THOMASVILLE—This small Georgia town is painted with late afternoon shadows and it looks like an illustration fit for the cover of “The Saturday Evening Post.”
An old man in a fedora is walking his dog. A few kids ride bikes. A lady waters her plants. You’d swear the year was 1952.
I want to move here.
My wife claims I say this whenever we enter a pretty town. “I wanna move here,” I’ll insist. Then she’ll roll her eyes so hard she gives herself a migraine.
We’ve been on the road for weeks, traveling through the southeast, so I’ve said those words a lot. Whenever we pass through an attractive city my wife sets a timer to see how long it takes me to suggest moving there.
My current record is one minute and 18 seconds.
Our first stop today is an enormous oak tree, perched near a residential intersection. It has a fat base and titanic limbs covered in resurrection ferns, which blanket the bark like green fur. The branches stretch outward like colossal spider legs, sweeping to the ground.
Big Oak is one of America’s oldest live oak trees. The ancient hardwood has been here since 1680, back when Jamestown was still the capital, and the colonists had not yet discovered Starbucks.
“This tree’s been hit by lots of cars,” says one Thomasville resident. “Trucks ram right into it, or crash into the limbs.”
But somehow it’s still here after 330-some-odd years of ironic catastrophes. And it’s still just as lovely.
When you stand beneath it you get the uncontrollable urge to touch it. But be careful. Because every yahoo tourist like me has been touching it, and COVID-19 is currently one of America’s leading causes of death.
Even so, I rest a bare hand upon the gnarled bark. The tree is warm.
It’s taken real effort to keep Big Oak alive. The tree has steel support cables, an underground watering system, and its own on-call arboriculturist doctor. That’s how much Thomasville people care about this tree.
Which only proves that Thomasvillians are good folks.
Broad Street is picturesque today. West Jackson Street is serene. The houses couldn’t be any cuter. There are flowers in every yard, and plants on every porch. It’s no wonder they call this place the City of Roses.
Not that it matters, but the first book I ever wrote made it to Thomasville first. Years ago, a gal who owns a local bookstore was the first to carry my literary effort. She contacted me one day and asked if I’d come to town and sign some of her “inventory.”
“Inventory?” I said. What the heck is inventory?
I’ve never had much confidence as a writer. When it comes to writing, I consider myself a guy who tries real hard, but that’s about it. I have no illusions, I know I have a limited vocabulary. My grammar ain’t so good, an my spellin’s even wurse.
So I thought this inventory business was a prank, probably orchestrated by my cousin Ed Lee. I thought he was getting back at me for the eggnog I spilled in his truck heater vent one Christmas, years ago.
But this was no joke. The store on 126 South Broad Street was carrying my book. I called the store anonymously just because I couldn’t believe it. I asked if they carried a book by a guy named Sean Dietrich.
“Never heard of him,” said the employee. “Spell his last name.”
So I did. My last name has long been a subject of ridicule. The words forming my name are “diet” and “rich.” I was a chubby kid, too. You can just imagine.
“Yep,” she said. “We carry that book.”
My eyes filled with saline. I thanked her, hung up the phone, and I felt taller. You never forget something like that.
After lunch, I take a walk through the residential section to admire the old clapboards and Queen Anne rooflines. I pass a young man wearing a surgical mask with an Atlanta Braves logo printed on the front.
I point to his facemask and compliment him on his impeccable fashion sense.
Then I see a man working in his front yard. He is also wearing a mask. I wave to him. He waves back.
These could all be scenes from Mayberry if it weren’t for the sci-fi face gear we’re all wearing.
In the past weeks of travel, I’ve seen masks in five different states. And I’ve been fascinated at the behavior that accompanies them. If you ask me, people today are more considerate than ever before in history.
Last week in South Carolina, for instance, I watched a young boy meandering on a sidewalk, wearing a respirator. He thoughtfully stepped aside by about five feet to let a group of elderly women pass him. That would have never happened last year.
In Birmingham, I saw a man open the door for an elderly lady. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal, except he did it in a cool way. He tugged the door open, removed his sandal, and used it as a doorstop. Then he stepped backward ten feet to let her inside.
You definitely wouldn’t have seen that before COVID.
So if you ask me, something good is happening in the midst of a nightmare. People are being nicer. Six months indoors has changed us, and it has made us courteous. Then again, maybe I’m just delirious. After all, I am in the City of Roses.
And in case I haven’t mentioned it, I want to move here.
Saddest person in the world - August 7, 2020 7:32 am
I lived and worked in The City of Roses(😏) for fifteen years. I have some very unpleasant memories. It’s a nice town. Too bad the people spoil it.
johnnybracey - August 2, 2021 6:44 am
I’ve lived in Thomasville for 72 years and most of the people are great. I must admit that I can go to the store now and not see a soul that I know. Perhaps it’s the immigrants who spoiled it for you!
MermaidGrammy - August 7, 2020 9:14 am
Lovely trip to Thomasville, through your typewriter! Thank you. I agree there’s some good to come from this degree. I’ve realized who I miss seeing vs who I used to see all the time. I am exactly the same way. Different from you, because I have actually moved just because I liked the new place. Too many times to admit. Keep us sane, Dear Sean
Autumn Waters - August 7, 2020 12:43 pm
My hometown… there really is nothing like it 🌹
Steve Johnson - August 7, 2020 12:57 pm
You should visit my hometown of Enterprise Alabama. It is the only town in the entire world with a monument smack dab in the middle of Main St glorifying a pest, the boll weevil. But the thing that makes this town special is the people, some of the friendliest, most warm hearted people you will ever meet. Come visit us and get the answer as to why we have a monument to a bug!
jane - August 7, 2020 1:54 pm
THIS. One of your best.
Gayla Warner - August 7, 2020 2:07 pm
I have not met that oak tree in Thomasville, but I do love it!
Christina - August 7, 2020 3:14 pm
Seriously Sean, have you talked to PBS about doing a tv series on “America’s beautiful towns” or better “You’d want to move here”?! Enjoying your traveling chronicles from my couch 👍
Tammy S. - August 7, 2020 3:23 pm
Christina!! Great show idea!! I’d so watch “You’d Wanna Move Here!” Hosted by Sean & Jamie Dietrich. Sign me up!! Loved this post. Visiting that tree is now on my list. Along with Enterprise, AL and it’s statue of the boll weevil. Lots of beautiful little towns across this nation, filled with some beautiful people!!
Helen De Prima - August 7, 2020 3:35 pm
I concur with your impression: despite the anger and angst in many cities, ordinary folks seem to be going about their business with a little more kindness and consideration.
Johnny Bracey - August 7, 2020 3:53 pm
Sean, welcome!.. As a native of Thomasville, I sometimes take it for granted. However, all I have to do is travel away to another town for a visit and I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to live in Thomasville. I also reminisce about how lucky I am to be a southerner, and how lucky I am to be a University of Georgia Alumni!! I truly believe these things did not just happen but were by the grace of God!!! Oh the stories I could share with you about growing up here and raising a family here. I also feel that it was divine providence that I discovered you about a year ago. BTW I have all of your books and was looking forward to your visit to the Bookshelf so perhaps you would sign them, but the damned virus hit!! Your books share a spot right next to my Lewis Grizzard books in my library. I’d be one of the first to welcome you if you ever decide to move to Thomasville.
Linda Moon - August 7, 2020 4:42 pm
Fedora hats….my guy has a few of those. He’s also produced some eye rolls in me, so we eventually sort-of lived in three places. Try that, and it might help your sweet and tolerant wife’s eyes. Two of our towns had local bookstores, so I’m very happy to hear your first book was in Thomasville. I’ve heard of you, Author, and I’m glad I “accidentally” did on March 23, 2019!
Mary Lyon - August 7, 2020 5:41 pm
Sean, you must go the John’s Island to see the Angel Oak. It even has it’s own Facebook. The tree is even older and larger than the oak you mention in this story. The Angel Oak is located on a sandy road on John’s Island situated between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. You must go see this tree before you die. Love to you and yours.
Jess Rawls - August 7, 2020 6:47 pm
Years ago when I was still on active duty (Army), I was an area commander in the US Army Recruiting Command and Thomasville had one of the recruiting stations within my area. I made a number of visits to that fine city. It’s a beautiful Southern town. I also had the honor of being one of the float judges during the annual Rose Parade. When I first received a letter asking if I would be a judge for the Rose Parade, my mind went soaring as I envisioned flying out to California to participate in THAT Rose Parade. The parade in Thomasville is a bit smaller, but was enjoyable. I got to be a judge for the two years I was assigned to the Recruiting Command.
Violet Collier - August 7, 2020 7:36 pm
I love that you went to Thomasville and mentioned that particular bookstore! After my mom passed 3 years ago, my dad decided we needed a change of scenery for a little while and loaded us up to only go an hour away to stay in the cheapest motel possible in Thomasville. Besides the motel, I really enjoyed the trip and exploring downtown Thomasville and fell in love with that particular bookstore, and even visited the giant oak tree. Coincidentally, that trip was almost exactly 3 years ago of your recent visit
Ann - August 7, 2020 7:54 pm
I would love to see the “ city of roses” again…the last time I was there …a number of years ago…we were evacuating from Palm Coast due to an approaching hurricane..Jeanne I believe…and it decided to change direction and head that way for a visit also…..no roses in Mayberry those days!
Walton T. Carter, Jr. - August 7, 2020 7:57 pm
I hope you had lunch at the Thomasville pool room. Theirs is the best chili dog in South Georgia. Even compares to the Varsity dog in Atlanta
DiAn - August 7, 2020 9:10 pm
Truly enjoy your column! Puts Both Sanity AND Brotherly Love back into my Life. I too wud Love to hear your words daily as a regular feature on PBS’s evening Newshour. Pls think on this! – DiAn
Lynda Gayle Knight - August 7, 2020 10:49 pm
Thanks for taking us along on y’all’s trip! It’s really helped pass away the time while at 79 I’m trying to hide out from Covid 19! Thought if he, she, or it(that “or” is surely necessary) finds me, I think I can beat it back to home base❣️
ann broadway - August 8, 2020 8:48 am
Loved seeing little old Thomasville in Your print. I really enjoyed your visit to THE bookstore last time and look forward to more stories and great neck hugs. keep you and yours safe.
Susan Johnson - August 8, 2020 2:00 pm
Ahhhh Sean, you made my heartache to return to Tville. We moved to the N. Ga mountains. Still a small town but Thomasville still feels like home to me and I wasn’t even born there.
Robert Chiles - August 9, 2020 2:18 am
Christina had a great suggestion. My wife and I have been hooked on the series on Acorn TV by Penelope Keith where she and three others go all around the UK looking for the Best British Village with a prize at the end of 10,000 pounds. You and Jamie could do the same thing all across the South. Look it up- you’ll get hooked, too. (they were all filmed back in 2017)
Robert Chiles - August 9, 2020 2:23 am
Christina had a great comment. My wife and I have gotten hooked on a great series on Acorn TV hosted by Penelope Keith where she and three others go all around the UK deciding which is the “Best British Village” with a prize for the winner of 10,000 pounds. You and Jamie could do that.
Beryl - August 10, 2020 3:20 am
In the midst of Covid there are gifts. We always have a choice. Thoughts become things. You reap what you sow, as you think it, so it is…Be kind and you will receive kindness. And, it really is better to give than to receive. Thank you for them words. 😉
CaroG87 - September 12, 2020 5:55 pm
I have very fond memories of Thomasville from childhood summers visiting my great-aunt and great-uncle who lived there. The Big Oak was always a must-see on every trip. I haven’t been back in over 30 years, not since my great-uncle passed. But it’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.
Proud to be a Thomasvillian! - September 14, 2020 12:07 am
So sad that you left with such a negative feeling about all the people in Thomasville. So sad that you did not find one person in the whole town that didn’t ‘spoil it’ for you. So sad that you feel that all the citizens are to blame for your ‘unpleasant memories’. So sad that you don’t feel any responsibility for being unhappy here. In any successful relationship, there must be give and take. Isn’t it highly unlikely that everyone here was uncaring? I agree, you must be the “saddest person in the world” and I am truly sorry for you. I am sure that, like any place, there are those in Thomasville who are centered around their own lives. But in Thomasville most folks are proud of our hamlet and are involved in some aspect of life here – great welcoming churches, hard-working service organizations, successful small businesses, national and international corporations, diversified educational opportunities and immense pride in our little town. And obviously our pride is not misplaced, considering the number of people who choose Thomasville as a place to live, to work, to visit, to write about and to experience. Please come back and give some of us another chance to make you feel welcome and to help you find the qualities in our people that truly make “Thomasville. a place apart”!
Tom Faircloth - January 4, 2021 12:18 am
Sean, some have mistaken my comments to be aimed at you! Nothing furtherest from the truth! You have painted our little town with the brush strokes of a sensitive painter and we greatly appreciate your warm and friendly words.
My comments were aimed at “Saddest person in the world – August 7, 2020 7:32 am”, unfortunately, the first comment recorded after the wonderful recitation of your visit here. We continue to enjoy each of your daily blogs and we are spreading the word about the daily inspiration that you provide for our lives. Thank you for your positive outlook and for the challenges for good that present in your writings! God bless you!
Janie Gentry - July 29, 2021 10:00 am
I have a dear friend who left the mountains of western NC to move to Thomasville. Now I must go for a visit. Maybe you will be there again.