It was a cold day -- we've had a few of those lately -- and I was the guest of Butch Houston of Nashville, who founded a small insurance company, Life of the South, with a very simple slogan: "Your company will like our company."
Companies across the South did like Butch's company, which experienced impressive growth. People enjoyed Butch's company, for a number of reasons: small town environment, down-home lifestyle and an integrity that was as obvious as feathers on the quail his customers came to shoot. His hunting operation made a lot of friends for his company.
"It was always our objective to make friends with the people we did business with," Butch said at his hunting lodge not far from this town of 4,697. "People came here, enjoyed themselves and next thing you know, we were doing business with them."
And why not? Nothing could make people more ready to do business than enjoying a country lunch, a quail supper and a restful night in a comfortable outdoor lodge.
There are many towns throughout Georgia like Nashville, all highlighted by a stately courthouse. There are a few modern courthouses, but none of them is very exciting. Most of the traditional courthouses were built early in the 20th Century. They stand tall and erect, overflowing with a buzz of activity. The two most impressive structures in Berrien County are the court house and Butch's lodge.
At Butch's lodge, comfort abounded with the low temperatures hovering about. A big fireplace with a roaring fire greets you at sunup and stays at peak most of the day, tended by Virgil Hickox, an affable fellow who likes to talk football -- college ball, NFL ball but with a special affection for high school football. A native south Georgian who was a pretty good player himself, Virgil is familiar with the history of high school football in these parts. Friday Night Lights -- like Sunday school, Rotary and barbecue -- excite the populace.
When the home team has a good season and reaches the playoffs, often the attendance at a local game is larger than the population of the town itself.
"I like football. Period," Virgil said. "No matter who's playing, I am interested, but there is nothing like seeing a small town boy go on to excel in college. If he makes it to the pros, then that is good, too. But not many of them will go that far, so there is so much to be enjoyed on the high school level. Everybody can't be a star, but they can all enjoy football and be appreciated in their community."
After a morning hunt with Caleb Harderman, who has an adroit influence on birddogs, it was time for a country lunch. Mary Potter is a star in the kitchen as she set forth a spread of at least five vegetables. Two gallons of ice tea -- it is never too cold to serve ice tea in south Georgia -- were on the table, one sweet and one unsweetened.
These are people who enjoy hosting visiting hunters. Make 'em feel welcome and give them a first-class experience. Hospitality doesn't just happen although people like Virgil, Mary and Caleb endorse the golden rule when they host Butch's guests.
If you come here, hunt and dine with Butch's folks and spend a night with a fire whose embers fade away about the same time you do, then you couldn't enjoy a better night's sleep.
There is a happy ending to Butch's story. He sold his insurance company. "They made an offer I couldn't refuse," he smiled. Then, he added: "We had had so much fun with our hunting operation over the years that we decided we wanted to keep on having our friends come and hunt with us."
It's nice to be on Butch Houston's guest list.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.