Maestro Mark Clark hit the nail squarely when he declared that the program was occurring in a town “as close to Mayberry as it gets” in South Georgia.
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve lived in at least three Mayberrys, and Blakely, I am proud to admit, is one of them. It is a compliment, not a downgrade.
The occasion was Blakely and Early County’s first Community Christmas Cantata, led by Clark, who directs the music program at First United Methodist Church. The choir comprised some 60 of the best voices from several Blakely-area churches. Clark even pointed out the one choir member who could be mistaken for Mayberry’s Barney Fife. He won’t be identified here.
I’m sorry Albany, Atlanta and Columbus, but Christmas is just better in the small towns — the Mayberrys — of the South. Events such as the splendid cantata presented Sunday in Blakely make it so.
The program was held in the historic Birdsong peanut warehouse, just off Court Square, itself a thing of holiday beauty. Any Southwest Georgian who feels their downtown area has missed the mark with Christmas scenery should come and enjoy Blakely’s around-the-square decor.
Birdsong is the corporate pillar of Early County. No other business enterprise I am aware of in my three-plus years here even comes close to providing for the community like the venerable Birdsong company. Blakely asks; they respond, usually in the positive. The old warehouse was filled not only with seasonal music but with almost 45 Christmas trees, enjoyed by a crowd that approached 350 citizens on a Sunday night when they could have been home suffering through yet another football game.
There are many Mayberrys in my native Mississippi. I said in a memoir I wrote about my hometown of McComb — 400 miles due west of Blakely — that it could be classed as such. However, the town of Leland in the farm-rich Mississippi Delta region in the northwest part of the state gets the crown.
In a setting with virtually the same 5,000-population base of Blakely’s, Leland is lucky to have a waterway splitting the middle of town. For more than 50 years, Deer Creek has been adorned each December with an array of lighted Christmas floats provided by the town’s churches, businesses and civic clubs. So throughout the month, the boulevards on each side of the creek are clogged with visitors from the tri-state area of Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee viewing the floats.
“Christmas on Deer Creek” is one of the most unique and renowned home-grown events in that entire region. Most of the floats’ themes clearly provide the reason for the season.
Santa Claus makes his appearance in town via water float on an evening near Christmas, then spends hours with the children.
It doesn’t hurt that Leland also is where Jim Henson, creator of Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppets, spent his boyhood years (as did retired Purdue University professor Dr. Kermit Scott, Henson’s best friend and the famous frog’s namesake) . A museum honoring Henson and Kermit sits on one bank of Deer Creek and is a must-see stop for the town’s guests each December.
I just cannot imagine where the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christmas season are celebrated more joyously than in my Mayberrys. Merry Christmas to one and all.
Mac Gordon lives near Blakely and is a former reporter for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.