My very own Mayberry

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

I do not know everyone or everything about Old Conway and Old Downtown Conway, but I remember enough to hold my own in a conversation! I was privileged to know many of the people who lived in our mansions and bungalows, and owners of small businesses. The downtown Kroger, Penney’s, and Simon’s Grocery were the places where you saw your friends and held long exchanges of family news. Visiting could also have been in one of our many cafes or even at the sale barn.

Our home lives were intertwined with our downtown because it had almost everything we needed for home maintenance, hunting, gardening, cooking, canning, farming and inexpensive leather collars for dogs. Included in that would be guns in full view that one could handle to check the sight or see if it “fit.” It is true that teen boys had them in gun racks in the back window of their pickups parked at the schools. Why? So they could hunt after school or on a weekend. Adults used them to eliminate predators of their farm animals. Murderous actions toward other humans were unthinkable by any normal person.

For the home, downtown was where laundry products such as Mrs. Stewart’s bluing for white clothing, “washing powders” and Twenty-Mule Team could be found. Anything we couldn’t find here could be ordered from the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogs.

We had an electric wringer washer, which was an example of a “bane or a blessing” in that people young and old would get fingers, hands or arms mangled in the wringer. I can remember in my years with numbers in the single digits that my mother’s warnings were meant to avoid my losing a single digit. Or more. The most frequent comments Mother made to me were, “No, you can’t have a peanut butter sandwich. Supper’s nearly ready.” Or, “No, that costs too much.” And perhaps from another room on wash day was, “Stay away from the washing machine!”

My parents’ work duties were mainly inside. For dad, his work was laid out on the large coffee table while studying plant samples with books, a magnifying glass and a loupe. For mother, it was sewing and cooking. If she wasn’t inside, she was pinning washed clothing and linens on the clothesline. I think God gave us the smell of clothing dried by His own wind system as a sample of how it smells in Heaven.

Dad’s garden had greens and corn, primarily with seeds bought from Massey’s Hardware. Now, there’s a place where the next best scents were found. All mixed together were the aromas of galvanized steel, roping, the pot-bellied stove in the fall, garden seeds measured by the spoon out of Mason jars, leather, wooden floors, gun metal, pecans, peanuts, cowboy hats, denim overalls and various hints of tobacco usage. All purchases were rung up on a hand-cranked cash register that probably took a front-end loader to remove. It was a lovely place edged out by Big Box stores. The building appears the same, but the soul of it will just have to live in our recollections, being already unknown to those born or arriving here after 1998.

A community is usually a mixture of people, backgrounds, personalities and many other traits. We talk over the fence about growing pumpkins and what insect is gnawing on our green beans. Many attend one of at least 30 churches. We may have more roundabouts than a feral dog has fleas. Our lawns sport tiny orange or yellow utility flags and our streets are decorated with traffic cones.

But in Old Conway, when the wind is just right, we can hear the college and high school football games. In the spring, we breathe deeply the smell of hyacinths blooming. Then we sneeze. We welcome the incoming bees and cuss the wasps. We go walking, bicycling, fishing, gardening and visiting shut-ins.

Those of us who know about our founding fathers respect them for growing our community and its early schools, churches and colleges with their own money and plans. They grew their gardens, too! Even they knew the joy of a crisp cucumber or a juicy tomato dripping on their shirts. Before the 1960s, we may not have been Mayberry, but we were close.

It has occurred to me that my mother and her ever-present apron may have provided the character concept for Aunt Bee. But I’ll bet Aunt Bee didn’t always have in her pockets the emergency items that one or more of five children would need—spearmint gum, a safety pin and a handkerchief. After she died and we were adults with children, I ran across her old apron. Guess what was in the pockets. And here … you look like you could use a stick of spearmint!

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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