by Jody Fuller
I’ve been to Birmingham, Atlanta, Savannah, all of the world, a friend once proudly stated.
Another guy said, “I liked it in LaFayette, but I had to get back to the city,” after moving back to Opelika.
I always found these statements to be particularly funny, but it really comes down to perspective. If you happen to be from a very small town like LaFayette, then the Opelika-Auburn area is sort of a mini-megalopolis, but compared to Birmingham, Atlanta or Savannah, it’s just small town USA, and there’s no place I’d rather be.
Last week, I had several healthy doses of all the goodness that make small towns so remarkable. It started with back to back days in Heflin, Ala. My friend, Mayor Rudy Rooks, asked me to provide a leadership pep talk for the city’s department heads, in my own funny way, he added.
As I walked up to the building, I was greeted by two gentlemen: Conrad and Goober. I’m not making this up. If Otis was the town drunk of Mayberry, then Goober is the town smoker of Heflin.
There weren’t many in attendance. It is a small town after all. There were a few who attended both days, so for their benefit, I planned to change things up a little, while delivering the same overall message. Some of the jokes were the same, but I was so comfortable around these small town, salt of the earth type people, my type of people, that I just started talking and it wound up significantly different than day one. I think some of the leaders laughed louder and longer on day two, especially after making a reference to Goober.
Rudy is a good man, and, like most small town mayors, wears many hats. My dad’s brother, Glenn, was once the mayor of New Site. At one time, he was the mayor, the school principal and the deer processor. If you are familiar with that area, then you know that the deer processing hat may have been his most important role. I kid, sort of. Mayors of small towns like Heflin and New Site serve their communities for all the right reasons.
Over the weekend, I performed at Opelika High School reunions for the classes of 1956 and 1971, respectively. For my readers who are mathematically challenged, the class of ’56 was celebrating 60 years. The class was small and cohesive. You could tell they genuinely liked being around each other. After dinner, we moved into a smaller, quieter, more intimate room, and I did my thing, followed by a list of many reasons as to why “you might be from Opelika.”
One of my favorites from the list is, “If you remember when the Golden Cherry Motel was not under new management.” The best part was when Wayne, the gentleman who arranged for me to speak, mentioned that his father and my friend, the late Harold Swindall, a WWII veteran, built the Golden Cherry. I believe he said he built the Midway Plaza, too, but my brain was still discombobulated by the Golden Cherry revelation.
1971 was a good year for several reasons: Walt Disney World opened, Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy and I, Jody Fuller, your humble columnist, was conceived. The icing on the cake was Opelika’s graduating class. Other than my friend who booked me for the event, I wasn’t sure who all would be there, but I knew it was going to be a special night when the first face I saw was that of my friend Dennis, who doubles as my pharmacist.
I knew half the people there and knew most everyone else by the end of the evening. From the Dairy Barn’s fried chicken to Rita-Bob’s burgers to Mrs. Story’s foot-long chilidogs, faces lit up when I brought up all things Opelika, past and present. We connected in ways that only folks in small town USA can appreciate, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jody Fuller is from Opelika. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com.