This one is for you, Katie Couric

I heard the story first from Loretta.

She’s the gal that invited me to Cullman, Alabama.

You may remember Cullman from the headline stories last year.

A tornado cut a swath through town.

Jimmy, who spent 20 some years writing for the local paper but now runs the Farmer’s Market, told me about how he wrapped himself around the fender of a truck when that tornado came.

He was in the parking garage next to the Chamber office. It wasn’t like watching a tornado from afar, he said. It was like watching a tornado come straight at your head, like some angry mythical god looking to take out its revenge on you.

Normally, Jimmy said, he didn’t pay no never mind to tornado warnings. But that day in April of last year changed that forever for Jimmy. He pays attention now.

Over at the Farmer’s Market not even a trash can was overturned. But where that tornado touched down all that remained was a heap of refuse.

But when the National Guard came to town to help, folks whose homes were destroyed would send them down the street to the neighbor’s house, who they swore were worse off.

Garlan Gudger Jr.’s boy, only 4, would ask the same question every day: Who are we going to go help today, Daddy?

Who are we going to go help today?

That’s the sort of question parents everywhere ought to be teaching their sons and daughters to ask.

It’s the question we all ought to be asking of God.

Who are we going to go help today, Daddy?

They say Garlan is going to be Governor one day.

So that’s how I signed the book to him: Guvernor.

Garlan runs the business his daddy started — Southern Accents.

You may have read about them in Southern Living magazine.

I don’t know how Katie Couric found out about them. They are pretty well-regarded in NYC so she likely saw them in Architectural Digest or something. Anyway, Loretta first told me the story about the day Katie Couric called Garlan, but then Garlan himself told me.

It was a busy day, he said. There were umpteen people in the store, all wanting one thing or another. His daddy was there, trying to handle the crowd. Every Saturday people from all over hell and half of Georgia drive into Cullman to pick over the goodies in Southern Accents.

Couric was calling to say she was flying in on Sunday to pick up her daughters from space camp in Huntsville and could she please come by the store.

Sorry, Garlan told her. We aren’t open on Sundays.

She kind of hesitated but then told Garlan she was only going to be in town on Sunday and couldn’t he please make an exception.

But Garlan said, God needed a day of rest and so do we.

This is Katie Couric, the lady said, hoping that would carry some weight with Garlan.

He didn’t really know who she was. He’d heard her name but he’d heard lots of names and knew lots of people.

I’m sorry ma’am, he said. I’ll be happy to meet with you Monday through Saturday, anytime day or evening but we are closed on Sundays.

Later at the Waffle House, Garlan asked his mother, “Who is Katie Couric?”

What have you done? his mama asked.

I just want y’all to know that when I dropped by the store was closed too, but Garlan opened up the shop for me.

We had a lovely visit.

His mama came out to hear me talk.

She was sweet as could be.

When Loretta told me about Garlan what she said was that he’s the kind of man you ask a question from and hope that he takes a long time to answer. He’s pleasing to look at.

She was right about that.

I told Garlan she said that and he laughed over it.

I am pretty sure Garlan will be Guvernor one day, and when he is I hope he doesn’t forget Karly’s story.

I know I’m never going to forget that image of his boy rising in the wake of that tornado and asking Who can we go help today, Daddy? 

From one journalist to another: This one’s for you Katie Couric.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • good story, miss karen

    (you can tell your man G that i would not have opened the door for her any day of the week, then again that’s just me)

    * gotta love a store with a pitchfork…

  • Loretta gillespie

    Friends and neighbors! Be forewarned that anything you say in front of Karen is likely to wind up in a book, article, blog or facebook post! lol
    She was wonderful in Cullman, although all who needed to be there weren’t …every doctor, nurse, baby sitter, day care worker, teacher, coach, Sunday school teacher, lawyer, or neighbor of a child needs to hear her message and read ‘A Silence of Mockingbirds; Memoir of a Murder’ ….it could give you the strength to be ‘One With Courage’ (google it)

  • Gloria

    WOW! From the mouth of a child! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post with us Karen. Safe travels.