Not long ago, they closed the Garland Inn. If you are a man or woman of the South and don't know about the Garland Inn, maybe you never heard of Jerry Clower.
Located 10 miles west of my hometown of McComb, Miss., and the same distance east of my family's spiritual homeland of Liberty, the Garland Inn is where Jerry cut the legs out from under some bar stools one afternoon many years ago. At least that's how he told one of the hundreds of stories that gave pathway to his legendary career as a country comedian and member of the Grand Ole Opry.
There in that beer joint of epic renown, the teenage Jerry walked in off a pulpwood truck and asked the bartender for a soda pop. The beer drinkers derided him unmercifully and Clower took umbrage. He went to the truck and grabbed his chain saw. The rest is Poulan history. He sawed through the screen door and proceeded to cut the legs off the stools where the smart-alecky beer drinkers sat.
From then on, nobody said anything to the young, strapping Jerry Clower when he walked into the Garland Inn and asked for a "sody pop."
They closed the place to make room for the four-laning of state Highway 24, running east and west from McComb to Liberty. The joint rested almost on the highway itself.
It's not a heavily-traveled highway, but a dangerous one where motorists tend to speed trying to pass the many log and pulpwood trucks that inhabit the roadway. Of course, those heavy trucks represent greenback dollars, as they do through many a Southwest Georgia locale on their way to Georgia-Pacific at Cedar Springs. Most of the trucks traveling Highway 24 are headed to the G-P plant at Monticello, a sister operation to our mill.
In this fast-paced era, we can lose our heroes and the particulars that made them dear to us almost before we realize it. Many of the fans who knew of and loved Jerry Clower are now as distant a memory as he is. Jerry died in 1998. His son Ray, a high school football coach, passed away a few months ago. The Garland Inn, where "Marcel Ledbetter" posed as Jerry in that funniest of Clower stories, is soon to disappear.
All is not lost, however. Jerry's widow, Homerline, created a fine museum from the artifacts of his days on stage. They are housed in a building outside their happy home at East Fork, halfway between McComb and Liberty. If you visit that area, "Miss Homerline" will be happy to show it off to you. It's free to the public.
I talk about Jerry in a book I recently published, "Hometown." I make a reference to his own memoir, "Ain't God Good?" from which I discuss his humanitarianism. Clower dearly loved God and the Baptist church, his family, the South, Mississippi State University where he played football, agriculture, storytelling and all the peoples of the world, no matter their color, nationality or station.
It was the fabric of his life, as was the Garland Inn.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.