Circle City

The men are from different walks of life. They meet here, swapping stories, remembering what this world was like before cell phones ruled the solar system.

Dothan, Alabama—Ray’s Restaurant. This place is nothing fancy. A plain building with fluorescent lighting, decent coffee, and Bear Bryant photos on the wall.

Inside, it smells like bacon.

There is a table of white-haired men. They wear camouflage caps, jeans, suspenders.

A placard on their table reads: “Table of Knowledge.”

I overhear their discussion. They’re chatting about politics. They laugh while they do it.

You don’t see folks laugh about politics much anymore.

The men are from different walks of life. They meet here, swapping stories, remembering what this world was like before cell phones ruled the solar system.

They solve problems. Talk philosophy. They flirt with waitresses.

In my booth: a police department chaplain, and two South Alabamian belles. It’s early. Our conversation is a tired one.

I order grits, eggs, bacon. The waitress brings coffee. She looks as tired as she is skinny. Her accent is pure Wiregrass.

I ask her which booth Bear Bryant sat in when he visited long ago—I bet all out-of-towners ask her this.

She points across the room. “He sat over there,” she says. “All the out-of-towners ask me that.”

Welcome to Circle City. They say that the peanuts in your American supermarket come from this local soil. And that’s what this place is known for.

But it’s more than just a peanut capital. It’s rural communities that surround the city.

Places like Slocomb, Wicksburg, Malvern, Rehobeth, Taylor, Cowarts, and Hartford.

Towns where tractors outnumber steeples. Where men still wear neckties to church and use twist tobacco recreationally.

The waitress brings our food. The chaplain says grace.

His prayer is poetry. He’s an Episcopal priest, he knows how to recite a blessing sweet enough to knock paint off fire hydrants.

We talk. We eat. Our coffee kicks in. My friends have good stories.

I hear about the old days. About how this town looked before Best Buys and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I hear about an era when men still went coon hunting, fox hunting, and bred hounds.

About farmers who paid with cash. About crazy ladies who rode horses through their living rooms.

The chaplain has seen some things in his time. Beautiful things, not-so-nice things, and all kinds between.

“Dothan’s special,” he says. “Not like any other city. We have salt-of-the-earth folks here. Real folks.”

If you don’t believe him, just take a drive downtown. This place is big, but small at heart. You’ll see men in hunting boots, muddy trucks, rusty horse-trailers.

And if you stop at Ray’s, you’ll meet old, talkative fellas who look just like your granddaddy.

When our meal is over, we’re chatting in the parking lot. I get hugs, and a firm handshake from the Houston County clergyman who calls me “brother.”

“Don’t be a stranger,” he says. “Whenever you’re here in town, you’re home.”

Well. As it happens, this place is something more than a home. It’s old men with coffee and eggs. It’s Dothan, Alabama. The Peanut Capital.

This is America.

35 comments

  1. Rogene martin - May 15, 2017 12:58 pm

    Enjoyed reading. Recalls many memories . Thanks for helping me remember good memories of like times.

    Reply
  2. Beth Ann Chiles - May 15, 2017 1:08 pm

    I was just in Dothan last week. It is more than the Circle, isn’t it? I had the amazing experience of meeting the icon Dancin’ Dave a few months before he died and that man embodied exactly what you wrote about. I count myself richer for having met him and being able to experience just a little bit of what is at the heart of the South–people. Thanks for sharing. A friend shared your blog with me and I know I am going to find lots of great reading here. Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Melanie Tighe - May 15, 2017 1:13 pm

    I loved this. My family has been in Dothan for five generations, maybe more. I love to visit Dothan and see my family. My mom was Miss Peanut first runner up in the 50s. She passed last October. I may not go back to Dothan much now that she is gone as it is a long way from California where I live. But I will definitely go back “home” – all my cousins tell me I belong home in Dothan.
    Thank you for a beautiful story.
    Sincerely,
    Melanie Tighe
    proud member of the Cook family of Dothan, AL

    Reply
  4. Sharon - May 15, 2017 1:13 pm

    One of our( my husband and I) best friends is from Dothan. Must be in the dirt that grows those peanuts.

    Reply
  5. Tamera Moody - May 15, 2017 1:26 pm

    Re: Dothan. Although I am a Yankee by birth, my Momma was raised in south AL – her Daddy was a sheriff in Elba when he wasn’t running a saw mill in the backwoods of Indiantown, FL. I spent every summer of my youth in south AL, and have cousins that live in Dothan. Your writing takes me back every day and feeds that Southern part of my heart. Have you ever written about the Boll Weevil Statue? Blessings to you and your family!

    Reply
    • Kathy Nunn - July 10, 2017 1:42 pm

      I’m from Birmingham but my Momma was from Elba and my Daddy was from Enterprise. Aren’t these stories wonderful. I spent a lot of time in Elba when I was a kid. Great memories!

      Reply
  6. Susan Tidwell - May 15, 2017 1:32 pm

    love it! I spent a couple of years of my youth near Dothan on the Army base. I was at a little diner in Rapid City, SD, where the all the stools at the counter were taken up with locals, the waitress said they come in every day always sit at the counter, call themselves Counter Intelligence 🙂

    Reply
  7. Suzanne Newsom - May 15, 2017 1:42 pm

    Enjoy your columns and love your style of writing.

    Reply
  8. Paula Link - May 15, 2017 1:52 pm

    Ypu never cease to amaze me. I’m 5th generation SE Alabama, and Dothan was “town” when I grew up – as in, if we went to “town” shopping, that was Dothan. Even though I lived in Ozark. Never knew about Ray’s, but you can bet I’ll find it tomorrow when I’m in Dothan, visiting one of those salt of the earth folk who is now in a nursing home there.

    Reply
  9. Betsy - May 15, 2017 2:21 pm

    When we moved to Dothan in 1962 there were only a few businesses on the circle where the Main Street crosses the circle and of course the hospital at Route 84 and the circle. It was Dothan General then and I had two babies delivered there. The old part is still there but you can’t see it because it is covered by all the new additions. An old tale went around that a couple got on the circle at night and drove it all night until it got light and they realized they were passing the same landmarks again! Dothan was a good place to bring up your kids in those days and still is.

    Reply
  10. Sam Hunneman - May 15, 2017 3:11 pm

    What a great reminder, Sean, and reading it up here in Maine, where the folks wear Bean boots, still hunt and fish and use tobacco (and Allen’s Coffee Brandy!) recreationally, and there used to be a dear Episcopal priest who once fetched us a fire hydrant we needed for a play, I realize that there’s sure a lot more that unites us than divides us. Americans all.

    Reply
  11. Nedetria Talbot - May 15, 2017 3:28 pm

    What a great article…your style of writing is wonderful.

    Reply
  12. Kay Keel - May 15, 2017 3:57 pm

    Dothan is HOME for me. As the old saying goes, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could!” I was born in Raleigh, NC, in the late 50’s. My family moved here in 1967 and I’ve been here ever since. Yes, indeed! Dothan is home!

    Reply
  13. Jamie - May 15, 2017 3:58 pm

    Whenever I drive Dothan way on 82 I make sure to time my trip to include breakfast at Ann’s in Ozark, AL north of Dothan just off 82. A spiced Western omlette, grits, biscuit, and coffee will hold me till suppertime. If you stop tell Su the owner the guy who wears the Utilikilt told you to drop by. There is the same group of regulars there who remember me and treat me as family even though I’m only through every six months or so. As you have said, these are the good, real people you never hear of in the everyday news.

    Reply
  14. Kathryn - May 15, 2017 6:07 pm

    I’ve been all over – All over the US and to several other countries. I am blessed, however, to have lived in the south all of my life. I believe that it beats big cities, Washington, and Hollywood all put together. This really is America.

    Reply
  15. Carol - May 15, 2017 8:06 pm

    I grew up in Headland…and the story about the crazy lady riding her horse in the house struck a nerve…our Welch pony could open the door and would often come inside the house to watch Saturday morning cartoons with us five kids…NOTHING crazy about it! Love your stuff!

    Reply
  16. Ann Duke - May 16, 2017 12:13 am

    Yes, but Enterprise is the heart of the wiregrass.

    Reply
  17. Vicki - May 16, 2017 12:39 am

    I love reading your stories! They bring back so many memories growing up in Opp, Alabama. There’s nothing like a small town with big hearts, good people, hometown cooking, southern accents, and southern hospitality. Stories might just be the best part! Thanks for bringing that good hometown feeling back for a few minutes. I like your style and commas! 🙂

    Reply
  18. Ronnie - May 16, 2017 1:50 am

    I was a resident in Dothan from 1959-1962 and I had the best of friends who have remained friends until today. My father once said “why do all the people wave when we drive by ?” It was not long before he realized and he began to wave and smile as we all did in my family. We were from Dothan Alabama Down Home and a part of the best Home in this country.

    Reply
  19. Christy Keyton - May 16, 2017 2:07 am

    I am originally from Birmingham, but my husband grew up in Dothan. He moved back after dental school and I married him and moved to the Circle City 31 years ago, so it’s home now. I opened a shop two years ago downtown – we are trying to revitalize the historic downtown area. This is a great place to live. A great place to raise your kids. Love the family that owns Ray’s – so many good people in Dothan!

    Reply
  20. Lilli Ann Snow - May 16, 2017 3:35 am

    The extraordinary ordinary.

    Written by you.

    Reply
  21. Alicia Trawick - May 19, 2017 2:42 pm

    I learned about purpose in this life from living in Malvern and Dothan, AL

    Reply
  22. Dan Wise - July 10, 2017 1:01 pm

    Dothan is actually a biblical town! Multiple references in the Old Testiment. Imagine that…a southern town named after Biblical town…go figure!

    Reply
  23. Karen Sindel - July 10, 2017 1:01 pm

    My daddy and his buddies had this same “hangout” in Selma. The Pancake House. A locally owned establishment famous for really hot coffee and pancakes that floated off the plate. When my brother reached the appropriate age (the one where he knew how to sit still and listen) my daddy finally introduced him to the Saturday morning Pancake House gang. Funny how daddy always got up early on Saturdays to make us biscuits and sausage before heading to meet his friends. I miss Selma, Saturday biscuits and the Pancake House. But mostly, I miss daddy.

    Reply
  24. Sylvia Williams - July 10, 2017 1:04 pm

    There is nothing better than small towns with real people, farm to table food and front porches. Conversations that do not require emoji’s to communicate or a device to send it on. Great story, Sean!

    Reply
  25. Deanna J - July 10, 2017 1:07 pm

    Thank you! I learn memories from you and this is precious!

    Reply
  26. Amy - July 10, 2017 1:24 pm

    Born and raised in Dothan, Alabama, living in NC now. Thanks for the beautiful story about the only place I’ll ever really call HOME.

    Reply
  27. Pam B - July 10, 2017 2:36 pm

    Well…the Bible does say, ” Let us go to Dothan.” And I do every chance I get.

    Reply
  28. Frances Ogden McGraw - July 10, 2017 3:17 pm

    I’m also known as Fran. We lived at Fort Rucker, AL, (Daleville) four times from 1964 to 1974 and spent a lot of time in Dothan. It was and is a nice town. “See the tree how big it’s grown…”

    Reply
  29. Emily - July 10, 2017 4:56 pm

    Thank you for sweet memories. I was born in Abbeville and lived in Dothan. Two of my children were born at SE General Hospital in the 50’s. This is a special part of the world for sure. Your words every day are special too. Thank you !

    Reply
  30. George - July 10, 2017 9:08 pm

    Dothan was home to my young growing family from 1976 until 1997. Newly married, with a small child, the community of Dothan residents provided the basis for our family to flourish, economically and spiritually, to become the family we are today. I can truly say that Dothan is a great place to live and grow. Thanks, Sean for your stories. They remind me of the good times and great people of the Wiregrass region!

    Reply
  31. Ben smith - July 11, 2017 11:33 am

    Awesome. That’s a fact. It’s hard to find this still going on in small town America. Its changed so much in my lifetime. And to me Dothan is a big place from the place I call home.That’s a fact.

    Reply
    • Meloney - August 9, 2017 5:39 pm

      Did you go to Northview?

      Reply
  32. Wendi - July 12, 2017 3:41 am

    My husband’s dad, R.L. Tice was a founding member of the table of knowledge. He loved Rays and was in there every morning. One morning one of the other guys was snapping his newspaper in RLs face so RL set the mans newspaper on fire. Never a dull moment. Great article Sean. Thanks for doing justice to our circle city.

    Reply
  33. Meloney - August 9, 2017 5:38 pm

    I grew up in Dothan and I get back there every few years. Beautiful story.

    Reply

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