulled up in a similar car after dark, Goober shot him behind the left ear with a .22.

I know so many people who grew up in these towns that they fondly reminisce about and conflate with Mayberry, little realizing that Mayberry--like a significant portion of America's history--was a fairy tale.

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