Tamara opened her eyes and found herself within in a realm of light and clouds. She was met by a man in a white robe who was apparently waiting for her.

The man was enormous, maybe 24 feet tall. His head was bald, his face was nothing but cotton whiskers.

He greeted her with a nod. Then he said, “Right this way, Tamara.”

And he began walking slowly onward. His feet were the size of jon boats.

“Wait,” Tamara said. “Where am I?”

He turned back. “If you would just follow me, please.”

“But I want to know where I am.”

No answer.

“Please tell me,” she insisted.

But he would not.

The man led her through a long corridor of more light, which led to another corridor, which led to 55 thousand more hallways.

Finally, they reached a tunnel that was made of glass. There was a sheen to this glass, sort of like a bubble from a vat of soapy water. Only this “bubble” was about the size of nine solar systems.

She jogged to catch up to him.

“Aren’t you going

to tell me where I am?” she said.

Apparently not.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” she said. “That’s what this is all about. Because I remember lying in bed… I can remember closing my eyes, and—”

The giant interrupted. “You are not dead. There is no such thing.”

“Then where am I?”


She glanced at the glass-bottom floor. She was adrift among the clouds, miles in the air. Beneath her toes was her hometown, and the natural landmarks she’d come to know on earth. Major highways. Trees. Rivers. Mountains. Canyons. The Gulf of Mexico.

They trudged for what seemed like a thousand miles. Or maybe it was only 12 feet. There was really no way to know, time and space sort of mushed together in this place.

Eventually, however, they reached a colossal archway.

They stopped…

Morning. I am seated on a bench in downtown Thomasville with the ghost of someone’s granny beside me. I can feel her spirit, whoever she is. This is her town, where life still ambles slowly. Being here is like taking a trip into the 1950s.

“Not a bad town, huh?” says the ghost.

She wears a bell hat, and a floral dress. Nobody can see her but me.

“It’s nice,” I say.

“City of Roses,” she tells me.

“How about that.”

“It’s changed some,” she says.

The flawless storefronts catch the morning sunlight, the birds are making noise, markets and cafés are opening. And the ghost is right, it’s perfect. All that’s missing is Opie Taylor.

“You from around here?” I ask the ghost.

She doesn’t answer.

It’s as though time has overlooked the City of Roses and its elderly patron saint. I look around and immediately travel backward into an earlier age. Her era.

An era when Americans were a little more innocent, and the highest technology we possessed was the KitchenAid mixer. A period before 5G wireless networks, before Netflix,

and before the advent of thong underwear.

On cue, a restored Chevy Bel Air passes us, rolling by slowly. Baby blue. White-walled tires. And I’m three quarters of a century away.

Truman is in office. Flags still wing from every post, pole, and porch. Ninety-seven percent of Americans still read a physical newspaper (whereas today it’s only 4 percent). Hitler’s War is long since over, our boys are home from hell. There are new possibilities in the wind.

The old woman is smiling now. We are back in her heyday.

This is the generation that features both the birth of rock and roll and the “Grand Ole Opry.” A time when mankind will begin producing Fords and Chevys with tail fins tall enough to slice low hanging telephone wires.

This historical period will also include the Cold War.…

It’s sunny in South Georgia. I am standing at the corner of Monroe Street and Crawford Street, in Thomasville, staring at a very big tree.

Trees do something to me. Something profound. Don’t ask me to explain this. I can’t.

I have seen the Grand Canyon at sunrise, I have hiked in southern Utah and dehydrated beneath a Western sky, I have ridden Highway 190 across Death Valley in an Isuzu Rodeo with a bad transmission, and do you know what? There were no live oak trees.

And I don’t want to live in a world where there are no live oaks.

The first time I saw this oak, I was a kid with a bladder the size of a teacup. I was every parent’s worst night terror when it came to road trips. I had the urinary system of a gerbil and I required potty-breaks every one to three minutes.

During one childhood trip across Florida, for example, I remember bouncing in the back seat of the family Ford, gyrating my hips, grabbing my

bladder region, and shouting, “I gotta go!”

“Can’t you hold it?!” yelled my father.

“I really, REALLY gotta go!”

My father pulled over immediately, tires screeching on the pavement, a plume of burnt-tire smoke trailing behind us. Transfer trucks honked. Speeding vehicles swerved.

I leapt out of the car and traipsed through an overgrown highway ditch, but it was too late. The Spirit of the Lord had already moved upon me. I was standing beneath a road sign which read THOMASVILLE—28 MI, and thoroughly peeing my pants.

When I got back to the car, my pants were saturated, and my parents were about to die of cardiac infarctions from laughing so hard.

So we stopped in Thomasville to purchase a new pair of trousers.

That day, we kicked around town, eating ice cream, and seeing the sights. The main attraction I remember was the Big…

“Sit wherever you want, sweetie,” the Waffle House waitress said.

I slid into my booth. Alan Jackson was singing overhead about the Chattahoochee. Birmingham traffic was whizzing outside the plate glass.

My waitress was Latina. She was older, but energetic, with the face of a cherub.

“What’re we drinking, hon?”

I told her.

She gave me a few seconds to look at the menu. But reading the menu took me a while; I was exhausted. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling back and forth between Florida and Birmingham, preparing for an upcoming move.

Over the last few weeks, we have been packing our entire Floridian lives into tiny boxes, and we’re about to move those boxes 263 miles north.

“Know what you wanna eat?” said the waitress.

“Eggs and hashbrowns,” said I.

She made a note. “Want anything done to your hashbrowns?”

“Yes. I want them drowning in enough grease to clog a municipal drainage pipe.”



“Wheat or white?”

“The kind I’m not supposed to eat.”

She smiled and wrote on her notepad. The waitress welcomed a few more patrons into the

establishment. Then she tucked her pen into her apron and looked at me.

“You been traveling a long way today?” she asked.

“Why, do I look that haggard?”

“No. Not haggard just… A little droopy.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Listen, hon, at my age, it’s either droopy or it don’t work anymore.”

The woman then recited my order to the cook. She read it in that wonderful Waffle-House language all servers use.

Long ago, I used to work as a short order cook in a breakfast joint. They made us wear a white paper cap known as the “confidence killer.” My favorite part of the gig was when waitresses would call out orders in diner-speak.

WAITRESS: “Alright, boneheads! Gimme Adam and Eve on a raft with some bad breath and one cup’a mud!…

We are on a rural highway. We have a long drive ahead, but I could make this trip blindfolded.

Our journey starts in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

Defuniak is a lovely American hamlet. Before it was a city, it was a railroad stop called “Open Pond,” which featured a perfectly round spring-fed lake in the center of town, teeming with freshwater Baptists. The lake is still there. So are the Baptists.

After you leave Defuniak, you hit Mossy Head, Crestview, Deerland, and soon you’re riding through pine trees. Lots and lots of trees.

Which brings up an important point, I hope you like pine trees because you’re going to see a lot of them in the next paragraphs.

You’ll also see shotgun houses, rusty mailboxes, cows that stare, toddlers on ATVs, and speeding log trucks driven by adventurous men who steer only with their left knees.

Now entering Milligan, Florida. This unincorporated community used to be the county seat of Okaloosa County a hundred years ago. What will you find in Milligan today? Nothing.

That is, unless you count

all the churches.

First Baptist Church, Shepherd’s Church, Milligan Assembly of God, Lebanon Baptist, a Church of Christ, Beulah Missionary Baptist Church...

Keep following Highway 4 until you get to Baker. Land of Dreams. Founded in 1861, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.

There isn’t much going on in Baker, Florida, and even if there were, you’ll probably never hear about it because the internet is slow.

Baker does, however, have a couple world-class restaurants. There’s the Gator Café—try the burger. And, of course, there’s Taco Town, which resembles a Third World gas station but once served exceptional fare. Sadly, they’re closed now.

So maybe you could get lunch at the high school cafeteria instead.

Baker High School is every small-town school you’ve ever loved. Their football team is bar none. Last year, for instance, their running back, Kayleb Wagner, made…

My wife and I played a game of catch today. We were supposed to be packing because we are in the middle of moving houses. But there we were, lobbing a cowhide ball back and forth in the driveway.

The oldest game known to humankind is the game of catch. Eons ago, Eve took a bite of her apple, tossed it to Adam and said, “Hey, Adam! Catch!” And just like that, the Atlanta Braves were born.

I learned how to catch a baseball when I was 2 years old, sitting on the porch swing with my father. It was summer. I was eating a patriotic-colored popsicle. Witnesses remember my father underhanding the ball to me and saying, “Look alive, son!”

At age 2, I was not known for having feline-like reflexes. In fact, my greatest display of hand-eye coordination was applauding myself for peeing in my own bathwater.

So when the baseball arced through the air I merely drooled at it. The ball hit me squarely in the forehead. I

fell off the swing. My mother heard the thud and tore out of the house in a fury. And that’s how my father lost his front incisors.

Over the years, I studied the basics of my father’s cherished game. Not just the big stuff. I learned little stuff, too.

I learned how to spit sunflower seeds correctly, how to insult the batter’s mother, and how to get pine tar all over our family station-wagon interior.

I learned to keep my eye on the ball, to lift my fingers during a headfirst slide, to crowd the plate, and how to adjust my private regions mid-game for hundreds of spectators, like a professional.

But my most vivid memories are the ones where I’m playing catch.

Catch is its own game. It has its own cadence. There is no scorekeeping. No time limit. No rules. If you close your eyes and listen…

Before sunrise. A major Southern city. It’s your all-American sports bar, a room mostly made of wood and stink.

There is the obligatory Budweiser sign above the lopsided pool table. The crooked dartboard. There is the classic tavern bathroom, a lavatory so unspeakably funk-ridden that if you sat on the toilet you would drop dead from gangrene.

Every morning, while most of America is still asleep, 18 immigrants convene in this empty saloon before work. They are sipping coffee, waiting for Teacher.

Seated in these chairs are non-English-speaking Eastern Europeans, Filipinas, Vietnamese, South Americans, Mexicans, and West Africans. These people have almost nothing in common, except that they are free.

Which is a big deal, because these are former victims of human trafficking.

The teacher arrives. Anna is her name. She is 56 years old and she is also a trafficking survivor. Currently Anna is a hotel maid supervisor, but she is working on her college degree.

“I teach these people English,” says Anna. “But it’s pretty hard because I do not know

many languages. I only speak Spanish, English, Russian, Cezch, a little French, and some Italian.”

A regular underachiever.

Anna has taught, she estimates, 600 people to speak English over the years. Many of whom were victims of trafficking.

Anna’s story is a long one. But then, everyone in this bar has a long story. And they aren’t my stories to tell.

What I will say, however, is this: Human trafficking is a much bigger issue than I thought. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24.9 million people are slaves. One person out of every 100 will be rescued.

I don’t mean to depress you. What I’m simply saying is that the issue of human trafficking takes up about 0.0000005 percent of my American brain. And that makes me feel a little ashamed.

Anna breezes into the pub. She sets up her iPad and goes through a few…

I have received a lot of questions lately. I decided to combine the most frequently asked questions and answer them in the Q-and-A format. Here we go.

Q: Why is your blog/column called “Sean of the South”?

A: When I started writing in earnest, my dear friend, Melissa Wheeler, named this column after one of my favorite songs, “Song of the South,” by the band Alabama. Which is the only song I know that contains flagrant lyrics about sweet potato pie. She is a very smart woman, and one of my dearest pals.

Q: What are some other names you tossed around?

A: Some runners-up were: “Sean of Green Gables,” “Little Orphan Seanie,” “Portrait of the Baptist as a Young Man,” and my personal favorite, “Sean With the Wind.”

Q: Do Southerners really say “bless your heart”?

A: Yes and no. For starters, everyone—and I mean every single person—in my family utters the phrase “bless your heart.” But nobody says this expression in the ridiculous way that faux-Southerners use it on Netflix.

Sadly, Hollywood script writers

have butchered our cherished colloquialism, and now it’s become a painful cliché.

The modern-day Bless Your Heart joke started during the infancy of the Internet, when chain-email forwards were mankind’s only form of digital entertainment.

Back then, whenever your inbox received a chain-email, this message often came from an elderly relative who sent thousands of email forwards each day to innocent family members.

Many of these messages were political, others were urban legends, some emails encouraged readers to send their insulin money to Oral Roberts Ministries Inc.

But whenever these emails were humorous, you would stop what you were doing, gather the whole fam around the PC, and read the email aloud.

Q: Are you going somewhere with this?

A: Yes. One of the popular comical email forwards from the 1990s was the Bless Your Heart email, which suggested that “bless your heart” was…

The email came from someone named Paxton.

“Dear Sean,” the message began, “my dog died today and I feel like I can’t go on. I know you‘ve lost a dog before. How do you go on without them?”

As it happens, I have lost 12 dogs in my life. Twelve sounds like large number and makes me wonder whether it’s time to sign up for AARP. But I’m not very old. The truth is, I am just crazy about dogs. Always have been.

At one time in my life, we had four dogs living in our 900-square-foot house. My shoes all had teeth marks. And all my reading glasses had been semi-digested.

Owning four dogs at once, I must point out, is unwise. Of course, I didn’t set out to own four dogs simultaneously. No sane person would. It all started with one dog.

His name was Squirt. My wife and I adopted Squirt from a local animal shelter long ago. He was part of a litter born at the shelter. The employees named

the puppies after characters from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.”

I’ll never forget our first meeting. My wife and I were seated on the complimentary sofa in the meet-and-greet room, we were both a little nervous.

The sofa resembled something that had survived an atomic weapons detonation test. The cushions were soaked with drool, the nylon stuffing was removed, and there were fleas on the upholstery roughly the size of Danny Devito.

Squirt entered the room, leapt on my lap, and ruined my shirt with the Weewee of Joy, thereby living up to his name.

And I had to have him.

But here’s the thing. The canine shelter did not make adopting easy. Shelters often require adoptive owners to jump through several bureaucratic hoops before adopting. This is to discourage non-serious pet buyers, which I am in favor of—sort of. Except that some preliminary criteria seemed…

Our story begins about two hours north of the Montana state line in the hamlet of Pense, Saskatchewan, Canada. Population: 532—unless someone just had a baby.

There’s not much happening in Pense. You’re basically looking at grain elevators, prairie, and farmers. Lots and lots of farmers. Saskatchewan prairieland is the world’s third largest exporter of durum wheat. So if you’ve eaten Wonderbread or Wheaties recently, it probably came from a Saskatchewan farmer.

These are hardy people who are used to dealing with Biblical snows and hellishly freezing temperatures. Last week, for example, the lows got down to negative 29 degrees. That’s negative with an N.

Which is probably why Canadian farmers have all sorts of clever names for these brutal snowstorms.

They have the “Alberta clipper,” a machine-gun blizzard that moves across the prairie like a Messerschmitt. They have the “Manitoba mauler,” which drops about 3 inches of snow in the same amount of time it takes to trim your toenails. There’s the “Canadian cyclone,” the “Ontario scary-oh,” the “Alberta low,” and the “omigod

we’re all gonna freaking die.”

And then you have the “Saskatchewan screamer.” A unique storm that comes up quickly and screams like a banshee wind.

A few nights ago, while you were snug on your sofa, a Saskatchewan screamer raked across the prairie of Pense.

And Shannon was out driving in it.

Shannon is a single mom who had just picked up some take-out for her kids and was trying to get home before the big storm hit. She sped toward Pense, her windshield wipers set to high, her hands gripping the wheel tightly.

When pavement turned into gravel, the windspeeds picked up and nearly nudged her car off the road. Visibility was zero. In a few moments, she was driving blind. The snowfall got so bad she had to stop driving and click on her hazards.

This was not good.

She leapt out of her…