I left town early, headed home. I pulled off to watch the sunrise over a peanut field. I almost ran into a ditch, parking on the shoulder.
This small highway is old. And like most old roads in these small parts, it has no true shoulder.
Only a ditch.
I’m eating a breakfast sandwich from Hardee’s. It’s not good, but it’s warm.
The higher the sun gets, the louder the birds talk. They’re just waking up. So am I. And it’s humid. Warm April mornings like this can make you sweat buckets.
I love to sweat.
I’ve been out West a few times. I hiked the Grand Canyon and didn’t sweat a drop all week. It was too dry. The rocks were pretty, but I missed sweating.
As soon as my airplane touched down in Bay County, my underarms and drawers were already damp.
Once, I accompanied a Little League team on an out-of-town trip to Mobile. The van’s air conditioner quit working. The vehicle smelled like little-boy sweat and stinky feet.
The boys opened the windows and sang, “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” and “Father Abraham Had Many Sons,” and “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.”
The harder they sang, the more they stunk. Sweating and singing go together.
Take, for instance, the Freedom Hill Gospel quartet. I saw them sing in Marianna, Florida a few days ago. The high-tenor was from Two Egg. He wore a John Deere cap, and testified to folks in lawn chairs who applauded when he hit the high notes.
He was sweating. So were members of the quartet. And could those jokers ever sing. Southern Gospel quartets can’t sing like that unless their high-tenor is sweating through his shirt.
Anyway, take out a map. Place your finger anywhere in the bottom right-hand corner of the United States. That’s where you’ll find the kinds of small places I’m talking about.
Places with abandoned Coca-Cola bottling plants, brick grain silos, and ugly boats that run across the rolling Apalachicola.
Also beneath your finger: miles of peanut fields, and a thousand eighteen-wheelers riding shoulder-less highways.
And people. People who sweat for a living.
Here, we have PE teachers who run trotlines after work—not because it’s fun, but because it saves on grocery bills. And kids who still catch crawfish with homemade pillow-traps.
People who run shelters for elderly ex-prisoners, just released.
Women who organize funeral committees. And grown men who say “yessir” to anyone old enough to shave.
State troopers who work as part-time chaplains. County clerks who run animal rescues on weekends. Farmers who did not finish eighth grade, but can lecture on seed germination to any agriculture major.
There are people here, too busy helping neighbors paint their houses to watch shocking reality TV. And there are places where front-page news isn’t about sex-scandals and politics, but the Friday night game.
Yeah, I know. Small towns aren’t all fairy dust and glitter. But, by God, they’re genuine. And they’re worth every drop of sweat it takes to keep them that way.
You ought to see this sunrise.