Where everybody knows your name

Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It is a small town phenomenon that everyone dies famous. However, in Pearl River County, Picayune and Poplarville have grown too much in the last decade to truly meet those standards.

In my hometown, not everybody knows everybody’s name. You have to achieve a certain level of familiarity to a majority of the hometown residents. In other words, you must become a small town celeb.

You know you’re a local celeb if, when you die, your photo gets printed on the front page of the Item or the Democrat. Your Celeb points go way up if WLOX runs a story on it.

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I was thinking about local celebdom as I dined with a couple-friend of mine, he is a Methodist minister at a rather large church in Huntsville, Ala. All through the meal people continued to interrupt us for a quick chat. It was like a parade. It was obvious, this was a celeb sighting.

Recently, my friends in Nashville, (whose neighbor is Kenny Chesney) mentioned how they run into stars all the time around town. (Apparently at the mailbox) Recently, the wife had stood in line at a local food place with Nicole Kidman (Urban). The standard unmentioned rule is to ignore and treat them as normal folks. (Have I name-dropped enough!)

How cool would it be to bump into to stars? If I ran into Simon on the streets of Picayune, I would have to break out into a Whitney Houston song! Just to irritate… good naturedly, of course.

I saw Joe Horn in Raisin’ Canes in Slidell a few years ago at the height of his stardom with the Saints. The electricity in the room was fierce and camera phones popped up (casually—as not to look as if they were taking photos). We all acted like we were not staring at him…..but we were. He was much smaller than I had expected.

But in my hometown, you’re more likely to meet up with a local celeb. You know you are a local celeb if you have to go to Slidell’s Wal-Mart so you won’t be hounded to death in the Picayune store.

Who are these folks? Well, pastors make good celebs. Their flock desire to make contact when they run into them in the public eye. Who doesn’t want to be hob-nobbing with the preacher? Some think it might help their chances!

Business men are local celebs too, such as prominent doctors, or car dealers. I have been asked by those who live outside the county if I know Paw Paw? Of Course I know Dub Herring. Who hasn’t said, “That’s a good car, Paw Paw!”

Coaches and sports stars (one word…Bender) especially make the local celeb A-list, and long time patrons of our fine arts make the grade too, such as Gladys Hughes, our Oscar-esh award-winning local theater actress. Thankfully, the Paparzzi have left her alone. Possibly because of her lack of bad behavior.

Don’t forget the Chief of Police and Policians…..they make the A-list of Celebs too!

Miranda Lambert sang about the famous folks in a small town, in her lyrics someone makes the front of the local paper for killing the first buck of the season. We are bit more refined. Her song seems more about people being in other people’s business in small towns. We would never be accused of that in Pearl River County! (Go ahead, insert comment here.)

As a newspaper person, especially with my column photo visible every week, I have moments of recognition when I am around town. Strangers will look straight at me and then point their finger and ask, “Aren’t you that person who writes for the paper?” I immediately get nervous. The next statement is usually followed up with a compliment, but not always. I get complaints too from newspaper delivery problems, other journalist’s writings; the lack of whatever they think is lacking, or the front desk people who put them on hold.

Personally, I wish I knew the complainers enough to follow them to their work or home and find something to nitpick about too, but I will smile and reply that those who work for the paper are overworked, overwhelmed and underpaid. In other words, cast your stones but aim above my head!

Don’t rule out Hollywood celebs in Picayune either. We have our connections. We use to spy Gerald McCraney and Delta Burke around town. Ted Koppel did an interview with a Katrina refugee but his pronunciation of Picayune was a bit off. Not a local! Can you imagine how he would have said Carriere?

You never know when Josh Holloway may visit his grandfather in Caesar, so ladies; I would keep your lipstick on just in case! If he thinks he got “Lost” on ABC, wait til we bring him in the bayous.

Our only regular television celeb is Al Showers who reports for WLOX. Everybody knows his name! And we know how he says it too. It’s his signature line.

It is tough being a local celeb. You have to behave in public! Although, I have never catered to that way of thinking.

You can’t introduce your spouse to friendly faces at the check out line….cause you have no clue who THEY are?

Shopping becomes more difficult because you have to make sure you pass inspection with make up and wardrobe. There is always a critic.

But, there are some perks! A free dessert or appetizer sometimes! You hardly ever have to pull out your license for identification! Most people who accost you are very friendly and leave you feeling good rather than bad. I get dozens of story ideas….some actually good.

When I toured with Sound of Joy, no one knew who I was. Yet, because I performed concerts, kids would come up and ask for my autograph. Somehow, we had made an impression. It was kind of silly at the time because I knew my celeb status was far below that of an autograph giver, but at least I can say I was asked. Those autographs could be worth a lot if I would happen to write that best seller or become the Broadway star I wanted to be.

Until then, I will embrace my local celebness and appreciate that many know my name or names because of my employment, my first husband’s ministry and because I grew up in the same place — and I have few kinfolks. In Alabama, nobody knows my name…..I can shop in my drawers if I wanna.

When your photo does grace the front of the newspaper because you have passed, it means you were important to our world, even if it’s the small hometown where you lived. You won’t pass on without notice. That is the saddest fact of those who are not celebs because some folks out there are so anonymous that if they were to die, no one would bat an eye. No one knew their name.

Be careful. Celebdom could hit you too. Hopefully for doing good deeds and not breaking the law. “And in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!” — “Truman Show!”