Small South

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.

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.

20 comments

  1. Linda - May 1, 2017 1:56 pm

    Great way to start a new week. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Sherry Saunders - May 1, 2017 2:08 pm

    I would not trade being raised in a small town for all the money in the world. And hey Sean,
    next time you are in Marianna, FL please come by the Florida Peanut Producers Assn.
    on Penn Avenue and I will fix you up with some good ol’ roasted, salted “Florida”
    peanuts. We need rain right now so our farmers can plant and rain on the things that
    are already planted. I’ve been praying for some and maybe we will get it today.
    Thanks for your wonderful words; I am enjoying your writing everyday now!

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - May 1, 2017 2:12 pm

    Sean, I have just been introduced to you by a dear friend & it is the most wonderful intro EVER! You make me grin from ear to ear. Happy May Day!

    Reply
  4. jo langston - May 1, 2017 2:16 pm

    So much like my small town in Chilton County, Alabama/Maplesville. You writing draws me in because of your talent for making the story so vivid as if I’m right there with those good southern folks you write about. Thanks for sharing. Makes me proud to be a southerner. —Jo Langston, Panama City, FL

    Reply
  5. Laura Young - May 1, 2017 2:24 pm

    Born in a doctor’s office in Ozark, AL, back before being born in a hospital was the thing to do, I can relate. Had Granddaddies who raised cotton and peanuts, drove wagons the miles into Ozark from “the country” where they lived, had circuit preachers, “sangin’s” at the church. This post also made me remember my days of nursing at Bay Medical Center in PC. I was there in 1985 when a rather minor hurricane was headed our way. The hospital was full (no way we could easily evacuate so we decided to stay and sit it out) and Tyndall AFB called to send us their few critical patients cause they were hauling ass out of there in a bus with their ambulatory patients -going all the way to Ft Rucker in Ozark. Our nursery was windows all around so we moved mamas and babies to the hallway. Nurses brought their kids to our auditorium where I sent folks to entertain them. The local media heard the doctor’s recommendations that all pregnant women “within 2 weeks” of due date should come to the hospital and said “within 2 months” so all women nearby who were 7 months or more pregnant showed up and didn’t want to leave no matter that we said the media got it wrong.. Drop in barometric pressure did lead to more baby deliveries than usual so we were overflowing with babies. It could have been called a circus, except everybody pulled together to keep it under control and nervously watched the approach of the hurricane, which, I am sure because of the uplifted prayers veered 30 miles east and missed giving PC a direct hit. Looking back I think of it as a great experience..Thanks for the memories, Sean.

    Reply
    • Lori Klein - June 26, 2017 10:12 am

      Now that you’ve survived it, what a grand day to have been there! That’s a wonderful story. And those babies born that day, well they’re extra special, I’m sure, and they’ve heard that story a thousand times. But I never have. Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  6. Joann Sparling - May 1, 2017 2:35 pm

    I was introduced to your site by my daughter and it is my favorite.
    I was born and raised in a small town and would not trade it for
    anything. Some people have no idea what they missed!!

    Reply
  7. Kay Keel - May 1, 2017 2:53 pm

    I had to stop reading and sing “Father Abraham Had Many Sons” and “Zaccheus Was A Wee Little Man” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho”! Thanks for the memories Sean!

    Reply
  8. Sharon - May 1, 2017 3:03 pm

    Sean, When you mentioned Two Egg, I am reminded of my husband and I going to Gainesville, Florida to drag race our top fuel motorcycle. Really miss going through Two Egg.

    Reply
  9. Mary Moon - May 1, 2017 3:23 pm

    Sitting here on my porch in North Florida, not that far from Two Egg, eating a cheese and tomato sandwich and sweating.
    Nice to hear you were in my neck of the woods. I live in a house built in 1859 in a village just east of Tallahassee. I say “village” but I’m not exactly sure what its official title is. We have a post office housed in an old train station, a gas station, and a vehicle repair shop. Also? Many, many churches. We have creeks, woods, tiny old cemeteries hidden in the trees, and plenty of people who are…well, we choose to live here, don’t we?
    The train track runs right along the back of my property. Probably about ten yards from my chicken coop. There are more trains running than most people realize.
    I love it all.

    Reply
  10. Jennifer Mary Lee - May 1, 2017 3:41 pm

    I just had to give a shout out to Jo Langston. I had really great memories of hitting the Dollar General in Maplesville with a good friend, who was from Plantersville. Of course, we really went to hit the best little hamburger joint next to it! They also had the best catfish and fries! Always got it to go (one table there!) so we could go eat in the rockers on her front porch. Maplesville is a nice small town, guilty of your recollections, Sean. Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  11. Virginia Hollowell - May 1, 2017 4:06 pm

    North Carolina here–checking in–that is as far north as I wanta be—gottta tell you somethin’—back in the day when the USof A was gettin’ settled—folks from NC went south to AL., GA, Fla, Mississippi—land was free, sort of, and farms here were filling up—all those fine folk you speak of are descendants of those NC folks— all from good NC stock—100cousin many times removed (not all that far removed—have some who are 1st cousins and even a misplaced daughter who is in B’ham— love your stories

    Reply
  12. Judy Miller - May 2, 2017 1:35 am

    My ancestor’s settled here in 1855. My sister lives in the Big House–built in 1857, my son up the road 1/8 mile on my parents farm and my daughter down the road 1/2 mile on my grand parents farm–where I raised my kids. 4 miles west of a small village, where even to this day, all deals are settled with a hand shake. Good, honest, God fearing, helpful people. The only real difference I see in your small towns and ours? We order ice tea with lemon and you order sweet tea. We call it “pop” and you call it “Coke”. Judy, from the Mitten State.

    Reply
  13. Gail Stewart - May 2, 2017 1:49 am

    Great article! Small town USA 🇺🇸 that’s me and my parents and my grandparents and right on down the line!

    Reply
  14. Larry Hardin - May 2, 2017 7:12 am

    Good one Old Son.

    Reply
  15. Steve Bonnell - May 2, 2017 4:00 pm

    A true description of the old south as seen and lived thru my eyes back in the day. I couldn’t have done a more accurate setting if it had of been done via a photograph. Now my time frame was set in the late 60’s thru the 70’s so you can get an idea of my perception of time and reality as I lived it back in the days gone by. As the saying goes, those definitely were the good ole days!

    Reply
  16. Mary Hennis - May 5, 2017 1:16 am

    I can’t relate to peanut farming but I can say that growing up in rural Alabama (Chatom, Al to be exact) and living 300 yards from the city limits, we had three gardens. We raised our own cows and had them butchered. Took the corn to a corn mill and had it ground for the cornbread. So, when we sat down to eat, everything we ate came from our farm. It was wonderful tasting food back then.

    Reply
  17. Doug Crews - June 26, 2017 8:22 am

    Palatka 😎!

    Reply
  18. Cindy Donahue - June 26, 2017 9:32 am

    Words so clearly painting panoramas that I can also feel, taste and smell seem to flow as surely and easily as the Sewanee. Thank you for the ride. I need the short, sweet vacations your writings allow.

    Reply
  19. Deanna J - June 26, 2017 1:18 pm

    Gainestown, Al. Is but a speck on the map, one store, and a post office, 2 miles from the Alabama river, we feel this sweat! Love your post!

    Reply

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