The Colonel is a local personality to the good folks of Elijay, GA. I myself, being from some other place than Elijay, had never heard of Colonel Poole until we ate at his BBQ shack on our way to the cabin. Some men are famous on a large scale and some on a smaller scale. I suppose fame has its own meaning depending on the person to whom it applies.
Here is what I learned from just a few simple observations.
The Colonel’s favorite color is Tweetie Bird Yellow. The Shack is yellow. The Ford Pinto wagon out front modified to look like a pig is yellow. And there is a photograph of famous proportions on the wall inside with the Colonel dressed up in a yellow sport jacket and a very tall Uncle Sam red-white-and-blue top hat. The jacket is what my wife called LOUD. All of which is designed to scream at you and catch your attention. Which it did. We circled back on the highway to get there.
Mark one up for the Colonel.
I can also tell that the Colonel is a politician of sorts. There are more than a few photographs on the walls of him hobnobbing with the likes of Newt Gingrich (a famous person not from Elijay), Miss America and other well-known faces who all seem to be glad to see the Colonel. Which reminds of a Lewis Grizzard story.
I’ll have to make it up because I can’t recall exactly how it goes, but the short version goes something like this. Everybody knew Colonel Poole. Using his name will make the story fit the occasion. The Colonel would often say that he knew everybody, and everybody knew him. Wherever he and his best friend Sam went, Sam was amazed at how many people knew the Colonel. His fame followed him everywhere. They went to Washington. People on the streets knew the Colonel. They went to New York. Same thing. People all over the world knew the Colonel. On one trip, the Colonel and Sam went to the Vatican together. The Colonel was invited to visit with the Pope. Sam was in the crowd in the plaza when the Pope and the Colonel walked out on the balcony waving to the crowd below. Sam, putting his friends fame to the test, asked the guy standing next to him,
“Who’s that up on the balcony?”
“I’m not sure about the guy in the big hat, but the guy standing next to him in the yellow jacket is Colonel Poole.”
There is something about the men who own a restaurant that exposes them to a folk hero kind of fame. You would never see this sort of thing in fast food joint.
The Original Oyster House in Mobile is full of similar photographs on the walls in every direction. Good food draws folks from everywhere and every walk of like. Celebrities and politicians eat, too. And when they stop in at a place and really enjoy the food and company, I can see where a camera should be handy to capture the moment. I walk around and take in all the big names. Bear Bryant. Vince Dooley. Jimmy Carter. George Wallace. Robert DeNiro. John Wayne. Over 30 years of fame and the restaurant owner is every photo. Many of them signed by the other famous person.
I ate at the Outlaw Steakhouse in Ouray, Colorado a couple years ago. They boasted about having the hat that the Duke wore during the filming of True Grit. I was giddy thinking that I could be eating at the table where John Wayne ate. Maybe he used the very knife that I held in my hand. When I finished my plate, I sauntered up to the bar and asked the bartender if it was true that they had the Duke’s hat. She turned, picked it from a nail on the wall behind her, and plopped it down on the bar in front of me. I had my buddy take a picture of me wearing the Duke’s hat. I was famous.
The Colonel’s fame is in proportion to the pure joy of being involved in the life he has chosen. It appears in the photographic record that he has never met a stranger. Evidently, his is a personality that would outshine most. If you Google the Colonel, you’ll find that he has been a leader in the Republican Party at the local, state, and national levels. Lots of hand shaking at some pretty big events. He has played the piano and led the crowd in the singing of the National Anthem. I would guess that he has found his passion and stood up for what he believes all his life. I admire that a guy who sells BBQ for a living has such a rich story to tell.
Besides all the photographs on the inside, the hillside behind the shack is covered with thousands of little cut-out pigs, each bearing the name and date of the good folks who have dined there. I’m guessing that a donation to the GOP may be involved in order to get your own name on the Pig Hill of Fame. Maybe not.
Even though the official name of the shack is Poole’s BBQ, he refers to his place as the Taj-Ma-Hog. The Hog Rock Café. So “tacky it’s classic.”
While we were finishing up our BBQ sandwich, a man came over to our table.
“How you folks doing? You need anything at all?”
I asked him if he was the Colonel. He looked just like the guy in the photo above our table.
“No. No, that’s my Dad. He and my Mama are sitting right there.”
He was pointing to an older couple sitting across from us. Oscar and Edna Poole. No yellow sport jacket. Just a regular guy eating his own BBQ with a few friends and a son who now runs the restaurant.
The story is that Governor of Kentucky bestowed on him the title of Colonel. And we all know another famous Kentucky Colonel. Now I know two of them. And by the way, the BBQ was pretty darn good to boot.