I drove two-lane highways. Old bridges. Township after township. Unincorporated dots on a map.

This is a hole-in-the-wall. They have napkin dispensers on tables, burgers that need warning labels from the surgeon general.

There are deer antlers above the cash register. My waitress has bottle-blonde hair and talks like a pack of Menthol Lights.

I’ve spent the day driving the best parts of America. I passed towns no bigger than bowling alleys. I pumped gas at places that don’t accept credit-cards.

And just this morning, I used an antique Case pocket knife to fix a fuel line in my truck.

It’s the Americanest of pocket knives. I don’t always carry this particular knife—I’m too afraid of losing it.

It belonged to an American man. A dead man. Who, from toddlerhood, was hell-bent on joining the military. Who got rejected because of his bad American ear.

I passed farms. Acres of red rows. I passed hillsides. I saw the foothills. My God. The foothills.

I drove two-lane highways. Old bridges. Township after township. Unincorporated dots on a map.

In one town, I saw a flag hanging from an antebellum house. It was draped over an ornate balcony. I had to pinch myself to make sure the War Between the States was over.

There were kids riding bikes in the street. They were hollering, laughing.

You don’t see as much bike-riding as you used to. One news report claimed the percentage of kids who ride bikes to school is in the point-zero-zero-digits.

Maybe so. But not here. I stopped my truck to let them cross the street. I waved. They waved back.

Small towns.

Outside town, I found this restaurant—if you can call it that. I almost missed it. It was behind a gas station.

There were only three or four folks inside. The waitress asked if I wanted sweet tea—and that’s how she said it.

She didn’t say: “What can I get you to drink?” Or: “What’ll it be?”

She said, “You want sweet tea, darlin’?”

I did. She brought me a glass of brown sugar with an ice cube in it.

I have my laptop. It’s on the table. I’m typing while I eat.

“You some kinda writer or something?” she asks.

“Sort of.”

“What’cha writing?”

I tell her I’m writing about America. A place I am so fond of, I don’t often visit places on the globe whose addresses don’t end in “U.S. Of A.”

This is my heaven. A land of rodeos, crawfish boils, Zydeco, major-league contracts, moonshine, stetson hats, paper-mills, Gideon Bibles, and fatty hamburgers.

My ancestors are cattlemen, steelworkers, washerwomen, hammer-swingers, millworkers, guitar pickers, and dirt farmers. They will lay me down right here.

“You gonna write about me?” my waitress asks.

“You want me to?”

“Might as well, I’m about as American as they come.”

I like this woman. She’s sassy.

“No really,” she says. “My dad was in the Air Force, I grew up on air bases. My brothers were all three in the Army. My husband served two tours in Vietnam, one of my sons is active duty. I’m real proud.”

Yes ma’am. I will most certainly write about you.

In fact, I’ll save you for last.

17 comments

  1. Tom - April 27, 2017 9:55 am

    Thx for the memories.

    Reply
  2. Katherine Edwins Schumm - April 27, 2017 11:33 am

    Still speaking to me and my experience, and it is thrilling. Thank you. However, I am seventy and mostly what I am responding to are the warm places which trigger nostalgia and force me to remember. I watch my adult grandchildren and ask them what warms them and makes them nostalgic and the answers are different. It saddens me, but if I am real, sadness is probably the response of most of us. As an ‘elder’ I want to reinforce roots in my younger family members, the things that will warm them when they are seventy. Will they have those lovely memories or will they just be different? Do I have a fiduciary responsibility to encourage them to pay attention. They find their wings on their own, I want them to remember their roots for later. Thanks for reminding me of mine.

    Reply
  3. Lilli Ann Snow - April 27, 2017 12:32 pm

    You are sweet tea on a salt-sweaty afternoon, Sean of the South.

    I may be writing about you last, too.

    Reply
  4. Virginia Hollowell - April 27, 2017 12:39 pm

    you are something seldom found today– you listen–many do not–and then you look for the good—many do not
    so thank you, listener

    Reply
  5. Cynthia Broaddrick - April 27, 2017 1:52 pm

    (((smile)))

    Reply
  6. CJPIcker - April 27, 2017 3:18 pm

    “a glass of brown sugar with an ice cube in it”. At the top of your trade today Sean.

    Reply
  7. George Buchanan - April 27, 2017 4:01 pm

    Sounds just like some of the places from my younger days. Look forward to your stories everyday!

    Reply
  8. Sandra Lee Van Dam - April 27, 2017 5:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing your America. It’s different than the one I currently live in. Suburbs. Big city (Denver,CO) Getting more crowded by the minute. Too much stress for me and the hubby. He’s working so hard for us. I grew up in small towns in central NY State. Sure miss it. Your posts help me remember what is really important in life.

    Reply
  9. Charles Walts - April 27, 2017 6:02 pm

    A great article.

    Reply
  10. Kathryn - April 27, 2017 6:41 pm

    Well said. Now this Georgia girl feels the need to go for a drive.

    Reply
  11. Sam Hunneman - April 27, 2017 6:57 pm

    Katherine Edwins Schumm, you are a wise, wise woman. I suspect that your adult grandkids (lucky you!) have enough of your genes to recognize their roots when they see ’em. I’ve just been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “High Tide In Tucson”. It begins with a hermit crab scooped up by mistake in the Bahamas and transported back to the Arizona desert, and the critter’s patterns led her to believe that he was responding to high tide… even though, as she notes, the largest water source in the vicinity was the local sewage treatment center! Our ways may evolve, our memories may swing toward different values, I so hope that we, as a species, never lose our appreciation for the simple pleasures. Today’s, here in Maine, are red-flannel hash with vinegar!

    Reply
  12. June RouLaine Phillips i - April 27, 2017 7:48 pm

    It sounds like my way back from Mobile yesterday….Never go the interstate.

    Reply
  13. LindaD - April 27, 2017 8:32 pm

    “… a glass of brown sugar with an ice cube in it.” Yes, that’s what craving right now after reading your latest, Sean. Thanks once again.

    Reply
  14. Nancy - April 27, 2017 10:20 pm

    You’re as American as you can be, Sean. Me, too, praise the Lord!

    I have to share this. While I was pecking out praise the Lord on my tiny iPhone keyboard, it auto-corrected to Roll Tide! You can’t make that stuff up.

    So, Praise the Lord …. and Roll Tide!

    Reply
  15. Libby - April 28, 2017 2:40 am

    Keep on writing your great little stories.
    I read you every night before I turn out the light. Pleasant dreams.0

    Reply
  16. Michael Hawke - April 28, 2017 3:03 am

    My Dad handed his pocket knife to a man who was sharpening knives at a gun show. It was an old Case knife. The guy begged my Dad for about 20 minutes to sell it to him. He only carried Case and they were all old.

    Reply
  17. Donna. Goebel - April 28, 2017 3:06 am

    This was my life. The people I knew. My family .
    I ran away from it because that America can also be cruel and demanding. I had a different dream.
    Still, I remember and sometimes long for it. I never belonged. That was 50 years ago..
    I loved reading this. Thank you, Donna. Goebel

    Reply

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