The Devil Will Get You

The sign has been out of commission for a long time. Without it, the interstate has been nothing but a den of iniquity.

The Devil Billboard is back. The world-famous religious sign hangs beside I-65 just like it did forever-ago. And I’m glad about it.

The billboard sits outside Prattville. It looks as pretty as always. It displays the image of a cheerful, fun-loving Satan—who bears a striking resemblance to my Uncle Tommy Lee.

For nearly thirty years, the sign has been warning motorists to:

“Go to Church or the Devil Will Get You.”

The sign has been out of commission for a long time. Without it, the interstate has been nothing but a den of iniquity.

Now the sign is back. My wife and I just saw it. It’s pure nostalgia.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t BELIEVE the sign. But the point here is: the billboard is back, and so are the memories.

The earliest memory I have of the billboard was when I was riding in the backseat of my aunt’s car. My aunt pointed out the window and said, “Look, there’s the Devil! Doesn’t he look just like your Uncle Tommy Lee?”

My cousin and I laughed.

It was true. The billboard featured a red creature with lanky legs, a tail, and a face that looked like Uncle Tommy Lee at a Wednesday night foot-washing service.

My cousin and I would wave at Beelzebub, yelling, “Hey, Uncle Tommy Lee!”

And, each time we passed the sign, my aunt would discuss the finer points of the Rapture. She would end her mini-sermons by playing a Bill Gaither Greatest Hits cassette.

Then, she would ask if we had sins we needed to confess. She would play the music at an earsplitting volume until we started repenting.

So we invented sins to repent of, or else we would’ve been subjected to “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior” all the way to Greenland.

And these were my people. They believed in the power of billboards. They believed that in the twinkling of an eye, they would be translated into immutable Glory, and perpetual Gaither Homecomings.

I came from folks who believed in five church meetings per week. Folks who volunteered to prepare, not one, but three casseroles for mid-week potlucks.

We were people who joined hands across church aisles to pray hard against wicked things like: horse racing, greyhound tracks, casinos, tobacco, prom, jogging suits, Vancouver, and certain species of penguins.

The I-65 billboard means something to me, silly as it sounds. Maybe it’s because it makes me remember. Or maybe because it reminds me of when I was a teenager.

Long ago, I took a spring-break trip to Birmingham with friends. I was eighteen. It was dark when we passed the sign.

My buddy Daniel was driving. I was in the passenger seat. The boys in the backseat were sound asleep, producing bodily odors that could gag most domestic goats.

That night, I was sad. A girl had broken my heart. The details don’t matter, but I was a real downer. I cried in the car—on accident. Boys don’t usually cry in front of each other.

And it was during this exact moment that we were passing the Devil Billboard.

“Look!” said Daniel, pointing out the window. “You ever seen that before?”

“‘Course I have,” I said.

He pulled over.

It was a juvenile thing to do. We woke the others, we crawled over the guardrail, through the tall grass, and posed for a photo bedside that billboard.

Daniel placed his arm around me, and I’ll never forget what he said:

“She didn’t deserve you, man. It was her loss. You’re gonna be just fine.”

The others patted my back and said the same sorts of things, being careful to use the lowest-pitched voices they could.

The photograph didn’t turn out, it was too dark outside. But at least we did it. We hiked across a steep embankment and posed with the Devil on I-65. And wherever Daniel is today, I hope he knows how grateful I am.

I’m glad they put the sign back up.

Uncle Tommy Lee never looked so good.

23 comments

  1. Perri Williamson - May 18, 2018 10:16 am

    Sean I swanney! Whether you are making me laugh or making me cry you are generally one of the finer points of my day.

    “We were people who joined hands across church aisles to pray hard against wicked things like: “Horse racing, greyhound tracks, casinos, tobacco, prom, jogging suits, Vancouver, and certain species of penguins.“. 😂😂😂😂

    Reply
  2. Alison Crosby - May 18, 2018 10:39 am

    Oh! I’m SO happy to hear the Devil is back!!! Though watching the nightly news I knew he had not gone far. I looked for him every time we made the trip from Huntsville to Ozark to visit my grandparents. I’ve missed him. 😈

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  3. Hailey Stubbs - May 18, 2018 11:33 am

    Vancouver? What’s evil about my hometown of Van that needed prayin’ over? (Just kidding, it just struck me as odd that y’all would even KNOW where Vancouver was! most of the people I met while living in Andalusia had NO IDEA where it is) 🤣

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  4. Evelyn Flowers - May 18, 2018 12:23 pm

    So glad this sign is up again! I have missed it also.My daughter lives in Fort Walton Beach, Fl.and I always looked for the “Devil” as we went to visit. I am going today and am anxious to see the new “Uncle Tommy Lee” sign! Love all your blogs, they make my days!

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  5. Jenna - May 18, 2018 12:58 pm

    I’m glad he’s back up. He’s been there as long as I can remember and I loved seeing your “Uncle Tommy Lee” when we’d drive up to Clanton from Newton to visit relatives.
    Maybe he’ll get some folks thinking about eternity. I hope.

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  6. Kirstin Hoff - May 18, 2018 1:05 pm

    Jennifer Adger has a really neat painting of the billboard. She was at MCArt show. Everyone smiles when they see the painting:) she is originally from AL but now resides in NYC. Here is her website Jenniferadger.net. Love your writing! Chick4acause aka- Kirstin Hoff

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  7. Caleb Halstead - May 18, 2018 2:29 pm

    We just drove by Prattville yesterday heading from Birmingham to Perdido Key. The sign must have just been replaced as there were a slew of comments about it on Facebook yesterday and your column was about it today. It was there for a long, long time (since at least the 60s) and has been missing for a while. Like you, we’re glad it’s back; just for nostalgia if nothing else.

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  8. muthahun - May 18, 2018 2:33 pm

    “… certain species of penguins.” Really??!! Giggling up here in LLBeantown.

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  9. Pat - May 18, 2018 2:46 pm

    The sign was on Highway 31 in Prattville near the Alabama River bridge since I think, the 1930’s. It was an awesome sight!

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  10. Janet Mary Lee - May 18, 2018 3:01 pm

    Chuckling today! Thank you for it, and your memory !

    Reply
  11. Johnny Payne - May 18, 2018 3:19 pm

    Sean, My sister recently told me about your blog and how great your writings are. I’m so glad because I enjoy your articles every day. They remind me of Lewis Grizzard’s column years ago. Please continue your wonderful gift of words with all of us. Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your writings.

    Reply
  12. Alan Brock - May 18, 2018 3:22 pm

    Now I’m going to spend too much time trying to figure out why Vancouver and certain species of penguins are sinful. Forgive me brother Sean I got lad astray by blue footed boobies.

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  13. Kay Brown - May 18, 2018 3:26 pm

    Here is a link to see it:

    https://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2017/03/the_devil_is_trying_to_knock_i.html

    Reply
  14. Margaret byrd - May 18, 2018 3:33 pm

    You have made my day! The devil is back!! I have driven from south ala to Huntsville frequently for over fifty years and always watched for the devil on my way. I’ve been really sad 😔 to see it gone. When I travel north in a couple of weeks I’ll be looking for it. Margaret byrd

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  15. Barbara Schweck - May 18, 2018 3:39 pm

    Love it!!!

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  16. Edna B. - May 18, 2018 3:44 pm

    Thanks for the morning giggles. I’m so glad your sign is back. It’s nice to see old memories still alive. You have a great day, hugs , Edna B.

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  17. Patrick - May 18, 2018 4:11 pm

    That sign is a landmark, we pass it driving to the inlaws that live in Birmingham! Good stuff sir, good stuff.

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  18. Peggy Branch - May 18, 2018 4:19 pm

    Can I tell you what a joy it is to read your posts!

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  19. Sue Cronkite - May 18, 2018 6:18 pm

    Beings up lots of memories. Glad the sign is back. It’s one of our relics.

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  20. Mary Anne - May 18, 2018 6:28 pm

    Thanks for the update on The Devil Will Get You billboard. I’ve seen it many times on my travels from Pensacola to my office in Nashville. I always looked for it and the turning wheel that spilled water. It was just something you always knew was going to be there on your trip. Thanks for your story. You made out just fine. Whoever broke your heart those many years ago messed up. It was her loss.

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  21. Simple Thyme Prims - May 19, 2018 12:35 am

    Great story Sean, we could definitely use this reminder today.

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  22. Jack Quanstrum - May 19, 2018 1:48 pm

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    Reply
  23. MARY E GREER - May 21, 2018 5:34 pm

    I loved that sign…I saw it everytime I went back to college after spending time at home.

    Reply

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