A return to Mayberry

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 9, 2004

I learned something Saturday at the Whaleyville Community Day festival: If you want to draw a crowd, have some old pictures.

My son, Adam, and I spent the day manning the Suffolk News-Herald’s tent. Outside of some folks coming by to shoot the breeze, complain about delivery and gobble up some of the free candy we were handing out, we didn’t do a lot of business.

Next door to us, however, was Sue Woodward of the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society. Sue had a table full of old yellowed photographs of Whaleyville – as well as a steady stream of visitors gawking at the photos. Sue had a brace on her leg and was on crutches after recently falling through the floor of an old house the historical society was eyeing.

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Actually, it’s not true that I didn’t know the pulling power of old pictures. That’s why we started running the Times Past feature about four years ago. People are fascinated with the past and we consider that one of our main strengths.

And that’s a lot of what Community Day was about – resurrecting the sleepy village of Whaleyville, creating community pride and spirit, recapturing a mostly lost piece of small town Americana.

&uot;A Return to Mayberry&uot; is our theme, Ruritan Jeff Colley said as he introduced the pie-eating contest.

And he wasn’t kidding. There was no cell phone service in Whaleyville. My laptop computer was the only item on the grounds that signaled what century we were in. Adam went nuts.

Sue had a photo of a beautiful, stately brick structure that I thought was the old Suffolk High School building. Turns out it was Whaleyville High School. I never would have imagined that Whaleyville, in the not-so-distant past, was such booming place.

Actually, the day was a lot of fun. I got to spend some time with my son and talking to the good folks in Whaleyville. Adam did most of the selling while I sat there drinking coffee, scarfing boiled peanuts and writing this column.

Intermittently, though, I talked to people like Frank Kelly, who lives in the Eastover-Wilroy area. He was there with his son displaying some of the old electric trains and die cast tractors that he deals in. I tried to sell Mr. Kelly the paper. He said he was a former subscriber and those are our prime targets. He said he dropped the paper back in the mid-1970s after it stopped publishing Sunday comics and he wouldn’t take it again until it put them back.

Sandra Brinkley stopped by concerned over the closing of the Tidewater Occupational Center. She wanted to do something to help the people who were losing the &uot;thing that gave them meaning in their life.&uot; Sandra wanted to start a campaign to help save it.

&uot;If everybody just gave a dollar, we could probably do something to help,&uot; she said, noting that people could stand outside of Wal-Mart and collect. &uot;I don’t understand why we can put millions into things like that old high school and those other old houses downtown but we can’t do anything to help people who really need it.&uot;

I nodded in agreement, though I was getting a little uncomfortable because the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and &uot;those old houses downtown&uot; were matters near and dear to the heart of Sue Woodward and the historical society.

A young man named Menefee who is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Rep. J. Randy Forbes for Congress stopped by. Menefee is probably the first middle school student to mount a congressional campaign. I jest, of course. He’s probably at least a junior in high school.

Calvin Davis from the Whaleyville Ruritan Club – organizers of the event – came by to thank me for the coverage the News-Herald had provided for the event. That’s nice and always makes me feel good.

I had the best time, though, talking to Rose Andrews. I overheard her at the historical society tent mention she was from West Virginia, as am I. It turns out she was from Petersburg, about 25 miles from Franklin, where I ran the little weekly newspaper for a couple years in the late ’90s. There were only three of us who worked there and one of them, it turns out, was Ms. Andrews’ niece. We had a good chat.

I hope the Ruritans make Community Day an annual event, giving people a day of fun and an opportunity to visit. If they do, the Suffolk News-Herald will be back – this time with some old, crappy pictures.

And if you go next year, don’t bother bringing your cell phone.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or via e-mail at andy.Prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.