Columbiana

“Hot aw-mighty,” remarks one old woman. “Hope folks don't judge us by what’s on TV. It’s too bad about that mess with Governor Bentley.”

Columbiana, Alabama—a place with front porches bearing American flags. There are hanging ferns, historic homes, dog-walkers who wave.

The welcome-to-town sign reads: “Home of Governor Robert Bentley.”

“Hot aw-mighty,” remarks one old woman. “Hope folks don’t judge us by what’s on TV. It’s too bad about that mess with Governor Bentley.”

It sure is.

Because this place is more than a two-word byline in a shocking news story. This is heaven.

Reason number one: Davis Drug Company.

In the back of Davis’ there’s a flat-top grill. They serve cheeseburgers and tea that’s sweet enough to cause temporary blindness.

Bernard P. Fife sits at the counter.

Vinyl stools. Milkshakes. Pimento cheese. Coke in green-tinted bell glasses.

This place.

We’re eating lunch with Rachel. She teaches tenth-grade English. She has the personality of a cherub.

“Wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she says. “This is our bubble from the rest of the world.”

A bubble. Kids mind their manners in Columbiana. High-schoolers drive trucks, wear boots, and listen to Alan Jackson. Teenagers still know who Loretta Lynn is. There is low crime.

It’s a place where schoolteachers are like mothers. Principals are like chaplains. Where the librarian deserves his own book in the Bible.

Rachel says, “Always knew I wanted to teach at THIS school.”

I ask why.

“My tenth-grade teacher, Mrs. Owens, she was the best. I wanted to be like her.”

Mrs. Owens. During my short time in town, I’ve heard more about Mrs. Owens than I have about the aforementioned ex-politician.

I motion to include Mrs. Owens’ name on the town sign. Because she is local values, country wisdom, and good people.

“Mrs. Owens, was my favorite,” says Rachel.

I also meet Rachel’s husband Joe—from New Jersey. He’s a long way from home.

“I’m the only Yankee around for miles,” he says. “But this is home.”

He’s lived here for many years now. Joe has even picked up the hint of an accent.

When he first visited town, he took the grand tour, which doesn’t take five minutes—the city isn’t much bigger than a throw rug.

“Drove down one street,” Joe says. “Saw all these flags hanging from porches, the sun was out, and it just hit me. This is Americana. I needed to be here.”

Yeah.

Well, I toured the same streets earlier today. I saw the same sunlight poking through the same red and white nylon flags.

I shook hands with remarkable people:

A boy who nearly died in a car wreck—whose principal sat beside him in ICU. I met a woman who raises chickens and sells farm-eggs for four bucks per dozen. A woman who hugged my neck and called me “Sugar Face.” And Mrs. Owens.

I ask Joe if he ever misses New Jersey.

“Never,” he says.

And why would he. Because this is Beulah Land. Where bloodhounds sleep underneath dogtrot houses. Where the downtown is made of Confederate brick. It’s a lot more than drugstores with handmade French fries. And it’s more than headlines about former governors.

This is Shelby County.

This is where God lives.

11 comments

  1. Susan - April 30, 2017 2:18 pm

    True , Shelby County is Gods country,people are genuine and salt of the earth. Lived there for years until I moved North….. to Huntsville, pretty great here too.

    Reply
  2. grace - April 30, 2017 2:35 pm

    My daddy’s family hailed from Columbiana, and I remember taking the drivedown old 280 from Birmingham often.

    Reply
  3. Jeanie - April 30, 2017 3:53 pm

    Truth.

    Reply
  4. Kay Keel - April 30, 2017 4:30 pm

    You need to write a book called “Road Trips” and include maps to all these wonderful small town diners that take us back to a simpler time.

    Reply
  5. cindy bryan - April 30, 2017 4:37 pm

    Sean, I want to write like you when I grow up. I’m 52. I hope you’re not offended.

    Reply
  6. Judy Miller - April 30, 2017 8:13 pm

    In my humble opinion, anywhere would be better than New Jersey. LOL.

    Reply
  7. Arlene - April 30, 2017 9:37 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  8. Patricia Gibson - April 30, 2017 11:08 pm

    Sounds like heaven!

    Reply
  9. Willie - May 1, 2017 2:31 pm

    Another goodum, Sean. I look forward to your stories every day.

    Reply
  10. Mary Pettit - May 1, 2017 7:32 pm

    I met a lady from Columbiana. Her name was Barbara Joiner. She was a Baptist missionary and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Tells a great story about Christmas cookies and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Reply
  11. Betty - May 2, 2017 1:38 am

    I married a wonderful man from Shelby County and wouldn’t live any other place. I thought I was a city girl until I moved here.

    Reply

Have your say