“When I was growing up in Mississippi’s Piney Woods, everything I liked was either illegal, immoral or fattening.

During my misspent youth and middle age, from standing in a lynch mob to staying in a Cairo brothel to surviving a coup attempt on the king of Morocco to suffering some three dozen in-my-sleep seizures that dislocated my shoulder nine times, I continued to write fiction and nonfiction.

The short version of my story is that I went to bed sober one night when I was 15 and woke up drunk the next day and I was 51. Despite all the dangerous and debilitating incidents in my life, I thought I had as much chance of staying sober as a one-legged man had of winning an ass-kicking contest. But, I’ve been clean and sober for many consecutive years. How that happened and what it has been like is an important part of my story.

I’m now living back down in Mississippi, of which my Ole Miss friends and I said, “If God wanted to give the world an enema, he’d stick the tube in Mississippi.”

Hi, my name is George.”


(ALL RIGHT, that’s just a shameless ploy to get your attention)

NOW: TUESDAY, MARCH 21— 6:30 at Oak and Front Streets— 9: Home Town

Henri’s is the one place in old downtown Laurel—and there was a large, active downtown before someone renovated it to death—that I remember as being a one-of-a-kind, found-only-in-Laurel place. Located on Oak Street between Magnolia and Front Streets, Henri’s was an up-scale women’s clothing store owned by Henry Ginsberg, who returned to Laurel after graduating from Tulane, and opened the store. Since it was located on a block holding the Commercial National Bank & Trust Co., Johnson’s drug store, a furniture store and Cross’ magazine, comic and tobacco shop, Henri’s was…different.

When Henri’s went south—before downtown was gutted—Henry Ginsberg went north and became a marketing executive for another Jewish kid, Samuel Bozeman—from Bossier City—he’d known at Tulane. The friend had changed his name to Geofrey Beene, whose first collection was featured in Vogue and whose eight Coty awards were the most ever awarded to an American designer.

Big and bustling as it was, down town Laurel in the 1940s and 1950s was filled with the kind of places found in any small town down town of the era: Grocery stores, furniture stores, car dealerships, movie theaters, restaurants, clothing stores, ten-cent stores, banks and such. Except for Henri’s, nothing said: “Found only in Laurel, Mississippi.”

Laurel is now undergoing a rebirth thought impossible only a couple of years ago. A new bakery opened, a new butcher shop, popcorn monger, Slowboat Brewery, to join Southern Antiques, Autumn South, Elegant Evenings, Cafe LaFleur, Lee’s Coffee and Tea, Creative Computer and banks—there will always be banks, won’t there? There’s the hundred-year-old Lott Furniture and, most recently, Molly Renee’s boutique (for women) and Loblolly Boutique (for children).

Now opening is Laurel Leaf and something new coming to the Arthur’s building, a soul food restaurant, Pearl’s, in the old Burton Jewelry building and, next door, The Shop Co.Work.

Most striking and, definitely in the “only in Laurel” category, are Adam Trest’s Home, J. Parker’s furniture from timeworn wood and Laurel Mercantile, which features eclectic Americana. So much of this new downtown is the work of young people who are both creative and entrepreneurial.

Erin and Ben Napier’s HOMETOWN, Tuesday at 9 p.m. on HGTV, highlights Laurel homes and downtown and features houses being renovated. The pilot episode, which aired last year, garnered a record audience and brought numerous visitors from out of town.
After the current season’s run of Home Town, Laurel is expected to become a destination city. Many visitors already visit

Laurel’s Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and its old homes. The museum has been called the best private museum in the Deep South.
People who attend Tuesday’s pre-Hometown gathering in the vacant lot adjacent to Laurel Mercantile will also be able to visit other downtown stores and they will be glad they did: Particularly those “In Laurel only” stores—Adam’s Trest’s Home, J. Parker’s timeworn furniture and the Laurel Mercantile— will be crowded with visitors who watch HGTV.

Henri’s would have been right at home in the new, downtown Laurel.