ATLANTA—I don’t do big cities, but I don’t mind Atlanta.
If you were to force me to pick my favorite American city, I wouldn’t pick one because I don’t like being forced to do anything.
My mother used to force me to eat tapioca pudding as a kid, the texture reminded me of old-person snot and I refused to eat it because I couldn’t understand how the same advanced civilization that invented bacon, airplanes, and the Thigh Master, came up with tapioca.
But like I was saying, if you asked me nicely to pick a favorite major American city, maybe I would pick Atlanta. Because I have history here.
Right now I am driving I-285, through Atlanta’s congested traffic. The long line of vehicles moves five feet per hour. It’s miserable.
I have plenty of time to remember all kinds of things in this gridlock. Things like, for instance, tapioca.
And I can recall an era before smartphones, when newspapers were works of journalism, before they got swallowed by internet agencies who produce articles entitled: “TWENTY-ONE REASONS WHY BOTTLED WATER WILL KILL YOU.”
And I remember when the Atlanta Journal Constitution was the highlight of my day.
We lived in Atlanta for a hot minute when I was a boy, and each morning I would be the first to retrieve the newspaper. My uncle thought this was hysterical.
“You’re fetching the paper?” he said. “That’s a pretty good trick, Fido. How about next I teach you to shake, roll over, and tee-tee on command?”
But I already knew how to do those things.
So I would open the paper to read my favorite columnist. Then, I would cut out the column with scissors because it was the brightest spot of my day.
Later, when my uncle would shake open his newspaper, he would find a gaping hole where six hundred words used to be.
You don’t forget things like that.
Also, the Atlanta Braves. I remember them. We went to games at the old stadium—where finding a parking place was like surviving the apocalypse.
I remember the smell of infield dirt, and popcorn, and the sound of a crowd. I remember sitting behind home plate once, close enough to see the forearm hair of Greg Maddux.
It was in Atlanta where my cousin and I saw real honky-tonk bands, and listened to the blues for the first time.
The first beer joint that ever served me was just outside Atlanta. There was a blues band playing. I lied about my age.
The bartender was a sweet old woman with skin like boot leather. She knew I was a kid, but the joint was empty, so she gave me one half glass. No refills.
It was a different world back then. That sweet woman would be doing hard time if she tried that today.
Now that I’m an adult, I mostly visit town on business. Sometimes I eat at Truett’s with my uncle, or I go antique shopping with my cousin. I’ve seen Willie Nelson play at Chastain Park, and I like to take in ball games at Suntrust Park. But for the most part, I don’t think about Atlanta much, nor about what it meant to me.
Until I get stuck in traffic.
The older you get, the more important the little pieces of your past become. You find yourself wanting to remember the itty-bitty details. Things you didn’t even know you cared about. Because they are not just memories, they are part of you.
Things like the kudzu in Jonesboro on a June afternoon. The tiny church your friend Jaron and his granny used to go to. The old stadium where you would watch America’s team lose.
The way your cousin would say during a ballgame: “Hey, you know the difference between Michael Jackson and the Atlanta Braves?”
“Nothing. They both wear one glove but never use it.”
You remember how your aunt brought your mother here when she was sick, and the doctors at Emory saved her life.
And how you drove your mother home a year later, listening to an audiobook on cassette while she slept.
You’ll never forget the lost kid you were. No matter how old you get. Fatherless and awkward, a little chubby, listening to blues in a beer joint on a Saturday night.
And the bartender, puffing her cigarette, who said, “You know what I like about the blues? It’s honest music, it don’t pretend that life’s a bed of roses.”
You remember jogging to the end of a driveway every morning, shaking open a damp newspaper to see what an old columnist friend had to say.
And wishing that one day, if Heaven smiled on you, maybe you’d write the same kinds of things to a lonely child who needed them.
No, you don’t forget places like Atlanta, and you never will.
But you will always hate tapioca.
Toby Burnett - June 4, 2019 7:03 am
I’m traveling out of the country with my husband and reading your “column” is a bit of home.
Linda - June 4, 2019 7:06 am
It’s so true Sean, that as we get older, the little things that you remember so clearly that happened in your life – memories, smells, experiences, etc. make you the person you are today.
I love thinking back on many different times in my life and realizing I am who I am because of the people who passed through my life for better or for worse. They all contributed in some way.
Thank you for mentioning Truett’s. It is my maiden name and I did not know there was a restaurant with that name in GA.
I appreciate your coming into my life with your columns a few years ago….I share them all the time with dear people I know will appreciate them.
Sandi in FL. - June 4, 2019 7:07 am
I was born in Atlanta at Grady Hospital on Peachtree Street and later lived in the area a while as an adult after moving to several other cities and states. Do I miss Altanta? YES, everything about it except the rush hour traffic you mentioned!. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to get to work 7 miles away, but if it was raining or there was a car accident, it took much longer. However, the excitement of the big city was contagious and exhilirating. Sean, I think that Lewis Grizzard would be humbled and touched by your nod to him in this post. No doubt he would also relish and appreciate your style of writing which is akin to his. Keep on writing and entertaining your readers with your special view on life and people.
Joe Patterson - June 4, 2019 11:04 am
And remember LEWIS thanks
Naomi - June 4, 2019 11:59 am
I came to Atlanta in 1962, before it was so crowded and before we had any interstates. My late husband got transferred to St. Louis right after we got married and we lived across the river in Illinois for 7 years. In 1974, I went to work for the federal government (HEW) which was located on the corner of Peachtree & 7th Street. Anyway, Mr. Sprayberry had a cafeteria on the first floor of the building; they served home-made country food, breakfast and lunch. Although Atlanta had a lot of restaurants, none of them were better than Sprayberry’s. In fact, Sprayberry High School was named after his family. When I remarried, we moved to Powder Springs and built a house on the farm where my husband grew up. We ended up going to church with the Sprayberry family who were related to Mr. Sprayberry who had the restaurant in Atlanta. (Small world).
James - June 4, 2019 12:19 pm
When you remember a past event, you are actually remembering the last time you remembered it, not the event itself.
GaryD - June 4, 2019 12:59 pm
When Lewis Grizzard and Celestine Sibley died so did the Atlanta newspaper I wouldn’t wish Atlanta on my worse enemy.
Bobby from Brierfield - June 4, 2019 1:19 pm
The writings of Sean and Lewis are excellent, however, the AJC had another columnist that was just as good. Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a girl of the South that writes with great skill, insight and humor. Look up some of her columns and if you love the South you will love her work.
Shelton A. - June 4, 2019 1:25 pm
Lewis would be proud of this one! I despise tapioca as well-nasty stuff. Who would even bother to take the time to invent it-bet whoever it was hated kids.
Robert Chiles - June 4, 2019 2:10 pm
Like New York City except with pecan trees. And did you see the bumper sticker: “Kudzu Git You!”
Brenda Norton - June 4, 2019 2:45 pm
I am hooked on your emails. I’ve been a fan for a short time but I love reading each one of your emails.
James A Clark Jr - June 4, 2019 3:03 pm
I lived in Clayton County GA, in Riverdale from March 1996-May-1999
Mike Bone - June 4, 2019 4:15 pm
I-285 at rush hour….home of the Watermelon 500!
Linda Moon - June 4, 2019 4:21 pm
Old person snot: the worst kind; baby snot: not so good, either. Let’s just forget all that! A favorite columnist: the best way to read loneliness away. Atlanta: Chastain Park, Anime, Fox Theatre, and my Aunt Mary who was at the premiere of Gone With The Wind at the Leow’s Grand in 1939. I will never forget these! And, for you, Sean: Heaven has smiled.
Emjay - June 4, 2019 4:46 pm
Heaven smiled, all right :).
Bobbie - June 4, 2019 5:19 pm
I’m a native Atlantan, born at Emory many, many, many years ago! I grew up in the shadow of the ‘original’ Varsity. Could walk from my house to downtown. My first job was at the Loews Grand theatre in the concession. Can still smell that popcorn! Atlanta was a great place to grow up. Remember when the Braves were the Georgia Crackers? Atlanta has changed over the years, but still love the Fox and the Varsity. Never heard of Truetts, but Merri Mac’s was always a favorite for real southern cooking. It’s still a great city. Thanks Sean for sharing your memories of Atlanta, but have to tell you, have always loved tapioca pudding.
But in just a few words you totally ruined it for me?‼️ One more thing, please don’t ever write anything bad about banana pudding?‼️ The best thing ever!
God bless you.
Elrod Kathryn - June 4, 2019 5:52 pm
I’ve been reading your column for a month now. I thoroughly enjoy each one because I can relate to the people you mention. I am a Moreland, Ga. girl and grew up in our proud little town with Lewis and all of our common friends. He wrote stories about all of us and our parents who were a support in his life.
His legacy has been our claim to fame even today.
Keep sharing your life and your memories. They are precious to many of us.
Betty - June 4, 2019 6:26 pm
Thanks a lot, Sean. I have always liked tapioca pudding but now, after your description, I probably won’t be able to eat it again. Other than that I love your columns.
Cathy M - June 4, 2019 6:41 pm
Sean, you are one of the lucky ones that heaven smiled upon. I too am a one of those lucky people and I thank God every day because it could have gone the other way. I try to give thanks each morning for all of my blessings. There are more than I deserve. Went to a service yesterday for a friend who appeared to be happy. I was one of his customers at a local store. Personable, handsome always kind and caring. The kind of guy that made you smile each time you saw him. I did not realize that he was holding a lot of pain inside. He could not live with that pain any longer and I wept as I stood at his service. With all the evil people in the world today, It just does not seem fair that a person with a heart like his is home. We needed him on the team. The team of good guys whose heart is tender and kind. Atlanta is too big for me anymore and I never got the tapioca thing either. You bring such joy and comfort to so many. Thank you. And may my sweet friend Rest In Peace. I will miss him❤️?
Jane Vaught - June 4, 2019 7:45 pm
Oh gawd I will never eat tapioca pudding again !! Old people snot ??
Edna B. - June 5, 2019 4:41 pm
Well, you’ve managed to spoil tapioca for me. But, I remember the Boston Braves! Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Leslie - June 5, 2019 9:17 pm
Growing up, we called tapioca pudding “frog eyes”. Mama also made a congealed salad that we called “vomit salad”. Thanks for the smiles today. 🙂
Jon Dragonfly - June 5, 2019 11:30 pm
Of course, we know you were rushing to read Lewis, but don’t forget dear Celestine Sibley.
Ronnie - June 7, 2019 8:55 am
I remember that guy from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, used to read his stuff, too. He was syndicated and his column was in the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger. I used to have a cassette tape of his, but can’t find it. He tells the story of him and a friend going to a Bulldogs game and the incident with Ugga at the fifty yard line during the coin toss, funny stuff. I’m sure you know the story…
Sandi in FL. - June 7, 2019 8:58 am
What’s the rest of that Bulldogs football game story, Ronnie? Curious readers want to know how it ended!
Jack Darnell - June 8, 2019 1:01 am
We drove through Atlanta a couple times a year in late 1958-9 Straight down Peach Tree Street. No interstates and no a/c in our car. It wasn’t too bad, BUT now, not so much fun and besides the author of ‘My Daddy was a Pistol, I’m a Son of a Gun’ ain’t writing in the Journal NO MORE! ole LG has put up his pen!
Just sayin’. Besides Imma thinking SanAntonio or Del Rio!
Sherry & jack
Steve W. - July 6, 2019 12:27 am
Had the (dis) pleasure of working there for a couple years. Drove home to Bessemer every Friday. A place in the Underground called “Down the Hatch”. Had live crocodiles in the cement pond. It was a fondue place. I never had that. I’ve never had fondue at all. We’d just wonder in for a drink because we liked the crocs. Some nights after work Cracker Barrel then Best Western just got mundane so we’d go to the Underground. Knew how to get there & they had crocodiles & cocktails. We were simple like that. Somehow, I always thought i’d run in to Lewis one day. Never did, but always looked, especially in Waffle Houses. I was very happy when that job ended. Used to think going to Atlanta was a big deal. Since then I’ve never driven past Six Flags. Dad took my brother & me the first year the Scream Machine was built. Now I take my 9 yr old daughter & watch her scream. Know exactly why dad giggled the way he did.
Atlanta’s a much bigger deal when you’re a kid. A younger man even. Nothing but traffic, horns, & middle fingers now. And Lewis, God rest his soul, don’t eat at Waffle House no more.
I love you Sean. Gonna meet you one day.
Steve W. - July 6, 2019 12:30 am
P.S. Proof reading your own stuff never quite works out, does it?