Brewton, Alabama—the Huddle House restaurant is busy tonight. There are teenagers all over. A few wear formal clothes and styled hair.
Brewton’s prom was a few hours ago.
One girl wears white satin. The boy next to her wears a tux. Their smiles could be used in Colgate advertisements.
If there’s anything happier than youth, I wish I knew what it was.
So this is Brewton. Some visitors might drive through town and remark: “What a cute town.” Or they might say: “Those old houses are pretty.”
And even though the antebellum homes on Belleville Avenue are worth slowing down for, this place is more than houses.
This place means something to me. I’ll tell you why:
For starters, look at the railroad, cutting through the center of the downtown. Listen to the train whistle. I’m a sucker for trains.
The old storefronts on Saint Joseph Avenue. They haven’t changed in a million years. The flatiron building that was once Holman’s Pharmacy—which later became Old Willie’s.
Go have a look at the new middle school. You’ll meet teachers with thick accents. And Miss Leola—the lunch lady whose tea is sweet enough to power chainsaws.
The redhead principal. A woman who has memorized a list of names longer than the Lamb’s Scroll of Life.
Visit the high school. It will make you believe in society again. Go to a football game on a Friday night during the height of the season. When the T.R. Miller Tigers take the field, you’ll go deaf.
I wish I would’ve grown up here, but I didn’t—I’ve wished for a lot of things that never came true. But this place has a way of making up for ungranted wishes.
Years ago, I wrote my first book. I wondered why I’d done such a silly thing. After all, I was thinking to myself, who really cares if I write a book?
I decided to give away fifty free copies to friends and family as Christmas gifts.
I told a few people about it on a Friday. By Sunday morning, I had two hundred and eleven emails—all requesting books. One hundred and ninety-seven were from Brewtonians.
It made me light headed.
The next week, more envelopes started hitting my mailbox. Letters which said things like: “We are so proud of you.”
Some envelopes included gifts. Others had personal notes. Most envelopes bore a 36426 zip code.
That was quite a year.
So Brewton might look like a timber town to some, but it’s more. Sure, I know it’s imperfect, but to an outsider like me it’s almost holy.
It’s people like Connie—journalist, author, and poet—who once hugged my neck and said, “I believe in you, boy.”
People like my father-in-law, who once said, “You’re my son, and I’m proud to be pinch-hitting for your daddy.”
People like the white-haired preacher, Brother John, who once told me, “Do you know how much God loves you, son? I can see it all over you.”
These folks must’ve seen an orphan kid like me coming from a mile away. A kid who grew up feeling unspecial.
A kid who didn’t have more than a seventh-grade education. Who’d never been to football games, who never went to prom, who didn’t think he had much to offer the world.
This is my wife’s city. But it’s here that I discovered what it feels like to belong.
So if you should ever pass through Brewton, Alabama, slow down. Visit the Huddle House.
You don’t want to miss this place. People get reborn here. God lives here.
And so do five thousand of his friends.