Mayberry may have been a fictional community made up for television but Wendell and Suzanne Bradford grew up in their own Mayberry community right here in Van Buren County.
The couple have a rich history here with their parents and grandparents also born and raised in the same community.
The Bradfords grew up during a quieter time, a time when you knew your neighbors, family lived close by and dances at your local church were big events.
The Bradfords remember doing all their shopping locally around the downtown square in Clinton.
On weekends, the town square was so busy that you could barely find a parking spot, they said.
Merchants gave raffle tickets to customers for shopping in their stores. Those raffle tickets were later put in a big bin and people would gather around and hope to be the recipient of prizes and discounts from those same local shops.
Wendell could usually be found spending time at the pool hall on Saturdays, swimming in Archey Creek and riding his bike up and down Highway65.
“The big trucks in those days were so slow going up that hill that me and my friends would hang onto the back of them and get a lift up the hill,” he said.
It wasn’t unusual for Wendell’s and Suzanne’s families paths to cross in their small community and it just so happens that Wendell’s mother was a reporter for the Van Buren County Democrat and Suzanne’s very first job was folding papers for that same newspaper.
Kids back then always seemed to have something to do and some of the Bradfords’ best memories were from going with friends to the Pee Dee Drive-In where movies were only 15 cents.
With the best 15-cents he ever spent, Wendell met Suzanne at the movies, where she was a car hop. They started dating, fell in love and after a year of courting, they married. The couple raised their four sons here.
Like many Van Buren County residents, Wendell served his country in the Army for two years and it was during basic training that he found himself in the very same barracks as the King himself, Elvis Presley.
Wendell will never forget those days and even has a cherished, autographed photo from Elvis who handed them out at his first day of basic training. Wendell fondly remembers the one and only song that Elvis sang to the troops before everyone was shipped off to Germany.
Three of the Bradfords’ four sons have served their country and Wendell proudly flies an American flag in front of his home.
Back in the day, Wendell ran a milk route for the cheese plant. A few years ago, he retired after 38 years working for the phone company in Clinton.
In 1982 Clinton was hit with more than 7 feet of flooding, and Wendell got to experience what it was like to use a canoe as a means of transportation. He was needed at work and had to ride his canoe to the telephone company. Not only was this a memorable experience but the funny thing was, that although the electrical sockets were well submersed underwater they still had power. Those were some trying times for the community.
When asked to share a memorable moment living in Van Buren County, Suzanne shared that her most memorable and worst memory were one and the same. When she was old enough to go to school, Suzanne had a really hard time being away from her mother and didn’t want to go. Suzanne cried so hard on her first day at school that her teacher invited her mother to stay with her.
Later that night, her father tried to reason with her and as a last resort promised Suzanne that if she didn’t cry at school the next day and would ride the bus that he would buy her a new bike. Suzanne wanted that bike very badly and somehow managed to get through, not only the ride on the bus, but a full day at school tear-free.
Suzanne’s eyes still light up when she talks about what was waiting for her at home that day.
“When I got home from school, I looked up the road towards the house, and there, at the top of the hill, sat a brand new bike!”
Van Buren County has changed a lot since the days of 15 cent movies, town square raffles and picnics at the church.
What was once a thriving county is now what the Bradfords feel is “dead” compared to their childhood. After those devastating floods and more recent tornadoes, the city of Clinton seems to be floundering.
Things changed when industries pulled out of the county, the lake went in and tourism came, they say. Van Buren County was a perfect place to grow up, the couple says.
The Bradfords still have many relatives here, their history is here, they only wish there were more jobs. Of four sons, only one lives here in Clinton, while the others are in Harrison, Conway and Missouri.
Even though times have changed the Bradfords love living in Van Buren County.
“Van Buren County is quiet, we love the people here, we love our church family, our home, the mountains and just the beauty of it all,” they say.
To the Bradfords, Van Buren County will always be Mayberry.