I can’t remember which of my friends started swooning when I mentioned we were stopping in Hattiesburg for a few days, but she was in a lather. “Oh my gawd, you are passing right by LAUREL!!,” she squealed. “You’ve got to go there!” I wondered later to Ben what was so special about Laurel Mississippi that would cause such a reaction. Ben gave me one of his “you never pay attention to anything” looks and reminded me that Laurel Mississippi is where the current HGTV must-see show Home Town is filmed.
I don’t pay close attention to individual HGTV remodeling shows but I have noticed that the remodeling show formula usually features two people, one of which is kind of goofy and the other is more serious, but both are seriously gifted with some talent. They select a house that only a lunatic would buy and turn it into a fabulous home that makes the people who bought the house (and have been complaining about it throughout the show) bawl their eyes out with joy. There are endless iterations of these shows, so how can I possibly remember who’s who on which show? It’s not like I live under a rock. I do know the super famous people like Chip and Joanna and the Drew and what’s his name twins (I can never remember the other one’s name). I know the Twins because it was my mother’s favorite show. Any time I visited her they were on her TV. She couldn’t remember their names either, she called them The Brothers. I asked Ben, who watches HGTV when there are no NASCAR races, to tell me about the Home Town people. He gave me another “you never pay attention to anything” look and described the couple. The big guy with the beard is Ben, and the short lady with the headband is Erin. Ah, I remembered seeing them on TV. My enlightenment completed; we went to Laurel to take a tour.
Since it is now a known fact that you could catch a serious disease just by touring a place, such activities must be approached with caution. Most of the notable things to see in Laurel are the outsides of houses, so we decided it was about the safest thing to tour. The drive from our campground took less than an hour. Pandemic times being what they are we didn’t go into any restaurants or crowded stores. Most people were obliged to wear their masks while inside buildings, which was reassuring.
One of the first stops was at Ben’s (the show’s Ben, not my Ben) Scotsman General Store and Woodshop where he works his carpentry magic for TV. We were told they had been filming the day before (of course we missed it, which is kind of the story of my life) and the shop was quiet apart from a guy (not Ben, and after some discussion with others standing around, no one recognizable) working on a distant table saw. A glass partition separated the wood shop from the rest of the building, which was a retail store. The store featured lots of wood crafts, leather knickknacks and stuff plastered with the name of “Ben’s [name of object].” My Ben bought a pound of “Ben’s Coffee” to commemorate the visit. Further up the street was a Hometown Market store that offered show themed merchandise, and a huge bin of Erin-styled headbands. Despite the sign that said “maximum 15 people” shoppers were elbow to elbow, while two employees huddled in the back of the store. We took a brief look in the door and moved on.
The rest of downtown Laurel was pleasant walking, and we found a shop that advertised locally made artwork. We pulled the door of JParker Reclaimed and promptly met the titular owner Jacqueline Parker. The store was packed with locally handmade furniture, jewelry, paintings and crafts. Ben started chatting with her, and she gave us the lowdown on Laurel’s most famous pair.
I wanted to purchase something from Jacqueline’s gallery but space limitations being what they are in an RV, I was ready to pass. Then I spotted a cute Christmas tree. I’m not typically a Christmas decor person, but this one was obviously handmade. It also collapsed flat and had a handmade case to match. Turns out the tree was made by a local toy maker, Lloyd Lewis. Lloyd had a 39-year long career as a shop teacher. When he retired he began making wooden toys. The Christmas tree was a new design this year, something he could knock out in a “few hours.” It was the only one in the store, now it belongs to me. Here’s a great article about Lloyd; if you get a chance, check out the store in Laurel or one of the arts and crafts shows he frequents. I wanted to take a picture of my Christmas tree festooned with Hershey’s kisses, but in one of those odd pandemic shortages, no such candy was available in any of the local grocery stores.
Before we left her shop, Jacqueline pointed out a painting set on an easel. Ben recognized it immediately. I thought it was whimsical. Two dogs. The painting was done by a local artist for one of the Home Town episode houses, the picture features the owner’s dogs. Jacqueline took a picture of us standing next to the painting, a task she is obliged to perform frequently. I sent the photo to my sister who recognized the painting and its significance immediately.
After we left Jacqueline’s store we headed down the street. In every store we entered, we encountered people willing to talk to us, to guide us through the town, and most importantly, tell us where to find the Home Town houses. We got a flurry of directions that blurred into too many turns at too many lights, gas stations and too many “after you pass the corner of so and so, count three streets and turn right and you’ll see all the houses from the first five seasons.” Bewildered, we just started driving around, and based on Ben’s expertise guessed which houses could have been remodeled by Ben and Erin Napier, the names of the hosts of Home Town, which I now know and will likely never forget. I am sure if my sister was with us, she would have pointed out every house. Ben did pretty well in recognizing several of the homes.
Sometimes I wonder how these remodeling shows get off the ground. I never would have driven by Laurel and thought it would be a good place to start a TV show that would change the lives of nearly everyone living there. Then again, I never thought I’d see the day when there would be 24/7 TV programming about all things house related. I guess since I spent every waking hour from the age of 30 to well into my 50’s renovating actual houses I didn’t see the need to relive the ordeal through the eyes of others. When I watch some of these shows, I find myself yelling “RUN AWAY” at the TV at the prospective renovators while they listen how the dilapidated shed they are considering is a diamond in the rough. Then again, I wasn’t a deep pocket renovator. When we discovered a rotten sill beam, it was a six-month delay until we could scrape together enough cash to buy the materials, and then another six months to do the repair ourselves. On TV, such events delay a renovation by about a week.
According to Jacqueline and the others we met in Laurel, Ben and Erin Napier are the OG—for you who aren’t as hip with the lingo as I am OG means they are the real deal. They use and promote local businesses and maintain an accessible presence in Laurel. They use local contractors and promote local businesses. That’s refreshing to hear, even if the show is yet another overly rosy picture of what’s involved in gutting a house and remaking it. We enjoyed our tour of the pretty town, and if you find yourself within a reasonable distance from Laurel, it’s well worth a detour. I’ll let you know if the coffee is any good later; it’s whole-bean and I left our coffee grinder at home.
If you’re among the few who haven’t encountered the Home Town show, here’s a link.