Sometimes, I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know where I belong. I’ve gone through much of life wondering what I am, and why I am. I’ve wondered a lot of things.

Now entering Alabama. I am riding behind a log truck. It’s your all-American log truck, stacked with pines that wobble with each bump in the road.

On the truck bumper is an “I-heart-Alabama” sticker.

We’ve crossed the state line into the Yellowhammer State. So far, I’ve driven past nineteen Pentecostal churches, eight Methodist chapels, and I’ve lost count of the the Baptist meeting houses.

We stop at lunch joint. I park next to an old pickup truck. It is a Ford F-100. Lawrence County tags, mud on the fenders. There is a black Lab in the front seat. My father had a truck just like this.

The restaurant is busy, George Strait is singing overhead.

My waitress is originally from Chelsea, Alabama, and she sounds like it. She brings us extra cornbread just because that’s what people from Chelsea are like.

I pay my tab. There’s a gift shop near the register.

A pair of baby-sized cowboy boots catches my eye. I almost buy them for my infant niece, but my wife talks me out of it because my niece will only outgrow them in seven days or less.

So, I buy a University of Alabama jumpsuit instead.

We are back on the road. The countryside looks good today. We see big golden fields of dead grass, mobile homes with chimneys poking from the tops, billowing smoke. And cattle.

Farm equipment dealers on every corner, used RV lots, discount fireworks stands, and a hundred thousand barns that hold the history of the world within them.

I pass shotgun houses with the eighteen wheelers parked in the driveways. Many have freezers on porches, with loveseats beside the screen doors.

In the distance, I see a pile of burning trash behind a two-story house. It’s tended by a man in overalls, stabbing the fire with a rake. He throws a mattress atop the inferno. The thing catches fire and turns into a giant hellish marshmallow.

I wave at him. He tips his hat to me.

You don’t see giant hellish marshmallows in just any old state.

Horse trailers parked beside barbecue joints. High-school football banners flying above nail salons. Bass boats for sale in the hardware store parking lot.

A chiropractic office with a trampoline in the front yard. A Land Rover parked outside the Piggly Wiggly.

And towns. Small ones. Cute downtowns with brick buildings, old street lamps, charming antique stores, corner banks, bells in the church steeples, courthouses with actual steps, railroads with caution lights.

On the edge of town: used tire dealerships, abandoned service stations, feed-and-seed stores.

I see elderly folks sitting on porches, and dogs wandering the shoulders. I see a man riding an ATV through a drive-thru liquor store.

Chicken houses, Pontiacs on blocks, brick one-stories with blue tarps on the roofs.

Flatbed utility trailers for sale, man made ponds for catching bass, American flags every few feet, a Dollar General with a full parking lot.

I count five vapor cigarette outlets, four ALFA Insurance agencies, three Holiness churches, a few boarded-up restaurants, and one taco stand in a repurposed camper trailer.

Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, Dollar Tree, Cato, Factory Connection, Burke’s Clothing Outlet, and a Chinese Restaurant with a marquee that reads, “Jesus Saves.”

Waffle Houses galore.

The hills. Lord, at the hills in this country. Big sweeping ones that are so gentle they almost sound like Glen Campbell.

And the trees. Have mercy. Longleaf pines, shortleaf pines, loblolly pines, white oaks, overcup oaks, cow oaks, willow oaks, black walnuts, cottonwoods, magnolias, sweet gums, black willows, and shagbarks.

The log truck is still bouncing ahead of me, littering the highway with slabs of bark.

Sometimes, I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know where I belong. I’ve gone through much of life wondering what I was supposed to be, and why it took me so long to become it. I’ve wondered a lot of things.

But nevermind all that. Because here in this place, I feel familiarity. And love. I was not born here, but it adopted me long ago.

For that, I will always be grateful. Not only to the people who gave me a second chance, but the family that claimed a reject.

And the friends that called me brother. And the highways, the hills, the dirt roads, the unincorporated communities, the Massey Ferguson dealers, the rural Baptist churches, and the diesel engines that haul yellow pine.

I love log trucks.

But most of all, I heart Alabama.

59 comments

  1. Wendy Franks - January 17, 2019 7:17 am

    In warmer weather especially, driving or riding from Montgomery toward Selma is one of the most beautiful places with its rolling hills & valleys in my home state. Often so pastoral, I feel blessed to experience it.

    Reply
  2. George T. Jacoby - January 17, 2019 7:51 am

    Me, too, brother from another mother – been all over the world in 24 years in the military but this is the place for me, just like you 🙂 You and your family are always welcome in my home, in SC until I get back to Alabama, then you’ll be welcome there…
    Maj George Jacoby
    Sumter, SC

    Reply
    • theholtgirls - January 19, 2019 3:07 am

      I thank you for your service to our country!

      Reply
      • Ted - January 19, 2019 4:10 am

        Thank You for your service and for the warm hospitality. Sure sounds like home to me!

        TAS

        Reply
  3. Susan Self - January 17, 2019 9:06 am

    Alabama hearts you Sean. At 3:00 in the morning when I have to go, I get my first dose of Sean. Now I can go back to sleep. Thanks for the heart hugs.

    Reply
  4. Nancy Rogers - January 17, 2019 10:24 am

    I love it also. It is the land of my Father. The blood of generations of Alabamians flows through my veins.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth Edens - January 17, 2019 11:25 am

    Your heart state sounds a lot like my heart state but without the mountains in the east, old black river on the west and country music in between. Sounds wonderful! But I can not cheer for Alabama football:-( maybe after they’ve lost for the same number of years they’ve dominated:-)

    Reply
  6. Carole Lea - January 17, 2019 11:47 am

    And we ❤️ you, Sean!!

    Reply
  7. Naomi - January 17, 2019 12:05 pm

    Born & raised in Birmingham. We didn’t take road trips when I was a child because we didn’t have a car. We rode the bus and, on occasion, took a taxi.

    Reply
  8. Melanie - January 17, 2019 12:23 pm

    me too ❤️ thanks for taking us along on the ride. enjoyed it. p.s. how’d you learn all the names of all those trees?

    Reply
  9. Sherry - January 17, 2019 12:38 pm

    According to Ancestry, I have only one DNA community in the South…the entire northern half of “the great state of Alabama”…and yet I’ve never lived there! Thanks for the ride!! ❤️

    Reply
  10. Diane - January 17, 2019 12:39 pm

    A group of friends and I will be leaving middle Tennessee and headed to Alabama to spend some time with you tomorrow evening. We can’t wait.

    Reply
  11. steve moultrie - January 17, 2019 12:46 pm

    sounds like you took Hwy 31….The Beeline Express

    Reply
  12. Gwen Monroe - January 17, 2019 12:48 pm

    And, Alabama heart Sean of the South💕

    Reply
  13. Debbie Phillips Hughett - January 17, 2019 12:49 pm

    From top to bottom, a beautiful state.

    Reply
  14. Stina - January 17, 2019 12:54 pm

    I am also an adoptee and I heart Alabama more than I ever thought possible.

    Reply
  15. Connie Havard Ryland - January 17, 2019 1:05 pm

    I heart Alabama too. Born here. Lived most of my life here, except for a few years chasing construction jobs around the South with an ex husband. Moved back in the late 80’s and I’m staying. It’s a beautiful state. It’s also backwards and frustrating. Like family, I can see it clearly and honestly and love it anyway. Thank you for sharing it with others who can’t see it the way we do. Love and hugs.

    Reply
    • Nancy shields - January 17, 2019 1:19 pm

      If you are ever traveling on HWY 231 in Highland Home , Alabama, stop at the restaurant called IT DONT MATTER. Love your writing. You are touching and changing lives with your talent.

      Reply
      • Susan - January 19, 2019 1:05 am

        That is hwy 331 to Highland Home. Great place for a steak!

        Reply
  16. Judy - January 17, 2019 1:33 pm

    I ❤️ Alabama too!

    My parents were born and raised in Alabama – Daddy in the south and Mama in the north part. We were a military family that lived all over the country in 20 years. We chose Alabama to settle … because “our home is in Alabama”. 😊

    Reply
  17. Phillip Saunders - January 17, 2019 1:37 pm

    Good one, Sean. One doesn’t see those sights from the I-65, I-85, and I-59 superslabs. Got to get on the old highways and by-ways of the land. I heart Alabama, too, and I’ve seen most all of those things except maybe a drive-thru liquor store – yep, only in Alabama – what’ll they think of next?

    Reply
  18. Jess in Athens, GA - January 17, 2019 1:38 pm

    People from all over, especially the South, heart you right back, Sean. Have a wonderful day no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing.

    Reply
  19. Lana Jones Barbaree - January 17, 2019 1:43 pm

    And Alabama loves you.

    Reply
  20. Jill - January 17, 2019 1:46 pm

    Ya’ll will just love Athens Alabama. Growing up there, I could walk around as a little girl in bare feet. I’d walk from home to downtown, peer into shops. Fear the local poolhall because us southern baptist girls were taught to. Last but not the least, Athens State University. I would marvel at it, pretending to be a southern belle while preaching from the pulpit which is located on the upper part of Founders Hall. You and Jamie will feel so welcome there. I now live in the foothills of the Cumberlands but Athens always holds a place in my heart.

    Reply
  21. Lynda Clemons - January 17, 2019 2:13 pm

    I am frustrated 😞. I have tried to post to TH twice and still do not see it!

    Reply
  22. MermaidGrammy - January 17, 2019 2:22 pm

    We ❤️you too!

    Reply
  23. Karen - January 17, 2019 2:36 pm

    Alabama is my home, and I love it here. Thank you for your stories.

    Reply
  24. Jan C - January 17, 2019 2:37 pm

    And Alabama loves you, I wanted to go hear and see you at Athens State University tonight, but it’s been sold out for months! Please come back soon!

    Reply
    • Debbie - February 18, 2019 3:36 am

      Sean will be speaking at the Shoals Storytelling Festival on Thursday May 16, 7pm. For tickets call 256-577-3756.

      Reply
  25. Deborah Moss - January 17, 2019 2:57 pm

    You are the absolute best at painting pictures with words. I felt as if I was riding down the road with you.

    Reply
  26. Kimberly - January 17, 2019 2:57 pm

    I feel the same way about Tennessee {don’t judge}. I moved here from WI way back in 1981. I used to wear shorts until January, but now my blood now is southern-thin, can’t abide the mercury dipping below 60 anymore. I’ve raised two kids below the Mason-Dixon line and sent a daughter to college in Alabama. We’ve paid a lot of money to say “Roll Tide.” Alabama’s been good to her and to our family, and while they’re displaced in Texas for a medical residency, they’re counting the days until they can return to Tuscaloosa.
    I love Tennessee, but I love me some Alabama something fierce, too.
    Just love your columns. You have found your calling, sir.

    Reply
  27. Johnny Parker - January 17, 2019 3:05 pm

    You got it, Bro. Sweet home Alabama! No better place this side of heaven.

    Reply
  28. Haskel J P - January 17, 2019 3:10 pm

    Born, raised and educated on the plains and will always call east Alabama home. The heart of dixie has it all, mountains, piedmont, intracoastal plane, black belt row crop land so fertile they shouldn’t even pave roads on it and some God fearing people who know what a neighbor really is. So blessed to have dixie on my mind.

    Reply
  29. Sue Riddle Cronkite - January 17, 2019 3:51 pm

    Me too. The people, even the dirt of Alabama feels holy to me.

    Reply
  30. Peggy Savage - January 17, 2019 3:59 pm

    I was just in a McDonald’s in gulf shores,al . A lady sitting across from me got up to leave with her friends leaving her purse on the chair. As she started to walk out the door, I yelled…mam, mam you forgot your purse. She thanked me…then I realized I was in a place with all northern snow birds…they all knew I was from alabama…no one but a southerner tells out mam with such a twang. That’s what we southerners do…mam and sir with respect. Yay Alabama….in more ways than one…

    Reply
  31. Sharon Hand - January 17, 2019 4:20 pm

    I do,too, Sean. I do, too.

    Reply
  32. V. Karen Beans - January 17, 2019 5:00 pm

    I have been privileged to live in several states, traveled to most of the others in this United States, but Alabama is, will forever be, my home. I (heart) Alabama

    Reply
  33. Jack Quanstrum - January 17, 2019 5:06 pm

    Amen! Sweet home Alabama! I love it with you!

    Reply
  34. Edna B. - January 17, 2019 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the ride through Alabama. I love taking these trips with you. I can see everything and everyone so clearly in my mind. You have a super day my friend, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  35. Cathy - January 17, 2019 6:21 pm

    Alabama hearts you back.

    Reply
  36. Angela B. - January 17, 2019 6:51 pm

    Thank you, Sean. Alabama loves you back. When you have a chance, swing back through Lawrence County and we will take you and Jamie to see the sights… The beautiful Bankhead, Sipsey River, Kinlock Falls, the Kuntry Kitchen, Henry’s Hill, Aunt Jenny Johnson’s old place, etc. More fun than you can shake a stick at. 🙂

    Reply
  37. Mimi J Matthews - January 17, 2019 7:16 pm

    Usually those who heart Alabama have good hearts. It’s good to know ya. Thanks for the 5 minute “vacation” from work just now.

    Reply
  38. Richard Bowman - January 17, 2019 7:38 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for not mentioning that lawyer guy billboards we see every 100 feet or so. Also, thanks for the ALFA plug. I spent 30 years in their advertising department. It was more like going to playtime than work.
    God has given you a unique gift; thanks for sharing it with us.

    Reply
  39. Marinan Brewer - January 17, 2019 9:53 pm

    love Alabama–Roll Tide–Dothan,Al
    please let it be known when you are stopping in Bama

    Reply
  40. Teresa Girton - January 17, 2019 10:26 pm

    Well you knocked this one out of the park.
    When I came home from North Carolina and Memphis,Tennessee. I looked for all you talked about trees, houses,cars and so on.
    I felt like I was sitting with you. The only thing that is missing is Alabama singing My home is in Alabama.Thanks Sean!

    Reply
  41. June - January 17, 2019 11:33 pm

    I grew up in Alabama and have many family members there. I am not there often but enjoy being there when I do get back… My dad, who worked with my grandfather, hauled lumber for many years.

    Reply
  42. Betty lisle - January 17, 2019 11:39 pm

    Could u let me know how to reach u about a speaking engagement?

    Reply
  43. Carol Pepper - January 18, 2019 1:11 pm

    Sean, I ❤️ Alabama, and I ❤️ You too!!

    Reply
  44. Ted - January 18, 2019 6:20 pm

    I too, love Alabama. I left there when I finished high school. Over the last 30 years I have had many opportunities to return, but work, and the nomad in me, kept me moving. More than 17 years ago, I moved to California without a good reason.
    Next month, my first- born child will be 15 y. o. In seven months, my second-born child will be 14 y. o. In four months, my youngest child will be 12 y. o.
    For about one year, prior to moving to California, I prayed to God, almost nightly, to let me have a child/family of my own. I said I would give up everything for a child of my own.
    God heard me and truly blessed me three times over.
    My point, you might be asking yourself, is the next time you pass an “Assembly of God” church in Alabama (I was in one a lot as a child in Kinston), stop, go inside, pray, and get blessed.
    God Bless You!

    Reply
  45. D. Frances Hoomes Wichman, born in Brewton, AL (Hoomesville, Damascus ) Tell Jamie I said "Hey, there" - January 27, 2019 2:08 pm

    Me too! Damascus will always be home. Love those dirt roads.

    Reply
    • Ted - January 27, 2019 5:50 pm

      Makes me homesick… but at least I was there growing up.
      Anybody ever drive on red clay after the rain? Lots of fun when I was a teenager.

      Reply
  46. Barbara Jones - February 17, 2019 8:18 am

    I love Alabama too. Born there , family moved when I was nine. Years later I transferred back with the job I had People are so friendly and nice.

    Reply
  47. Gale Smith - February 17, 2019 11:02 am

    Ted, Teresa and I saw Sean in Andalusia a few years ago and had only read two or three of his columns but we were already hooked. He is one of us and we heart him. His wife, Jamie, is from Brewton. He has spent enough time here and obviously loves Alabama like a native son. We have all adopted him as one of our own. Glad you have discovered him. Love you, little brother!

    Reply
    • Ted - February 17, 2019 12:29 pm

      Yeah… I like his style, too. Thanks for telling me about him.
      You and I have been, and are, the best of friends. We’ ll probably know, and love, each other for all of eternity.
      God did that for us so we could always have at least one person in our lives we could always count on.

      I love you Sis!
      Always, Ted
      You too Teresa! You are Family!

      Reply
  48. Rhonda Sizemore - February 17, 2019 12:44 pm

    Your wonderful article reminded me of a young college girl, almost fifty years ago. I traveled the roads down Sand Mountain and up Lookout Mountain from Collinsville to Jacksoville State. Rarely did I NOT get behind a log truck. For me this meant I would probably be late to class. There was little chance to pass a truck and they sure would not be able to drive a decent rate of speed going up and down those curvy roads. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

    Reply
  49. Debbie Shiflett - February 17, 2019 3:05 pm

    And, I heart Sean of the South!

    Reply
  50. Connie McKennon - February 17, 2019 3:14 pm

    I absolutely love this- I am a Alabama girl that moved away(GA)35 years ago.Everytime I go back “home” to Alabama there is a sweet calmness in my soul.
    When my daughter decided to go to Jacksonville State I was thrilled, As she graduated from Jacksonville she told me she now understands why my heart is still at home in Alabama . There is a feeling that only people who l”Live” Alabama truly understands,❤️

    Reply
  51. Shelby Brazier - February 17, 2019 6:01 pm

    I cried the entire time I was reading this. I was born in Lawrence Co. Al. as were my parents. I moved from Al. 42 yrs. ago to Marion Co. Tn. which connects to Jakson Co. Al. As I was reading this I felt like I was riding along with you & knew right where you were. I still ramble around the state quite a bit as I have family there & just enjoying the back roads as well as the interstate that takes me to Orange Beach every year. Thank you for using the gift you have been given to touch my heart in everything you share.

    Reply
  52. Brandie - March 7, 2019 2:00 pm

    I thought I wanted the taste of a BIG city. I choose New York as that city…..I was homesick 2 weeks after I moved there. I had a new job and I thought I owed it to myself to try to stick it out as long as I could. The difference between Alabama and New York is way beyond night and day. I was there 6 months until I found out they didn’t know what grits or boiled peanuts were. I hightailed it outta there so fast it wasn’t funny. It was around October when I left. As soon as I started seeing peanut fields, cows, barns and kids playing in front yard I knew I was home. Been here ever since. Ahhhhhh Alabama, Home Sweet Home.

    Reply

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