The birth of a LaGrange legend

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2019

You know how it is with legends. It is as if they always were, and nobody really knows when they started. I mean, nobody said one day, “Hey, Billy. I think we’ll call you Billy the Kid” — then the whole world from that hour knew him by that name.

No, that isn’t how legends are born. Instead, it likely went more like this. Some sodbuster walked into the saloon one day, ambled stealthily over to the bar, and in a gravelly voice said to the dusty cowhand next to ‘im, “Hey, cowboy, did you hear what Billy the Kid done over in Cheyenne jus’ last week?”

And even if by chance this cowhand had just rode into town and had never heard of the Kid, he wouldn’t dare say, “Fella, who’s Billy the Kid?” No, they’d laugh him out of the joint and might even write a song about him that wouldn’t even be fit for singin’ out on the range.

So, no, legends aren’t born that way. They just happen, and nobody is quite sure when. Think of some legends of old whose names still make your toes curl and your lips wrinkle – Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Coca-Cola Mike.

I was thinking about the legend of Coca-Cola this week, and I asked the question to which there never is a solid answer: Exactly when did the legend of Coca-Cola Mike begin?

Why, many of you have sat right in the spot you are now and read these weekly episodes for two decades, and not one of you can tell me when this native son suddenly became Coca-Cola Mike. Clearly, I didn’t just start writing one day and say, “I think I’ll start saying the boy Coca-Cola Mike.”

No, legends blend into legends, without a trace of when or where. But I do know when I first realized that our LaGrange friend had entered into the rare arena of legend-hood.

Coca-Cola’s wife Glory appeared in court in LaGrange a few years ago. I should point out unequivocally that the day she appeared, she was not appearing in criminal court. Why, the name Glory itself would prohibit any such of a thing.

When Judge Jeanette Little called her to the bench that day, the judge looked at her curiously, put a wry smile on her face, and said to her with a snarl, “Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen to be Coca-Cola Mike’s wife, would ya?”

Glory, of course, had no choice but to own up to the distinction, because you can’t exactly fib to a judge, not right there with one hand on the Bible and a foot on the edge of a cold, dark cell-block. Besides, if she had pleaded ignorance and said, “Who’s Coca-Cola Mike?” — well, the whole courtroom would have laughed her out of the place and later made up an unsavory ode about her.