You never get over the death of the man who made you. Neither do you forget a fella who told Mister Buz-ZARD jokes, swallowed his tongue for laughs, taught you to tie fisherman’s knots, how to shoot a .22, or count train cars.

It’s a foggy morning. The highways are empty. Our dog sleeps in the backseat.

The drive to Brewton is a nice one. We ride through a piece of Crestview, then Milligan. Highway 85 hits Highway 4; now you’re in the area some folks call “Heaven.”

You’ve got Baker. Think: Mayberry, only with The Gator Cafe—which should be a national landmark.

You have the cotton fields and backwoods of Munson, Berrydale, Fidelis, Dixonville—your cellphone is worthless here.

Suddenly, you’re in Alabama.

There’s Riverview—there aren’t two hundred folks in Riverview. My tool shed is bigger than the courthouse.

And East Brewton—faded single-story homes in need of paint jobs, with folks on front porches.

A bridge runs you over Murder Creek toward train tracks that cut through Brewton. Two caution arms lower. A whistle. Red lights. Bells ringing. Here comes the engine.

Say goodbye to the next ten minutes of your life.

We wait in traffic at the intersection of 31 and 41. The clacking boxcars hypnotize me. I love it. No matter how old I get, when I see a train I’m twelve.

As a boy, my father and I were smitten with trains. We’d count boxcars when they rolled by. Once, in Tennessee, we counted 129 on one engine. That was our record.

The arms raise.

And we’re in my wife’s hometown. The remains of the old theater stand in the distance. It’s not a theater anymore, of course, it’s only a neon sign. I’ve heard stories about this theater.

“When we’s young,” said my mother-in-law. “If a boy was worth his salt, he’d take you to that theater and pay for your popcorn.”

“When we’s young,” responded my father-in-law. “I wasn’t worth my salt.”

We ride a winding road toward Union Cemetery. There must be five billion stories in the ground here.

We’re here to see my wife’s father.

We’re the only visitors today. My wife steps out of the truck. She’s carrying flower arrangements made from pinery in our backyard.

Christmas is in four days. Neither of us have fathers. We’re adults most of the year, but at Christmastime we’re very tall children.

You never get over the death of the man who made you. Neither do you forget a fella who told Mister Buz-ZARD jokes, swallowed his tongue for laughs, taught you to tie fisherman’s knots, how to shoot a .22, or count train cars.

My wife is graveside. I’m watching at a distance. Her lips are moving. She’s talking.

I think about my own father. I haven’t visited his grave in twenty-some-odd years. It’s not that I don’t want to, I do. It just takes a lot out of me. One day. Maybe soon.

After ten minutes, my wife bends low. She kisses her palm and touches the gravestone. She wipes her eyes and stands.

“Daddy says ‘hey,’” she says.

We hug.

I don’t cry for Daddy anymore. You reach a point where you cry mostly on the inside. And it’s crying that almost feels good.

Still, no matter how old I get, when visiting cemeteries, I’m twelve again, and my father is the perpetual young man who died in his prime.

We climb in the truck. We ride back home. This is a magnificent town. And a magnificent drive.

I counted 81 boxcars.

16 comments

  1. Sharon Bartley - December 22, 2017 11:02 am

    you write so beautifully about our people. thank you

    Reply
  2. Kelly Stewart - December 22, 2017 11:04 am

    Absolutely lovely.

    Reply
  3. Jim B. - December 22, 2017 11:15 am

    I read your missives each morning and resist the urge to comment on each one. This one evoked unusually strong sentiments as I know the area of which you wrote. I have been from Pensacola to Brewton and recognize the community names…P’cola to Munson to McLellan to Brewton. Strong emotions. I am convinced you touch many hearts each day offering the gift of your memories, imagination and heart. Thank for the gift.
    Jim

    Reply
  4. Suzanne Rainey - December 22, 2017 12:09 pm

    Hi Sean,
    Thought I’d take a minute to let you know that I’m still here. I am a faithful reader! Your daily column is one of the things I most look forward to in my inbox. I like to read it with my morning coffee. I know it’s gonna make me happy, or sad or it’ll set me to thinking. In any case, it will affect me some kinda way. That some kinda way, we’ll, it’s always good!
    Suzie

    Reply
  5. Buck Godwin - December 22, 2017 12:52 pm

    Sean,
    I have some dear friends who live in Gantt Alabama. I visit them only occasionally but I love that little town, good folks live in Gantt.

    Reading your stories about small towns in Alabama really makes me wish I lived in Gantt!

    Reply
  6. Vickie Waters Roberts - December 22, 2017 1:37 pm

    Thanks for your Brewton stories. I was born there but raised in Bham. My parents and grandparents are from there. I spent many happy summers on a farm that sat on Hwy 31 across from North Brewton School. One of my grandmothers taught 4th grade at North Brewton. One granddaddy not only farmed but drove an Escambia County School bus. My other granddaddy was a Baptist preacher for years in Brewton area. My aunt and her husband still live in East Brewton. Sorry about rambling on. Your story brought great memories today. We all need those everyday.

    Reply
  7. Linda Lou - December 22, 2017 1:41 pm

    Always heartwarming, thought provoking and memory recalling! Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Steve - December 22, 2017 2:11 pm

    I have traveled the same pathway that is illustrated in your story. I have traveled it hundreds of times on my way from Knoxville to Destin Florida. I have eaten multiple times at The Gator. Great stories come from those little towns.

    Reply
  9. Melanie Monk Morris - December 22, 2017 2:50 pm

    I grew up in Brewton, and your writings of it are a warm , beautiful gift! My parents are in the cemetery there too. I think growing up there was a blessing. Do people still float down Burnt Corn Creek on inner tube ? Thank you.
    Melanie Monk Morris
    golfergirl2@charter.net
    TRMHS class of ‘62

    Reply
  10. Shirley J Brown - December 22, 2017 3:14 pm

    Your father is probably the proudest father in heaven. Have a wonderful Merry Christmas Sean. You bring us all a gift of joy with your writing. Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Pat Byers - December 22, 2017 5:44 pm

    he died 40 years ago. he was 53. he was to me like your dad is to you. but i was older when my dad died. i used to tend his grave nearly every day to water the fresh plants on his grave. i stopped because people steal the flowers. he isn’t there anyway, he is with me here. i never know when the tears will spill. odd things. the smell of a pipe. a man i catch in my peripheral in a parking lot. dear season. things he said,
    many times it doesn’t bother me. then, out of the blue, it hits me and i cry for the man i loved so much. its been 40 years…
    his urn sits now in my flower garden, and i tell him it is there. but. he already knows that.

    Reply
  12. Paul Chisolm - December 22, 2017 8:21 pm

    Tears well in my eyes. So beautiful recounted and visually perfect. I turn 6 when I see trains. Ii LOVE them and pray every day that I get stopped by one in Shannon AL on my way to work or home. Thank you so much for your touching story and I look forward to many more.

    Reply
  13. Pamela McEachern - December 22, 2017 11:07 pm

    Always good to come and visit. No matter what reason, God Bless you and Ms. Jamie.Hope ypu arw feelng better.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham 🎄

    Reply
  14. Allen Odom - December 23, 2017 4:45 am

    Sean I relate to so many of your articles being born in Birmingham lived there but consider being “raised” in walker county where my parents were born and raised. My Dad was drafted and entered WWII at 19 weighing a whole 97 lbs (according to his induction papers) my mother was seven yrs younger. I have met and interacted with many of the “folks” you write about. Thank you for bringing these memories back. Allen in Helena.

    Reply
  15. unkle kenny - December 24, 2017 2:26 am

    great one . brewton is a fine old town. take care.uk

    Reply
  16. unkle kenny - December 24, 2017 3:25 am

    I took a job at a grave yard years ago, poverty will do that to you. I would weedeat around the headstones about 3 days a week. took a lot of pride in my work especially because my grandma and grandpa were buried there. lot of history in a graveyard. you read those headstones week after week . a mom and 3 of her kids killed in alaska . two sisters killed in a bad bar room situation. the son of my Banker , car wreck day after graduation, heading from Dothan to the beach. then we mowed. we also buried folks too, as needed. third funeral we were waiting for graveside service to end and then we went up to close the grave. a nice lady was still there alone beside her life long friends casket. i and the other 2 guys asked if we could finish up. the lady told us about her friend and told us to do our job. she wanted to watch. I told her i was new at it and we set the vault lid then dumped dirt. smoothed it out and spread the flowers over the fresh dirt. she thanked us and bid her friend a last goodbye. that was not a bad place to work. uk

    Reply

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