I grew up in the tiny town of Tallapoosa, Georgia. When I tell people where I’m from, most of them think it’s a town in Florida, like Tallahassee, or Alabama, like Talladega. And although its location just off Interstate 20 means many people have driven right through it, few of them remember having done so. However, all that may change now…
Because last night, Tallapoosa was featured in an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
It’s something I never expected to happen. Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson and her family live in McIntyre, Georgia, a good two and a half hours southeast of Tallapoosa. (A sidenote: although McIntyre is in central Georgia, most Georgians would think of it–and anything else south of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport–as “south Georgia.”)
The reason the Boo Boo family made the trek to Tallapoosa was the city’s greatest claim to fame: a New Year’s Eve celebration known as the “Possum Drop.” It’s exactly what it sounds like; a real, (formerly) live possum, , preserved by local taxidermist Bud Jones, is placed inside a lighted ball and dropped from a pole in the city’s downtown area to ring in the New Year. The reason for this peculiar tradition? The city began a marketing campaign several years ago to brand itself as “Possum Snout,” an early name given to the fledgling community in the 1800’s, prior to Tallapoosa’s incorporation.
What do Tallapoosans think about all this attention? The reviews are decidedly mixed. While some I talk to are excited about the city’s newfound publicity, others feel that attention gained by possum drops and sightings of reality tv stars comes at a cost, that being a loss of civic dignity.
I’m not here to debate Honey Boo Boo’s appearance or the Possum Snout branding. I know the people who came up with the Possum Snout campaign. They are fine, upstanding citizens, and frankly not the type I would have expected to choose “Possum Snout” as the town’s moniker. I don’t know who arranged the HBB appearance, but I’m sure it was done with the best intentions. My purpose here is just to shed some light on the people of Tallapoosa, in hopes of counteracting any caricatures that might be drawn from last night’s television show:
- First…Are there rednecks in Tallapoosa? The answer to that is absolutely, positively, YES. There are rednecks, and good old boys (the good kind, like Bo and Luke Duke), and all manner of regular country folk. There are also refined southern gentlemen, as well as genteel southern belles and grande dames. People from both these camps live together, and work together, and go to church together, and they think nothing of it.
- Second…Is Tallapoosa a backward place? I suppose you could answer yes to this one as well. Growing up, it seemed like trends and styles that took root in other parts of the country needed 5 or 10 years to wind through the Appalachian foothills to get to Tallapoosa. Nowadays the trip may be shorter, but there are still some differences between Tallapoosa and other places. Most everything shuts down by 6pm. There’s no movie theater, only one fast food chain–a local one called Jack’s–and only one supermarket. Kids say “ma’am” and “sir.” Maybe it’s backward, but…is backward a bad thing, especially given the results of some of what we term “forward thinking”? One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is this line from Mere Christianity: “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
- Third…Is Tallapoosa a place to make fun of? This is the easiest one to answer, and the answer is a hearty, definite NO. You see, living in a town like Tallapoosa might be a step up for many of our nation’s residents. The life lessons you learn are huge. In Tallapoosa, you aren’t limited to a subdivision of people who have lives very much like yours; instead you learn to get along with the redneck just as well as the southern belle, and you learn that they aren’t that different when it comes down to it. You learn to deal with people when you have a problem with them, because avoiding those people simply isn’t an option. You will see them at the grocery store, and the bank, and the school, and the church…so you man up and address the issue, because never seeing them again isn’t going to happen. And you learn to watch your behavior, because someone is always watching. You learn your reputation is something to be protected…and you also learn that, when you do something wrong, the news of your mistake will make it home before you do.
So no, don’t make fun of Tallapoosa. It’s like my Momma always said: don’t you poke a possum with a stick. Because that refined Tallapoosa southern dame just might go redneck and spit her snuff in your eye. And that good old boy in the overalls and the ball cap…well, he’s probably a better example of humility, grace, and class than you or I will ever be.