The mayor of "the beautiful city of Dearing, Ga.," was busy Friday morning.
The operator of Kelley Business Printers said he was running the most complicated job he's ever printed, and Sean Kelley has been running a press longer than his years might suggest. But Kelley took a second for a phone call, and then the next couple hours took a fun turn.
Would he be at city hall at 11:11 a.m., I asked? After all, it would be the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year. And the 11th minute, to boot. I asked whether there was a photo opportunity, or maybe even a ceremony.
I apologized for giving him 90 minutes to arrange a historic observance. I blamed Kelsey Stein, The Mirror's reporter for schools and a dozen other beats. I had been scratching my head, wondering where to photograph a clock as it struck that monumental hour. The Mirror reporter immediately suggested the former bank sign in front of Dearing Town Hall.
If Kelley had been left scratching his head, it must not have been for long. When I arrived at Axon's Convenience Store across the main drag just an hour later, the wheels of government already were in motion. Kelley's car was parked at town hall, where he was adjusting the clock to keep a constant display instead of a flashing display.
The coffee at Axon's was a match for the hint of a chill in the air. Adding coffee to a hot dog brought my lunch tab to $1.74. As Vicky counted my change, I asked whether it's true that Dearing has the best mayor in the whole city of Dearing. "I have no complaints," she said. "Actually, we're quite fond of Sean," she said when I returned for a refill.
Kelley intercepted me as I walked toward my car, and he and Lloyd Axon led the world's shortest parade across Augusta Highway. More than 20 minutes before the appointed hour, the crowd was forming. Those assembled had a connection to the town, or they were veterans, or they remembered veterans.
Gladys Rodgers, the town historian and a 51-year resident of Dearing, favored taking the novelty photo at the top of the hour, in keeping with tradition. The majority ruled, though, and 11:11 remained the appointed time.
Kelley and his wife, Paige, were among the first on hand. Paige is an Air Force veteran.
Former Mayor Ralph Menees, a Navy veteran, stopped by.
Store owner Axon, an Army veteran, took part. So did Olly Axon, the wife of town councilman Allen Axon.
Kelley print shop employee Donna Toulson, a lifetime resident of Dearing, had made the trip on short notice. So had Claudia Kelley, the mayor's mother and co-worker.
Town Clerk Judy Reeves was among the first on hand. Her husband, Curtis Reeves, was the last to arrive. Curtis Reeves' father, Charles Reeves, was blinded in World War II. So the Reeves would remember him on this Veterans Day.
The quickly assembled ensemble talked about their military service dating as far back as the Korean War. They talked about the meaning of Veterans Day. Some told how long they had lived in Dearing. Between them, they had lived in Dearing, Ga., longer than there has been a Dearing, or a Georgia.
As the hour approached, they gathered near the town hall sign. The morning light offered better photos from the east, the mayor said. To make sure everyone could squeeze into the picture, the mayor and Paige Kelley kneeled in front of the sign. Others joined them. Rodgers found a seat by a shrub and held up her "I LOVE DEARING GEORGIA" sign. The countdown continued.
The minute arrived. My camera snapped a close-up of the people and then a wider view that captured the full height of the sign. Menees' two sisters visiting from Texas snapped photos. My camera snapped an insurance frame. And the moment had passed.
Some folks driving Highway 78 east to Fort Gordon, or west to a chalk mine, or either direction to a tree farm might have wondered why a dozen adults were gathered around an inconspicuous sign in the middle of a Friday morning. Some passers-by might have realized that folks were having a little fun, marking a little history, and celebrating a great deal of pride.
Rodgers just thought it was the right thing to do. "I think it's a wonderful idea," she said. "I think Dearing, Ga., is the most wonderful place in the world to live."
Kelley said he would be expecting Stein, The Mirror's reporter, at the town council meeting Monday evening. He reminded the public that the town will light its Christmas tree the evening of Dec. 2.
The crowd dispersed. Kelley reset the sign to flash the time. "There's something you'll never do again," he said.