Thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the area around Waco became quite familiar to millions of American television viewers. Then, as “Fixer Upper” was nearing its end, the house renovation baton was passed to Ben and Erin Napier of Laurel, Mississippi. The Napiers have recently completed the fourth season of their “Home Town” series.
Laurel isn’t a town that comes to mind when you mention tourist hotspots in Mississippi. We know about the numerous attractions in the city of Waco. But before the HGTV spotlight was focused on Mississippi, Laurel was known mostly for being the hometown of people like opera singer Leontyne Price, “My Favorite Martian” star Ray Walston, and “Green Acres” farmhand Tom Lester, who died just this week. Fans of “Green Acres” might be surprised to learn that Lester’s homespun character Eb Dawson was played by an evangelist with college degrees in chemistry and biology.
What’s more, Tennessee Williams made Blanche DuBois — the fictional character in his award-winning play “A Streetcar Named Desire” — a Laurel native.
It’s not a place cross-country travelers on Interstate 20 are likely to drive 60 miles out of their way to visit. I know. I made that trip last October, and a detour to Laurel, Mississippi, never crossed my mind.
My wife has been an avid viewer of “Home Town” for a while, and more often than not, I’m sitting right there with her on the couch as she watches. That might not be the case normally, except I’ve been staying at home a great deal recently. Thanks to HGTV and my wife’s viewing preferences, I’m seeing much more of Laurel, Mississippi, than I could have ever imagined.
I’ve never put a trip to Laurel on my bucket list, but the more I vegetate at home, the more attractive such a decision seems.
With a population just a bit smaller than Brownwood’s, Laurel is hardly metropolitan — but it’s not off the beaten path either. Motorists in Mississippi will go through the heart of the city if they’re on the north-south path of Interstate 59, which runs between the New Orleans area and Chattanooga area.
Fun fact: U.S. Highway 84 serves both Brownwood and Laurel.
A recurring theme for “Home Town” involves homeowners who are moving to Laurel where they previously lived, and in the process are asking the Napiers to turn a neglected, marginally historic, house into a showplace.
“Going home” has a nice ring to it, even though most of us see more of “home” these days than we really want.
A combination of “going home,” plus passing the hours with internet searches during this extended isolation, prompted me to look up the addresses of the five — only five — houses I’ve called home since I was just learning to walk. That notion might have also been triggered by the fact that my parents’ longtime home went up for sale a few weeks ago.
My searches found that all of those houses still exist; none has been demolished for a shopping center or parking lot. Even better, all of them are currently occupied, and none is for sale. That’s not to say I’d be interested in buying one, not now or ever, but I wouldn’t mind taking tours if the folks living there would agree.
Should I include the college dorm rooms and apartments where I’ve lived along the way, my list of domiciles would more than double. But houses a family owns seem more like real homes, and home is definitely where the heart is.
So, that’s at least one good thing about being “safer at home” during these past weeks — these past long weeks without opportunities to dine out, shop, and go to church. However, cabin fever has overtaken us while we sacrifice to corral a more dangerous type of fever, COVID-19. Sadly, the jobs of millions of people — and the economic stability of hundreds of thousands of businesses — have vanished.
“Home,” wherever that is for you, feels good. “Recovery” will feel much better.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.