Alabama Sunrise

Vacant churches. Abandoned service stations. Orphaned chimneys. Election signs. Crumbling barns. Longleaf forests—which never change. Heaven, I am convinced, is full of longleaf pines.

South Alabama looks good this morning. There’s a low mist on the farmland. The cattle are sleeping. The sun is not up yet. I’m driving.

It was a morning like this I first learned how to chew Red Man. My father and his friend showed me how to tuck a wad in my cheek. It tasted like raisins and kerosene.

“Whatever you do, don’t swallow,” said Daddy.

I got so sick I fell off the tailgate. He laughed and said, “If you even THINK about telling your mama, I’ll put you up for adoption.”

This is a good morning. The orange sun is still behind the trees. It’s thirty-some degrees. The grass is green, even though it’s cold.

My cousin lived on a cotton farm. Long ago, I helped run heavy machinery for one weekend. The smells of the earth were enough to make a kid drunk.

It’s too early and too cold to think about heavy machines.

I’m passing dilapidated mobile homes with seventy-five-thousand-dollar trucks in the driveways.
There are dogs, wandering the highway. Scrappy ones, looking for trouble. Or love.

I’m behind a school bus. Kids are staring out the windows at me. I wave. They wave. They’re laughing, sticking out tongues.


I’m on a dirt road. This is a shortcut my friend showed me long ago. I’m cutting through scalped fields with dry rotted fences which are older than I am.

The road spits me onto pavement. I hope my truck caught enough red dust to make it pretty.

I pass faded brick buildings with Coca-Cola signs. I miss the days when good folks called it “KOH-kola.” I miss a lot of things.

I miss an age before cellphones. And kids who rode bikes to a best friend’s house to ask, “Can Sammy play?”

Today they text.

I pass old homes with outdoor workshops. The kind of one-room buildings where old men piddle. With workbenches covered in screws, bolts, and bicycle chains. A boy could get lost in a shop like that.

Once, I spent the night in my uncle’s workshop during a family reunion. The house was overrun with people. My aunt made me a pallet in the bed of my uncle’s Chevy, parked in his shop.

I laid awake, staring at a tin sign which read: “That Good Gulf Gasoline.” There were rusty oil cans, hanging tools, and a poster with the words: “Red Man Chew.”

I got dizzy on smells of refined oil and pine dust, and fell asleep.

Still driving. Traffic is clogged on this two-lane. A large John Deere tractor is to blame. The big machine is riding in the right-hand lane at a snail’s pace. Twenty cars behind it. The tractor veers right, onto a dirt road.

The kid driving the machine looks twelve.

Vacant churches. Abandoned service stations. Orphaned chimneys. Election signs. Crumbling barns. Longleaf forests—which never change. Heaven, I am convinced, is full of longleaf pines.

A horse trailer. A church van. I pass a rusty truck that looks like the truck I was raised in. It’s white, with welding equipment. It is weighted with oxygen tanks, long hoses, and ladders.

I half expect the driver to be a welder who once taught his kid how to spit chewing tobacco.

But he’s been gone a long time now.

The sun is breaking over the trees. I’m not far from home. Life is too damn short.

Which only makes it more beautiful.

Hug the ones you love today.


  1. Angie Long - January 17, 2018 8:16 am

    The older I get (and I’ve got a few years on you, Sean) the more I feel the need to stop and acknowledge things we tend to take for granted, like sunrises and sunsets, the astonishing beauty of this sweet little former alley cat sitting beside me, how good a cup of coffee tastes on a really cold morning. It all goes by so fast. Savor the moments and the people and furry friends with whom you share them.

  2. Melissa - January 17, 2018 8:46 am

    Thank you for this column. I grew up in Alabama but I’ve been gone a long time. Today’s column took me back to a childhood spent playing in cotton fields, red dirt roads, mornings when the dew lay like a blanket that sparkled like diamonds in the early morning sun, sneaking under the neighbor’s fence to fish in his pond with a cane pole and a little red and white plastic bobber. Thank you for making me young again, even if only for a little while.

  3. Leia Lona - January 17, 2018 12:22 pm

    Thank you once again for stirring childhood memories.

  4. ViolaClick - January 17, 2018 12:58 pm

    You make my day I won’t be out side today so l enjoyed the early ride thru the countryside in Ala,,,Thank you for puttting it all down in print,pease continue your sharing in this way,Have a BlessedDay,,,,from Fla,,,

  5. Melanie Tighe - January 17, 2018 1:08 pm

    Sean this is beautiful. This is the life I want but I am stuck working here in Krazy Kalifornia where the farmland is being turned into miles of distribution centers and $600,000 homes that have no yard. What beautiful images you paint. I hope someday to be there with Winston, my blue tick, and his lady Dixie, a few acres of my own red clay and a few of those pine trees. Heaven. (And those trucks tho! ? I remember when they were cheaper than cars.)

  6. NATHAN BENNETT - January 17, 2018 1:37 pm

    Sean, I appreciate your insight, and your faithfulness to reach out and to encourage…and, I forward your articles with some comments of blessing to many places on the planet.

    THANKS for being the blessing you are…God is using you in a needed and special way!…your “path” has been ordered of the Lord!!

  7. Allison - January 17, 2018 2:06 pm

    The writings are a touch of brilliance and paint a portrait of memories.

  8. Sandi in FL - January 17, 2018 3:00 pm

    Sean, what a beautiful word picture you’ve painted in your apt description of riding along Southern roads. Your keen sense of observation is partly what makes you such a fine writer. Keep on keeping on.

  9. everylittleting - January 17, 2018 3:06 pm

    ooohh, did I need this today. I was in a foul mood. Thanks. Again.

  10. Sharon and Kelley Carter - January 17, 2018 3:14 pm

    Love this and love you. Have u heard of the coon hound cemetery in north Alabama? Ellie Mae may have family there. Road trip?

  11. Jack Darnell - January 17, 2018 3:37 pm

    Some great lines, “orphaned chimneys”, etc. I just come here to plagiarize. Now, one of my upcoming blogs will be my several workshops. LOL
    I did enjoy the read. THANKS…
    PS: I have to agree with Sandi above..

  12. Simple Thyme Prims - January 17, 2018 4:08 pm

    Great Sean! Right there with you!!

  13. Katherine Dodds - January 17, 2018 4:28 pm

    I’m not familiar with Alabama, but I can picture it because you’ve described it so beautifully.

  14. maryann fannin - January 17, 2018 4:30 pm

    I wish our younger generation could have these types of memories!!

  15. Jack Quanstrum - January 17, 2018 4:50 pm

    Good advice. Felt like I was there with you! Thank you for the ride. If heaven is even close to what you described today in your unique style, I am looking forward to it. Until the next ride!

  16. Linda Lou - January 17, 2018 5:02 pm

    Again and again you touch our very souls with your descriptions of by-gone days! Thank you!

  17. David - January 17, 2018 8:08 pm

    I really enjoyed your writing of a time that I believe will be remembered as the best “times” we have ever lived. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Bill T. - January 17, 2018 9:04 pm

    Been down that road many times in Chambers, Lee and Randolph counties in my 83 years. Oh, and you forgot to mention kudzu.

    • Dru - January 18, 2018 4:13 am

      Clay County for me! Enchanted places, enchanted writing.

  19. unkle kenny - January 18, 2018 12:24 am

    We had a country store named Jeff’s. When you walked up to the screen door with the pull handle that read ” Colonial is good Bread ” you were nearly there. We sold gas , feed and groceries. The meat counter had fresh pork and beef and my favorate hoop cheeze . A slush machine for that much needed sugar fix after school . The old men would come in to sit , visit , chew, smoke and to swap stories. They had a game of chance called pulling for a coke . All small refillable coke bottom carried yhe City And State where the bottles came from . Now here were the rules : the fella who pulled a bottle closest to Dothan paid for a round . I being the 12 year old who pumped the gas, hauled the feed and took out the groceries made sure I knew where the absolute furthest away bottle was . I heard a lot of stories from those fellas . If someone died in the area a box on the counter wound fill with money and flowers sent . As you got ready to leave thru that screen door you would see ” Thanks ! CALL AGAIN ” on the back side of the push bar . COUNTRY , dirt roads , it seems far away now…..oh well . As Paul Harvey would say , now for the rest of the story. Go on line and order groceries, drive to store , maby speak with the greater if you have time and load up your stuff and hurry home. Uk

  20. Donna Burson - January 18, 2018 3:44 am

    I could see everything…

  21. Phyllis Hamiton - January 18, 2018 4:08 am

    I so..look forward to these wonderful stories. Reminds me of being at my grandmother’s.

  22. Alan G Newman - January 18, 2018 12:12 pm

    I love your writing and the word pictures you paint. I hope there are long-leaf pines in heaven! That being said, we need to be careful to place our priorities in building for our eternal future by loving Christ and serving others (as you describe so well). Philippians 3:14 Luke 12: 16-21. Thanks, Sean, for the beautiful memories.

  23. Norma Williams - January 18, 2018 5:58 pm

    I enjoyed the ride today and all the following comments. I believe you were in Covington County heading out thru the National Forest, south to Florida. That is just the way I see it from north of Gantt.

  24. mac holliday - January 18, 2018 8:36 pm

    nostalgia can make you very sick….but Ann Rand of Atlas Shrugged said…”you can never go home again…… you suppose that is true????…

  25. Melissa - January 20, 2018 1:20 pm

    My mom has been gone almost 20 years now. She called it KOH-kola! Thanks for the memory! Peace and love

  26. Martha Lowe - April 10, 2018 1:11 pm

    My memories roll off of your tongue! Raised in AL. War Eagle by the way ?. Daddy said KOH-cola. And another thing close to my heart: Small roadside motels with inviting Vintage neon signs-Highway Rest, Candlelight Inn, Pine Lake Inn. Not too many left standing these days. Soon to be only memories. You made me smile this morning, Sean. Thanks!

  27. Karen Hazel - April 10, 2018 5:26 pm

    It’s too bad your father did what he did. I would exchange him for my father. You still have all those bright, wonderful memories. I have those memories only darker.

  28. Connie McAliley Chartier - April 10, 2018 9:34 pm

    I grew up on that dirt road with a peanut field in front…in Geneva and Coffee Springs, Alabama.. thanks for the memories. I love your writings!

  29. Steve Winfield - December 27, 2019 3:03 am

    Coon Hound Cemetary? There’s one in my back yard. Only one plot though. Jack Stagner. Lived 20 yrs. Has a beautiful cross I made & a whirligig windmill with a 50-something truck. Jack loved trucks. Can’t post pics here but maybe on Facebook comments one day. The coon hunter that bred him always gave the runt away & never taught them to hunt. Jack was much more a companion than a hunter anyway.
    From about 6 months til his last night he slept in my bed. I’ll never, ever, get over him. I so hope he’s waiting on me up there.

  30. Mary M Berryman - December 27, 2019 3:16 am

    Yes, and never miss an opportunity to say, “I love you”.

  31. Steven Duke - December 27, 2019 10:42 am

    Thank you, it feels as if you’ve been gone too long.

  32. Brian - January 2, 2020 1:26 pm

    I’m a 47 year old born and raised in Chicago as are my two boys.
    I should have moved to the South 20 years ago.

  33. Joyce Bacon - January 2, 2020 2:00 pm

    Sean, You are a true artist with words. I could see each scene so clear it was like being in the car with you. I’m sending you a virtual hug because I love you. ( )


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