The Long Way Here

I came to a four-way stop in the middle of pasture. It looked like God had hand-drawn a dirt cross in a cotton field. I pulled over. Cranked the windows.

I took a long drive yesterday. It was accidental. I was only supposed to visit Geneva, Alabama on business. But I got distracted.

Sunshine does that to me.

I practically grew up in a truck bench-seat, taking drives. Daddy and I would pile in and run the roads for no reason. He’d say, “God, calling this weather perfect would be a grave understatement.”

Then we’d head for nowhere. We’d chew black licorice, he’d sip a beer can.

Anyway, since I didn’t have anything pressing to do, I pointed my truck in whichever direction felt easiest. Ellie Mae laid in the seat beside me—sawing logs.

The scenery: fields, corn rows, pine forests. Bass ponds with cattails on the edges. Pastures green enough to kill.

I stopped at a gas station where I found black licorice. I bought three packs.

One for me, two for Daddy.

More driving. I went for a few hours. It’s funny, sometimes the older I get, the more like a child I feel. If you were to call me a responsible adult, you’d be making a grave overstatement.

I passed places like Bellwood, and Clayhatchee. I’ll bet they don’t get too worked up in Bellwood.

I ran over the gentle Choctaw. I cruised by an old woman reclining on her porch-sofa, spitting. She waved.

You haven’t lived until you’ve sat on a porch-sofa, swatting the back of your neck.

I drove past junky areas. Clapboard houses, moldy—prettier than new siding could ever be. And overgrown lawns.

Manicured yards make me nervous. Boys can’t chase lizards in short grass. And even if they could, why would they?

I zipped past trees as big around as wagon wheels. Rusted trailers. Dilapidated satellite dishes. A broke-down service garage that went belly-up fifty years ago. A church missing its front door.

I came to a four-way stop in the middle of pasture. It looked like God had hand-drawn a dirt cross in a cotton field. I pulled over. Cranked the windows.

I watched clouds and talked to Daddy. Asked him how he’s been getting on.

A police cruiser rolled behind me. He was a friendly fella. He wore no gun on his belt, and enjoyed petting Ellie.

He asked if I was lost.

As it happens, I was. But I was in no hurry to fix it. I was too busy visiting a friend who left me without saying goodbye.

The deputy gave me directions back to the highway, then said, “You enjoy yourself out here. Ain’t this weather perfect?”

It was a grave understatement.

Daddy never touched his licorice.

16 comments

  1. Maureen - October 10, 2016 7:03 pm

    Once again I love this recapturing of childhood – and its simplicity.

    Reply
    • Melanie Miller - April 2, 2017 12:47 pm

      I love just riding around. I love to stop in the little stores that sell “junk” and pilfer through. Interesting people in those little places.

      Reply
  2. Cathy Lemlyn - April 2, 2017 11:36 am

    Sean, I wake each morning and read your story of the day. You paint pictures of the simpler times and way of life that was and still is the south. You take me back to our baby blue Galaxie 500. Rides to nowhere with Daddy and Mans through the Arkansas countryside. Tall pines, sweet gums and oaks going by the window as two little girls sat on the hot vinyl seats with the wind blowing our hair. We’d stop at a country store with a screen door. Daddy would get a big chunk of red rind cheese and a loaf of white bread. Jane (my sister) and I would pick out a soda from the ice box. I’d take a strawberry crush and she a chocolate soldier. Daddy would get his pocket knife out and we’d get our chunk of cheese and bread. We might stop at a park , often one with a hand pump. That water sure did stink of sulphur, but was icy cold on a summer day. Maybe we’d find a creek tumbling over rocks, crystal clear and cold. Felt so good to our feet, usually ending up with a water fight and a whole lot of giggling. Daddy and my sister Jane are gone now . I have so many memories stored of them. You take me back to those memories Sean. Thank you and God bless you for sharing your life and gift of stories with us.

    Reply
  3. Cathy Lemlyn - April 2, 2017 11:39 am

    correction (Mama)

    Reply
  4. Kimberly Wilkins - April 2, 2017 12:56 pm

    I grew up in Graceville, FL. Went to church in Fadette, AL (just south of Slocomb there in Geneva County). I now live in DeFuniak Springs, FL and my oldest is about to get married in Samson, AL (also Geneva County). I wrote all this to say, Geneva County is God’s country. I’ve spent countless hours riding her dirt roads in the front of my dad’s pick-up, either riding or driving. When you write these stories it’s as though we were riding together. Like cousins who don’t get to see much of each other, but you love them like siblings. I can never express the feelings that overwhelm me when I read your stories. Thank you yet again for using your God given talent and putting pen to paper.

    Reply
    • Ruby Hughes - April 7, 2017 3:51 am

      I live in Slocomb and I have many fond memories here . I’m originally from Cataula , Ga

      Reply
  5. mary ann elliso - April 2, 2017 1:06 pm

    I recently discovered your writings, and I must say I enjoy reading them more than anything I watch on tv or read in other publications. I work in Geneva and I would be honored to meet you if you happen that way again. Don’t stop writing. We feel your emotions and share them. Not many people can evoke feelings in others by their words and stories.

    Reply
  6. Nancy Kane - April 2, 2017 1:33 pm

    There is just something spiritual about driving the backroads. It’s a reset of sorts.

    Reply
  7. Kathy Petersen - April 2, 2017 1:55 pm

    A great read as always. Even if it is about memories i don’t have it brings back memories of my own youth….Sunday drives in the mountains of West Virginia….my 7 years living out of the south.

    Reply
  8. Tracy Haley - April 2, 2017 2:33 pm

    My Daddy, was the County Engineer when Tallahassee, Fl was a small town in the early 60’s. One McDonalds, downtown was where you shopped, schools that bore the names of committed educators, that kind of place. He would load my sister and I into the front of his county car and drive the backroads of Leon County with us. Teaching us about the engineering of roads, but also about life in general. It is where my love for a dirt road began and to this day, there is nothing I like better than a country road in the middle of nowhere. Keep writing.

    Reply
  9. Robbie Mitchell - April 2, 2017 7:34 pm

    I grew up in Emterprise and moved to Geneva, Al when I was 16. I thought my world had ended. There was only one or two
    Things to do: ride around and around the truck route or park at the Snack Out (now a chiropractor office). That building had a big hamburger painted on the side of it. But inside was the best pink (made with beets) dressing to eat with anything from chicken fingers to salad.
    It took me awhile to begin to like Geneva. I quickly got a job at the only place to buy what you needed- TG&Y! This was days before Walmart came South! I met almost everyone in Geneva County at that store. I met a lot of kids that o would be going to school with in the fall, so it wasn’t so bad. I graduated from Geneva and years later I left to see the world. Only to return back to Alabama – Huntsville and then making home in Guntersville, Alabama. Guntersville is a place everyone should at least visit. It fills my void of needing to be an hour or so from the beach. If you live in Geneva, you can leave work at 5 and have dinner and watch the sunset in Panama City Beach.

    Now 38 years later, I long to go and live in the place my children called, “the place where there is nothing to do”. If I didn’t have children and grandchildren within 5 minutes from my home, I would be traveling through the dirt roads of Geneva and going through Clayhatchee (got a ticket there once- probably the only time I wasn’t speeding) on my way to Dothan or even just to ride and gaze at the fields of soybeans and peanuts. Sean, you were in God’s Country!

    Reply
  10. Carl L. Hess, CW4 (USA Retired) - April 2, 2017 9:37 pm

    I grew up on a tenant dirt farm in Nacogdoches Co, TX which is much like South AL. I came here in 1963 for flight school at Ft. Rucker and married the organist of the Ozark Baptist Church. When I retired from the army in 1982, I came back to Ozark to work at Ft Bucker as an instructor pilot for 23 years. I enjoy your columns as I can visualize the journeys you take.

    Reply
  11. Beverly - April 3, 2017 1:29 am

    Can so relate to that drive…..and all the feelings of growing up here in Defuniak Springs….thanks for your words.

    Reply
  12. Sherry Ann McCormick - April 3, 2017 9:30 pm

    I am from Geneva and a year and a half ago I moved back home to be with my mom. I thought maybe, I’d take care of her but the truth is, she has been taking care of me. Thank you for writing in a style that makes us all slow down. That’s how my life has been the last two years, slowed down. Before that my mind traveled at the speed of light. Trying to catch it just left me in darkness. The most amazing thing though happened when I slowed down. I started seeing the Light. Thank you again for lowering the gears, and as you say, cranking the windows.

    Reply
  13. Thressa - April 5, 2017 3:44 am

    I love the back roads as seen from behind my husband on his V-Strom. Georgia has beautiful farm houses. I love the old ones. We smell a lot of “money” on these Georgia roads.
    My husband said his dad liked to get out and travel. His dad said you were never lost as long as you have a full tank of gas.

    Reply
  14. Kim Tate - April 7, 2017 11:42 am

    I grew up in Geneva County , Hartford to be exact. I loved every word of this article. You hit it right on the head. I cruised lots of dirt roads and I have to say there is nothing to compare with your windows down . My husband and I love to ride the back roads wherever we are traveling. He reminds me often that interstates and highways are there to just get you somewhere fast. But the best part is what’s in between . Sadly the in between gets forgotten at times but it’s a peaceful treasure hunt for us #taterpickers.

    Reply

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