Feelin' out Clower at the filling station

Published 1:33 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2007

By By Lowell McGill
My work over the past 30 plus years, which took me into many states, reminds me of two special occasions in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. I was fortunate to meet and talk briefly with two famous people known by all due to the nature of their professions.
Those two people were Jerry Clower and Dizzy Dean.
Today I would like to tell you about meeting Jerry Clower.
I was working flood claims near Jackson, Miss. up and down the Pearl River and one of my claims had me traveling to a rural community, which I believe was east of Philadelphia, Miss. There I stopped at a home seeking directions and met a nice family who were relatives of Wayne and James McKay of Atmore who were employed in the field of education. We talked about these two brothers and their fine families at length and I received a warm welcome from this family. They were very congenial and helpful in providing some much needed directions. In fact, they wanted me to have lunch with them, but my schedule would not permit me to do so. It was very thoughtful of them to ask.
After leaving this community I went to Canton but my final destination was Denham Springs, La., where several structures were inundated as a result of the overflowing Amite River
But my client in Canton actually lived in Flora, a small community somewhere north of Jackson. I called the client for directions, but learned that his property was located on the Pearl River south of Jackson. After working his claim I had to drive all the way back to Flora to get his signature on some forms. This really pulled me from my pre-arranged appointments. In addition I had to drive on one of the worst dirt roads I think I have ever been on. The twisting road was very narrow and full of potholes filled with water from recent rains. I worried that I was going to bog down, but I finally got to his home in this deep rural setting and had him sign the papers.
I got back into Flora and stopped at a small country store for gas. When I pulled in I had to wait for a man, who was extremely large in size, filling his big pick up truck with gas. No sooner than I got out of my car I recognized the man was Jerry Clower. He spoke to me and said, "I'll be filled up in a few minutes and you can have this pump." I told him no hurry and I said, "You are Jerry Clower aren't you?" I told him that he was well known in Atmore. Then he began to tell me about his many trips to Atmore where he was guest speaker at various farm-related meetings. He told me he knew Mr. C.E. Bachelor, Mr. T.P. Whitten and Mr. Miles Horne. These men were involved with farms and related products. I told him his "jokes and stories" were popular with all our folks in Atmore. He said Atmore was one of the first towns he went to when he began his entertainment career. He said he had sold farm related products for most of his life prior to becoming an entertainer.
He told me in his younger days he drove to Nashville on weekends to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. But, lately he drove to Baton Rouge and traveled by plane.
I thought he lived in Yahoo City, but he said for the past few years he lived in Liberty, a small southwestern town in Mississippi, not too far from Baton Rouge. He said, "that's where I'm heading now." I told him I was also heading in that direction as I had to be in Denham Springs the next day. After I told him the type work I did he said, "I'll bet you are working floods on the Amite River, aren't you." I said, "that's exactly where I have claims to work." He asked me if I had worked any of Justin Wilson's claims. Wilson was a well-known spinner of Cajun stories and jokes. I told him I never had any of his, but I had been close to his Denham Springs home on several occasions over the years. He said he knew Wilson, but not too well.
Before departing he told me to say hello to all his Atmore friends. He also inquired about Hank Locklin who lived south of Brewton. But I told him I only knew him by reputation. He told me he enjoyed our conversation and wanted me to know that Atmore and south Alabama was special to him.
Clower passed away in 1998. This famous man, who played football at Mississippi State University, worked hard to get his career started. But, once he got over the hump, his success grew to enormous proportions.
After finishing my "leg work" in Denham Springs, in driving home I tried to remember some of the Wilson stories I had heard him tell while watching his "cooking show" on Louisiana Public TV. One that came to mind, and I don't remember the full details of it, was a tale about his friend who tried to reach him while he was duck hunting in Arkansas. As his story related, the friend was unable to get him on the phone so he left a message for Wilson to call him and he gave a number where he could be reached. The number we will say was something like this CAPITAL 280835 (I don't' know the exact phone number used by Wilson).
Well, as Wilson went on to say he ran into his friend when he got home and the friend wanted to know why he didn't call him. Wilson replied something to this effect "you know I never did learn how to dial a CAPITAL 2."
I also listened to one of my "easy listening" tapes I always carried with me in my car. The only tape of that type that I had with me on that trip was Hugo Winterhalter, which featured soothing full orchestra sounds and provided me relaxation from three hard days in the field. Once I got home and went into my office to write up those claims those three eventful days kept running through my mind. And, those memories remain with me today.
In the twilight of my work, in fact, I consider myself almost semi-retired now, I think of all the wonderful memories and those people I met over the years. That's why I totally "get lost" in my little office in my home. There, listening to some of my more than 100 record albums-some over 50 years old-I now sit at my computer and write these weekly columns reflecting on all those wonderful years gone by. After all I have already reached my promised 70 years and am, in fact, three years into "borrowed time." For this I give thanks to God.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at exam@frontiernet.net

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