68th Year of Puxico Homecoming
Natalie Hemby with her guests (left to right) Trent Dabbs, Luke Laird, and Barry Dean. Collectively, over 20 #1 hit songs have been written by the four musicians.
The Puxico Homecoming story is a little bit like the Cinderella fairytale. Amazing things happen in a relatively short amount of time. And then with the stroke of midnight, everything goes back to as it was before.
The main difference between the Puxico Homecoming and Cinderella is that Goat Burgers are really the star of the Puxico Homecoming story, and they are nowhere to be found in the Cinderella story.
If you ask anyone in Puxico, that is what makes the Puxico Homecoming story infinitely better!
Rudy Williams of the VFW Post 7882 was manning the Goat Burgers Shack Saturday evening, along with members of the Egypt Community Church.
He explained this year is the 68th annual Puxico Homecoming celebration, and he really cannot remember a year without Goat Burgers.
“Basically, all those years ago a lot of fellas came back from World War II. They wanted to celebrate being home, and so the celebration was begun,” said Williams. Goat entered the story because at that time, goat was a very inexpensive meat, and it was easily accessible.
They had no way of knowing that the goat burgers would come to define the Puxico Homecoming. Williams said he doesn’t know of anywhere else where goat burgers are sold. But, he said, now it has become tradition.
“Goat isn’t cheap anymore,” explained Williams. “It costs about $100 per goat, and we had to have 140 to 150 goats to provide enough goat meat for this event.”
But Goat Burgers were not the only star to shine at this year’s Puxico Homecoming.
Performing Saturday night was Natalie Hemby, a Nashville songwriter and performer with Puxico ties (her father, Tom Hemby, was born and raised in Puxico before going off to a legendary career as an A-List session guitar player in Nashville). As a matter of fact, Hemby screened her new documentary entitled, “Puxico,” at the Arnold Ryan Gym on Friday. Hemby is a popular Nashville songwriter, having written hits for Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town, as well as Lee Ann Womack, Eli Young Band, Toby Keith, and Sunny Sweeney. Some of those hits include, “White Liar”, “Only Prettier”, “Pontoon”, and “Tornado”. She is also the wife of record producer Mike Wrucke.
But it didn’t seem to matter where anyone was from or where they were currently living….the Puxico Homecoming treats everyone as hometown folks.
Kaylee Kingery, 10, and her sister Mickey, 7, proudly showed off their two new friends “Strawberry” and “Blueberry” that they had won at the nearby duck game.
Their father, Billy Kingery, explained that he is actually from Poplar Bluff and now lives in Dexter, but has attended the Puxico Homecoming since being his daughters’ ages. The big draw for him?
“Goat Burgers, of course!” he laughed. The girls claimed the cotton candy as their favorite Homecoming food.
Everyone agreed that the weather has been perfect for this year’s event.
Johnny Clark, Puxico City Marshall, said he has been City Marshall for 22 years, and has been overseeing event security every year of his tenure. He retires at the end of this month, but anticipates even after retirement, he will likely return to the Homecoming every year to greet old friends.
“That is really what Homecoming is all about,” explained Clark. “Because this is a small town, and there are not a lot of jobs around, a lot of people have to move away. Homecoming is their one chance every year to return and see all their old friends and family.”
He says Puxico has stayed true to that family-oriented theme every year.
“We don’t allow alcohol here, and we think that is one of the things that keeps it such a great, family event,” said Clark.
But, he admits it is always a challenge for him. He explained that Puxico normally has a population of only about 840 people. Yet for the yearly Homecoming celebration, the number of people in town can easily swell to ten times that.
“Normally, this is a one policeman town,” said Clark. “But for the week of Homecoming, I generally have eight or nine officers on staff.” And, he adds, the Stoddard County Ambulance crew is always on hand in case there are any medical emergencies. Thanks to milder temperatures this year, there hasn’t been much need for medical help. Problems with heat are generally the primary health issues at summer time events.
“But not this year!” said Clark cheerfully. “This is probably one of the best Homecoming celebrations we’ve ever had.”
Doug Siler, who was manning the VFW tent, agreed. Siler served in the Army and Navy Seabees during the Vietnam War. He was seated next to his friend, Wayne Moore, who served in the U.S. Marines.
They both joked that they managed to be friends despite their different branches of service. “Anyone can make one mistake in life,” laughed Siler, ribbing his friend.
Siler noted in the 68 years of the Puxico Homecoming, he had only missed four of them.
“For the first two, I wasn’t born yet,” he explained. “And then the other two were when I was serving overseas.”
They both agreed Homecoming is one of the busiest weeks of the year.
The event started on Tuesday. “But we were setting up already on Monday night,” explained Siler. Things stay busy all week long, with attendance reaching a crescendo on Friday and Saturday nights.
Then suddenly, at the stroke of midnight Saturday night, the crowds leave, and Puxico returns to normal for another year.
No pumpkins. No glass slippers. Just quiet downtown streets where just a few hours prior, thousands of present and past Puxico citizens found their way home for one week of reliving old memories and reconnecting with old friends.
For just a while, they were all home.