I meet Don, who works in concrete. Billy, who repairs small engines. Steve, who is still looking for work since he quit truck driving. Cassie, who studies stage-acting in Atlanta and works for local newspapers.

The rural South looks good at six in the evening. The sun is low. The peanut fields are so green they’re blue. The grain silos are rusty.

We drive through Slocomb, home of the Tomato Festival. We pass through Tabernacle. I’ll bet they don’t get too worked up in Tabernacle.

And we arrive in Hartford. They tell me this is quite a town. The small community sits in the middle of the Fruited Plains, and it is quintessential Little America.

Nice-looking homes. Old churches. A boy walks on a sidewalk. His dog follows, off-leash.

The public library is a brick building which also serves as courthouse, community center, historical museum, and a reception hall for wedding parties.

I’m in town tonight to speak. I play guitar in a room that’s roughly the size of a baptismal tank. I tell a few stories on a microphone.

I have no earthly idea what I’m doing.

Afterward, I am fortunate enough to shake hands with God’s finest people. They are walking-talking masterpieces from Ozark, Wicksburg, Clayhatchee, High Bluff, Bellwood, Earlytown, Dundee, Malvern, Taylor, Circle City, Slocomb, and Fadette.

I meet a tomato farmer, a cotton farmer, a watermelon farmer, a corn farmer, a goat farmer, an ostrich farmer, a cattle farmer, a tractor mechanic, an twelve-year-old girl who raises show hogs and is strong enough to arm wrestle an adult male.

There is a woman with a walker. She is ninety, with flour-white hair. Martha Green is her name. She has large eyes that sparkle. She eats a cookie and tells me what FSU was like before it turned co-ed.

J.C. shakes my hand. He is a big man with mitts like frying pans, who shares my affection for poundcake.

There is Mandie: five-foot-tall, sweet, gives good hugs, doesn’t know strangers. And former Miss Slocomb gives me a full basket of tomatoes.

If I can find a saltshaker, these tomatoes won’t last ten minutes.

Austin shows me cellphone photos of his magnificent little girl. His mother beams. Heaven hath no greater blessing than grannies.

I meet Don, who works in concrete. Billy, who repairs small engines. Steve, who is still looking for work since he quit truck driving. Cassie, who studies stage-acting in Atlanta and works for local newspapers.

Allison and her husband brought their boys tonight. They’re nice-looking boys who shake hands like grown men.

A Methodist minister pumps my hand, too. We discover we have some of the same friends. Small world. His wife—who is recovering from an allergic reaction to antibiotics—is with him. She’s as sweet as high fructose corn syrup.

Then, I meet a short older woman.

She stands by herself. We’ve never met before. She is quiet. She is thin, with serious eyes. She hugs like a professional. She doesn’t let me go. She says something into my ear.

“Your father is proud of you,” she tells me. “And I also want you to know that I love you.”

Her eyes are wet. And so are mine. She says nothing more. Because she’s already said enough.

Yes.

Hartford is quite a town.

18 comments

  1. Bill King - June 10, 2017 12:22 pm

    Hey Sean. Good one. The Hartford paper carries my column. Hey, I sent you a couple of emails about coming to Opelika in December, but I don’t think they are getting through. Give me a shout back please.

    Reply
  2. Fossil - June 10, 2017 12:33 pm

    Man, I love your blogs. They always bring my mind home…help me reconnect with what anchors my life and remind me that after my Navy time (submarines, 1980-1986) I could’ve lived anywhere in this whole wide world, but I came home to Birmingham. Your writings remind why I wanted to live nowhere else. You make me smile, too. Thank you, sir. Time for breakfast at the Waffle House, be safe and have a good day.

    Reply
  3. Joan Dake - June 10, 2017 1:54 pm

    Sean…you brighten the day for so many of us. Sometimes you do it through our tears, and sometimes through smiles and even laughter. May God Bless you and keep you writing.

    Reply
  4. Tammy Walker - June 10, 2017 2:12 pm

    You were a wonderful speaker, Sean. My husband’s step-mom was the Pound Cake lady at our church. She was also the chicken and dumpling lady but lest I digress… She passed away two years ago. My husband (the now orphan) was crying during your reading Pound Cake but don’t worry they were sweet tears. We both laugh ourselves silly.
    Do you have a list of appearances anywhere on your website? I’d love to bring some family to see you.

    Reply
  5. Judy Miller - June 10, 2017 2:31 pm

    WOW! Now I’m intrigued by the lady. Did she know your Daddy? Or does she follow your blog?
    Small towns are the best, aren’t they?

    Reply
  6. Linda - June 10, 2017 2:56 pm

    Sometimes angels show up when you least expect them.

    Reply
  7. Sandi - June 10, 2017 2:57 pm

    Sean, this is one of my favorite stories and one of your best, although I’ll probably say that often in the future about your other writings! Is there some way you can let all the wonderful people you met in Hartford know they were mentioned by name and made a favorable impact on your life in one evening? I think it would greatly interest each of them and bring an extra ray of happiness into their lives.

    Reply
  8. Jack Quanstrum - June 10, 2017 3:04 pm

    Wow! Your small town story captivated me. Each line tugged on my heart deeper and deeper until the final lines you wrote totally engulfed my heart. Almost teared up which is rarity for me. Thank God for real people, real stories and your willingness to write them. You have started my day with a home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and one man on base and brought home with your out of the park bomb!

    Reply
  9. Jeannie - June 10, 2017 6:12 pm

    What an angel your little lady is!! I met one this week just like that at the jewelry store. Said the right thing at the right time and gave me 3 of the best hugs I think I have ever had. Love your stories. I moved to a much smaller town for retirement, and though it is probably not as small as Hartford, I have met the most amazing, down to earth, caring people ever. Excuse me now while I go buy some REAL tomatoes and hunt for the salt!

    Reply
  10. Debbie Galladora - June 10, 2017 6:46 pm

    Geez, I love your words!

    Reply
  11. Molly - June 10, 2017 8:38 pm

    I love your stories, especially when you write about places that are close to my hometown, Troy. You write about the South I remember and am reassured that still exists, and feels very far away from Atlanta, except when I spot fireflies in the backyard.

    Reply
  12. Jo Brooks - June 10, 2017 8:45 pm

    Wow – I wish I had known you were coming to Hartford – I live down the road just a tad in Enterprise. I am a recent convert to your blog and I loved reading this one. You are spot on. I am a transplant from the rest of the world but since moving here I have learned how to hug like a professional and how to appreciate Southern charm and friendliness. I am glad you had a chance to see Hartford! Come to Enterprise next.

    Reply
  13. William L Hataway ( Larry) - June 10, 2017 11:16 pm

    From an Opp boy who has been away 37 years. You are great. About every place you write from I have been there. From one picker and dreamer keep on keeping on

    Reply
  14. Susan in Georgia - June 11, 2017 6:43 am

    (((Hugs)))
    💜💛 💙

    Reply
  15. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - June 11, 2017 1:24 pm

    Thank the good Lord you’re the sorry, un-friended, terrible writing, sum b*!+ch, Sally Sunshine, idiot we’ve all come to love! I’d take deleting and un-friending by the small bunch and wear it like a badge of honor. The Italian haute couture design duo of Dolce & Gabana has done just that as a result of people’s anger that they are designing for First Lady Trump. But I digress.

    There aren’t many times when I’m qualified to speak for everyone around here, especially late August through January. That is when my “Live Purple, Love Gold” life is under attack by the hounds tooth wearers, the Hotty Toddies, et al of our SEC brethren. But today I can say for all of us that we don’t merely want to read your work–we NEED to. Many of us live in cities, in soul-stealing houses with front load garages in neighborhoods where nobody comes outside–EVER. Our neighbors never met their cousins, got switch-whipped, or shot road signs with a bb gun. They wouldn’t know corn from soybeans or tobacco from cotton even if they stood to win a full set of monogrammed coolie cups.

    You’re writing about how Mam Maw taught us. They are real people and they inspire us. They are ‘our’ people. I’d even go further to say we don’t want to simply read about them. We’d like to work our way back to being like them.

    Your work is Mee Maw’s sweet tea in a sweaty mason jar, sir. Pass me a paper towel and I’ll take another glass.

    Reply
    • Joan Dake - June 11, 2017 1:54 pm

      Ditto to every word you wrote Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson!!!!!

      Reply
  16. Leigh rankin - June 13, 2017 12:07 am

    I can guarantee that your daddy is so very proud. My ex is from Andalusia, and I still have many friends in that part of the world. All of your stories ring so true, honest , and raw.

    Reply
    • Jack Quanstrum - June 13, 2017 12:11 am

      True, honest and raw. Perfect way to describe Seans stories!

      Reply

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