Florida ‘Bama Line

I can’t think of anything I like more than Slocomb tomatoes. I’m eating one right now, the same way I'd eat a Granny Smith.

It’s a lazy weekend. Mill’s Produce Stand is a shack on the edge of Dothan, Alabama, sitting behind miles of farmland.

I buy fifty pounds of Slocomb tomatoes.

I can’t think of anything I like more than Slocomb tomatoes. I’m eating one right now, the same way I’d eat a Granny Smith.

I’ve already ruined my shirt. I’m doing forty-five miles per hour, taking in sights.

A car speeds around me, Pennsylvania tags. He must be traveling eighty.

Sorry, pal. This is Wiregrass country. We own the copyright on laziness. And I am on a lazy drive home.

There has been a light rain, the sun is poking from the clouds. There are miles of peanut fields. Firework-stands. Condemned barns.

I pass Slocomb. If you’ve ever wanted to know where God’s summer house is, it’s in Slocomb. A town with not much more than grain silos, a Methodist church, Baptist church, First Assembly of God, and the best tomatoes you can shake a New American Standard Bible at.

I pass three girls on horseback, riding the highway shoulder. They wear ten-gallon hats. The leader of the group tips her brim to me.

Howdy, ma’am.

Now I’m behind a truck with a bumper sticker that reads: “What a friend we have in Nick Saban.” He’s driving even slower than me.

Like I said, we invented lazy.

Esto is just over the Alabama-Florida line. There is a combination ice-cream shop and lottery-ticket store.

Lopsided shotgun houses, pretty enough for postcards. Cattle beneath live oaks in green pastures.

A creek bridge with bicycles parked at the railing. A rundown beer-joint named Sam’s Place—within spitting distance from Mount Olive Baptist Church.

I’ve reached Bonifay. Here, there are magnificent homes with feral cats and deep-freezes on front porches. The fire-station—also a police-station—sits just behind the stadium. So does the Assembly of God.

Next: Carryville, Westville, and Ponce De Leon.

Years ago, I had a flat on the interstate near Ponce De Leon. A man parked behind me and directed traffic while I changed my tire during rush hour. He saved my life.

When I finished, he tucked a wad in his lip and said, “Dangerous thing, this freeway, figured you needed a Good Samaritan.”

Good Samaritans.

We have lots of those here. In fact, Samaria itself is a few hours up the road in Chilton County.

The truth is, I haven’t been many places in my life. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen things worth seeing.

I once watched a man in a wheelchair stop traffic to save a turtle. I have seen lightning bugs come alive in pecan groves. I have seen people help others with flat tires on Interstate 10.

In Franklin County, I bought the best coondog God ever made. I found the love of my life where Burnt Corn Creek and Murder Creek fork.

I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, nor a San Francisco sunrise. And truth told, I might not ever see those things. Not because I don’t want to. But because I am lazy.

And because I like Slocomb tomatoes too damn much.

Because I’m a slow learner, and it’s taken me a hundred years too long to see how much I have to be grateful for.

39 comments

  1. Diane Enloe - June 25, 2017 1:18 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for keeping it real….and for loving our Wiregrass area. We love you….especially this 73 yr old Grandma! ☺️

    Reply
  2. Laura Young - June 25, 2017 1:36 pm

    This made me smile today! It made me remember earlier days in my life. I didn’t marry till I was 28, already a nurse for 6 years. I married a cop who changed jobs often. Early in our marriage he took a job in Lincoln, AL. The owner of the house we first rented decided 6 months later to sell the house and we had to find another place ion the city limits to live. There were no apartments or other houses to rent. David found an old farmhouse and we found the later “watching out” for the house for her sister who had owned it but moved far away. They agreed to let us live in the house rent free but would do no repairs, etc., and we had to check before we did anything. We were excited since money was tight. The house had a big hole in the front porch, but beautiful peonies growing near the porch. The house was a hundred years old and had wood pegs instead of nails. You could see the sunlight coming in between the wood siding when you opened a closet because there was no inside wall in the closet. The old shotgun house had no heat except old fireplaces with crumbling brick (could not safely be used). I could go on, but it would take a little while. The point though of my story is that I have funny and happy memories (even though my mother cried when she saw it and all the work it needed). I smile at memories of me 7 months pregnant squatted in a strawberry field, unable to stand up and how I managed it. I think of seeing smoke down the road and thinking the fire might reach the house so decided I would try to put it out (8 months pregnant) with a shovel and rake (I had watched the firefighter on a CHiPs TV show as they did a fire break. (Nurses can do anything, you know). I can remember canning vegetables and making jelly/jam. Hanging clothes on a line. Watching deer eating apples……great memories. Thanks for the memory booster!

    Reply
  3. Mary Sessions - June 25, 2017 1:40 pm

    My dad loved Slocumb tomatoes! And Henry County peanuts ! He was from Headland.

    Reply
    • Jill - August 14, 2017 10:49 pm

      Love this! Thanks for reminding us to appreciate what we have right here. Unfortunately, my life moves too fast at times, so when I read your articles, they make me feel like I can take a sigh of relief wishing, hoping one day I won’t be on this hamster wheel. I have lived in 5 states and moved more times than I wanted. I wear too many hats and okay too many roles. Life is beautiful but it’s been hard, harder than I could do.. but .. God. Your articles make me so thankful. I am glad you realize what you have and it’s because you have worked so hard to get where you are. Thank you for blessing me everyday. I really look forward to your writings.

      Reply
  4. Noah - June 25, 2017 1:42 pm

    Sean, I now have seen the Eiffel Tower, and previously have seen the Washington Monument and a San Francisco sunrise and sunset. All were wonderful experiences. But I think lazy is a good Southern tradition, and driving slow along a backroad, eating a tomato, and waving to ladies on horseback reminds me of how my dad liked to travel. Slow and easy, and always willing to stop and chat with anyone interested in a little conversation. As an impatient youngster, I wondered why we didn’t just push the pedal down and get where we were going. As a senior now, I understand my dad had it right all along, and he didn’t have to be old to understand the value of enjoying the moment. By the way, we just discovered the Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes. Different, but very tasty. I went and bought my own plant yesterday so I could enjoy more later this fall. Thanks for the good thoughts and memories.

    Reply
  5. Jim Roberts - June 25, 2017 1:53 pm

    Well said….!!!!

    Reply
  6. Cathi Russell - June 25, 2017 2:21 pm

    Shawn, you’ve got your priorities exactly where they should be. Great tomatoes, spectacular dogs and a woman who loves you are never things to take for granted or not thanked the Good Lord for. I could have done without the bammer & his idiotic bumper sticker…

    Reply
  7. Linda Edwards - June 25, 2017 2:37 pm

    All of could possibly add to that is a hearty AMEN!

    Reply
  8. Teresa terry - June 25, 2017 2:54 pm

    Makes me want to take a long lazy drive and see this beautiful country!

    Reply
  9. Judy Miller - June 25, 2017 3:28 pm

    A lot of those things you haven’t seen aren’t worth the trip, especially if, to get there, you gotta take an expressway. A nice drive in the country on a summer day is worth 100 visits to the Washington Monument!!

    Reply
    • Joyce - June 25, 2017 5:46 pm

      Yes!

      Reply
  10. Sandi - June 25, 2017 5:01 pm

    This “lazy drive” story makes me yearn for a tasty summer tomato!
    Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz finally learned, we don’t have to travel very far to see what’s beautiful and important. Sometimes it’s in our own back yard.

    Reply
  11. Robin cotton - June 25, 2017 5:01 pm

    It took me years to figure out that there is no place like home.

    Reply
  12. Joyce - June 25, 2017 5:44 pm

    Born and bred in SW Georgia and am familiar with the places mentioned in your essay. Guess I’m lazy too because if I never again leave this Deep South slice of Heaven on earth I will die a happy woman. Thanks, Sean. You remind me one more time just how blessed I am.

    Reply
  13. Verena Nix - June 25, 2017 6:29 pm

    Amen.

    Reply
  14. Regina Peavy - June 25, 2017 8:08 pm

    Amen! It’s taken me way too long…💜

    Reply
  15. Bobby Reeder - June 25, 2017 10:19 pm

    Loved this journey with you! My wife and I were born and raised in Dothan (high school sweethearts). We live in the peach state now just up the road from Greg’s peach orchard. The only thing I can think of that might come close to a Slocomb tomato experience is biting into one of Greg’s just picked peaches as the sweet juice runs down your chin. Slocomb, here we come!

    Reply
  16. Paula Link - June 25, 2017 11:43 pm

    If you had turned north on Main Street (it’s unpaved north of Hwy 54) in Malvern and gone a mile or so you would have found the farm where my grandparents raised three kids, and my son is raising my two grandkids. And all of us love Slocomb tomatoes!

    Reply
  17. Kathy burgess - June 26, 2017 3:57 am

    If God quit making those divinely delicious southern summer tomatoes I’d just have to ask to bring right on up to Heaven because I just don’t think I could live without them.

    Reply
  18. Saundra Kelley - June 26, 2017 4:35 am

    How well I remember Slocumb, Alabama tomatoes and Mt. Olive sweet pickles. My former husband’s aunt was a farmer who grew those tomatoes and tiny pickling cucumbers in fields next to their old wooden house with its shaded front porch. It was surrounded by oaks and pecan trees. On dirt roads nearby kudzu wrapped itself around dilapidated houses and wrestlers in pink sponge curlers ran the roads to the next match.
    Love what you are doing – Saundra

    Reply
  19. Dru - June 26, 2017 5:26 am

    Heaven is bound to have, besides chummy lions and lambs, wolves and kids, etc., fields of Slocomb tomatoes and Chilton County peaches. I hope my dad is having his tomatoes the way he loved them, slices swimming in my grandmother’s hand-churned butter in the middle of a hot fresh biscuit. I hope she and my mother keep him well provided with fresh peach cobblers.

    The terrible thing about Slocomb tomatoes and fresh Alabama and Georgia peaches is that you can have them just a few months each year, and during all the other months, you just have to wait.

    Heaven will get it right.

    Reply
  20. Jon Dragonfly - June 26, 2017 9:17 am

    Oh, YES, Chilton County peaches! I’ve long said that they are better than any Georgia peach.

    And then…there is Conecuh sausage! MMmmmmm….

    Reply
  21. Gloria - June 26, 2017 12:08 pm

    What memories this brings back! Our momma was raised in Ponce de Leon and her family was from Black, AL and Esto. Gosh, would love to be in the backseat of our grandparent’s car headed to visit relatives who lived in small rural country homes. Wish I could take Highway Two all the way across the Panhandle of God’s Eden and listen to the remembrances of my sweet grandparents again.

    Reply
  22. Jack Quanstrum - June 26, 2017 1:36 pm

    Great way to start the morning Sean, reading about the deep south and being lazy. Your descriptions and words are more relaxing than any meditation tape I ever listened to. And being grateful, wow it’s the best thing in the world to be at peace where we are right now for the soul. Thank God for the deep south your writings and another day to enjoy them.

    Reply
  23. Chris Lacy - June 26, 2017 6:32 pm

    Sean,

    I just found your writings in the last week. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your view of the world we live in. I can feel the warm summer nights and see the people’s faces. Places and people that I’ve grown up around enjoyed, loved and probably didn’t pay enough attention to. Thank you

    Reply
  24. carolyn goodson - June 26, 2017 8:23 pm

    I REALY REALY LOVE THIS !!!

    Reply
  25. George Claridy - June 27, 2017 12:03 am

    I see those same things as we travel back and forth from Georgia to Carillon Beach.
    You forgot to mention those unbelievable oak trees on that ride…my favorite. (And chickens)

    Reply
  26. Sharon J. Wilson - June 27, 2017 11:25 pm

    What a joy you bring to me.

    Reply
  27. Anne Trawick - June 28, 2017 2:35 am

    And every day, you make me so grateful to be Southern.

    Reply
  28. Annette Bailey - August 14, 2017 9:20 am

    Dear Sean,
    Your memories align with so many folks. Already, I have family and friends who enjoy reminiscing with you…your stories. My husband and I have this thing we do each night where I read to him. Yours is always the first story because usually, you’re talking about an area we are familiar with and the love you have for the southern way of life is just like ours. And btw, I’ve never even liked the smell of a tomato but my husband loves them. I hate the many times he’s had to make his own tomato sandwich. I know, it’s awful and I do, on occasion, volunteer to get out the knife and mayonaise. But it’s okay…come the 24th of this month, he’s been making his own tomato sandwiches for 38 yrs. so I guess he don’t mind! Thanks again for a good read!

    Reply
  29. Linda - August 14, 2017 10:27 am

    It’s 5am here and by reading today’s story my deep deep memories are flooding to the front. I married at 15. A shotgun wedding so to speak. He was 8 years older than me and already been married before. I had to have a letter from my principal saying that I was married and had a baby before I could go to work at a Shirt Factory at 16. We rented an old farmhouse in Tennessee. We paid $10 per month rent ( yep ten dollars ) if we agreed to look after the lady’s cows. I remember the first time we bought groceries. We needed EVERYTHING. We had so many Brown paper sacks filled with anything you can imagine to stock a kitchen. Our total was $40 bucks! Today I’d have to take out a loan to shop that way.

    Reply
  30. David Wright - August 14, 2017 10:44 am

    I was born in Geneva. My father was from Bonifay. Many times up and down the highway to Montgomery where we lived. The car was always filled with boiled peanuts to keep us kids happy.

    Reply
  31. Dianne - August 14, 2017 11:31 am

    Thank you Sean. My husband and I travel several times a year and we always try to take the blue highways whenever we can. Everybody needs to get off the Interstates and reconnect with real life again.

    Reply
  32. Mary Ann Massey - August 14, 2017 12:44 pm

    The Eiffel tower and San Francisco sunrise can be passed by….but you REALLY do need to see the Washington Monument….

    Reply
  33. Jonathan - August 14, 2017 1:14 pm

    I’ve seen the Eifel Tower, the Washington Monument, and a San Francisco sunrise (though the sunset was better). All beautiful sights well worth seeing. But my Twitter wallpaper is an Alabama Sunrise over I-20 near the St. Clair/Talladega County Line. Nothing beats scaring your passenger driving too fast over Double Oak Mountain because you know it better than the back of your own hand. I’ve seen Bonifay, I’ve been through the Wiregrass, backwards and forwards. I’ll never forget knowing where the turn was to my aunt’s house where the huge yellow dot was painted on the road (Barbour County in the 80s anyone?).

    I’ve been to some places I’ve only dreamed I’d ever get to see. And there are more on the list. But you bet your ass that when I’m done I’ll be back in Alabama sipping tea so sweet you’d think it’s nectar, wiping sweat from my brow even though I’m not moving and in the shade, and eating some homegrown tomato sandwiches. I’ve literally told people the world over that if they don’t know what’s special about Alabama it just means they’ve never been there.

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  34. Belinda Smith - August 14, 2017 1:36 pm

    Slocomb al my hometown we’re the tomatoes are so good they have a tomatoes festival we still have old country dirt roads love me some sweet tea everybody waves at everybody when passing you get a lot of bless your heart I live on the dirt road my grandpa Smith made wasn’t even one there till then that was many years .ago now it’s named Immanuel rd and is rather be rightvwere i am with the quiet days and nights no big city lights just a yard light if your lucky enjoyed reading your story. Belinda

    Reply
  35. Emily - August 14, 2017 2:26 pm

    This might be your best one yet. I traveled right along with you. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  36. Burch Poole - August 14, 2017 10:20 pm

    Been there & done all you wrote about.

    Reply
  37. Kat - August 16, 2017 12:53 pm

    My grandparents lived in Slocomb. They owned the grocery store/gas station that was on the edge of town. When Geneva County was dry, my granddaddy (and later, my older cousins) would drive down to Esto to buy a beer. My grandmother made her own muscadine wine for her Lane cakes.

    I love the memories of eating hot boiled peanuts fresh off the stove, sitting in my grandmother’s fig tree eating figs and reading books, fireworks wars out in the fields behind their house, and loading up in the back of my uncle’s truck for a trip down the dirt roads.

    Reply

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