ATLANTA—I don’t do big cities. But 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 snot and I refused to eat it because I couldn’t understand how the same advanced civilization that gave us bacon came up with mucus pudding.
But if you were to ask me nicely to pick a favorite major American city, maybe I would pick Atlanta. Because I have history here.
Right now I am thinking warm fuzzy thoughts about this city because I am standing in a 32-mile long line in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, awaiting airport security to strip search me.
We in the crowd of air passengers have been dutifully removing our belts, earrings, shoes, dentures, and insulin pumps, waiting to get past the Transportation Security checkpoint and board the plane. But I just tripped the metal detector for the second time, which is a lot like winning the lottery.
A friendly veteran TSA representative informs me that she is eager to help me through the frisking process. “Halt and put your hands where I can see them, sir,” she says in a helpful voice. “Now.”
So I have plenty of time to remember things during this moment. Things like, for instance, gag-inducing tapioca.
And while I’m being fondled by TSA, I’m also thinking about the days when the Atlanta Journal Constitution was the highlight of my life, back when newspapers were still newspapers.
We lived in Atlanta for a hot minute when I was a boy, and I loved the AJC newspaper. Each morning I would be the first to retrieve the news. My uncle thought this was hysterical, a kid fetching the paper.
“That’s a pretty good trick, Fido,” he’d say. “How about I teach you to shake or pee in the yard on command?”
But, of course, I already knew how to do those things.
Each morning I would shake open the paper to read my favorite AJC humor columnist. Then, I would cut out the column with scissors because his words were the brightest spot of my day. Later, when my uncle would open his newspaper, he would find a gaping hole where six hundred words used to be.
No, you don’t forget things like that.
Also, the Atlanta Braves. They were everything back then. They still are. We went to games at the old stadium—where finding a parking place was like surviving a Biblical apocalypse.
I remember the smell of infield dirt, and popcorn, and the sound of a crowd. I feel lucky to remember what the sporting events were like before things like pandemics came along.
I still remember sitting behind home plate once, close enough to see the forearm hair of Greg Maddux.
And it was in Atlanta where my cousin and I saw real honky-tonk bands, and where I listened to the blues for the first time. The first beer joint to ever serve 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 quarter of a glass. No refills. I felt like a big man that day. It was a different world back then. Today, that sweet woman would be doing hard time in Leavenworth if she tried a stunt like that.
Now that I’m an adult I mostly pass through 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 used to love taking in ball games when the world was normal.
But for the most part, I don’t think about Atlanta much, or about what it meant to me.
Until I get stuck in airport security. I’m thinking a lot about this city right now, standing in an international airport in my stocking feet, holding my pants up.
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 like anemic dogs.
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 how the doctors at Emory saved your mother’s life. And how you drove your mother home a year later, listening to a James A. Michener audiobook on cassette while she slept.
You’ll never forget the lost kid you used to be, no matter how old you get. Fatherless and awkward, a little chubby, listening to blues in a beer joint on a Saturday night, with your watered down quarter glass of cheap suds.
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 easy.” Then she hacked and said, “Slow down on that glass, son.”
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 you recall wishing that one day, if Heaven smiled on you, maybe you’d be a writer and pen the same kinds of things to similar boys, or anyone else who might need good words.
No, you don’t lose the love for towns like Atlanta, and you never will. Although you will always hate tapioca pudding.
And airport security, too.
Peggy - June 16, 2021 7:59 am
Such a joy to read today!
stephenpe - June 16, 2021 9:18 am
I loved Lewis Grizzard, too. And he was a dog. That means Im a gator.
Rogers - June 16, 2021 10:20 am
Lewis Grizzard was my favorite back in the day.
Chris Smith - June 16, 2021 10:33 am
Oh Sean, how we all miss Lewis. I too am from Atlanta and had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with Lewis Grizzard on more than one occasion. I have a number of his books signed to me.
Our world is better because of his humor and gift for transmitting it. It is also better because you continue that tradition. Thank You.
aawgreen - June 16, 2021 10:37 am
And you grew up to be a lot like Lewis Grizzard, only more in touch with your feminine side. (That’s a compliment).
ddlowery - June 16, 2021 10:49 am
I miss reading Louis Grizzard also.
beachdreamer1 - June 16, 2021 11:13 am
I’m a native Atlantan…grew up there some 80 years ago. Oh, the memories of Atlanta then! Walking to town alone at ten years old. Lived near the Varsity…need I say more? Chili dogs were two for 25 cents! My first job after school was at the Loews Theater selling popcorn. I rode the bus home after working till ten. Most of the summer was spent at Piedmont Park…there was a pool there then. I could go on and on. It saddens me greatly what has happened to my hometown. I’m so grateful for those wonderful years in the 40’s snd 50’s. I wish everyone could know what a beautiful city it was. Thanks for the memories, Sean. “To all things a season….”
God bless you.
allisvant - June 16, 2021 11:15 am
And if Lewis was enjoying an early morning up of coffee with Catfish at his side, he’d enjoy the heck out of reading this column/blog every morning, too!!
Bryan D - June 16, 2021 11:24 am
May Lewis live forever. And Sean.
Lana - June 16, 2021 11:28 am
Thanks for all of your stories. I enjoy reading them. You make us laugh and sometimes cry a little.
jill - June 16, 2021 11:35 am
My aunt made me sit for 3 hours at the table to get me to eat chicken pot pie. Unfortunately, for me, my gag reflex kicked in and to me it was like you described in your story, like eating snot. Finally was allowed up, and never have eaten another chicken pot pie to this day. The memory lingers on. 🙂
Leigh Amiot - June 16, 2021 11:40 am
I so enjoyed Lewis Grizzard’s writings, he wasn’t afraid of being politically incorrect, one of my favorite lines of his was when he observed Michael Jackson “used to be black”. Even then, people were hesitant to say the plain and obvious truth, but Lewis wasn’t. People compare you to him, but your style is uniquely yours as well. Thanks for sharing your humiliation with the TSA process. I hate that more than big cities. I had my HAIR rummaged through at Denver International Airport, the culprit setting off the alarm—reading glasses! I understood, though, because grandmothers from southern Georgia are the usual hijackers.
Virginia Russell - June 16, 2021 11:41 am
I too have happy memories of Atlanta. Thanks!
Te - June 16, 2021 11:58 am
I have a strange connection to Atlanta. I asked my Granny for family history, so she told me her daddy, the local sheriff of an Alabama county, went to Atlanta, met a woman who lived in Peachtree St, and married her. It was karmic that, when I left home, I moved to Atlanta and lived — you got it! Peachtree St, in an apt. bldg across the street from the High Museum. They turned that apt. bldg. into a parking garage decades later. That city was familiar to me the way BOston was – never got lost, never tired of walking, never owned a car when I lived in either place. Piedmont Park Arts Festival. I still have a print I bought for $4 in 1972.
Kip carter - June 16, 2021 12:00 pm
I loved Lewis Grizzard also
Jimmy - June 16, 2021 12:01 pm
I shake open my iPad every morning just to be encouraged by your words. Thank you, even though thank you will never be adequate. There are a number of non negotiables that make up my day. Reading your words is one of them. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Don’t even think about it. Many are being impacted by your words every day (way beyond your faithful readers). Keep following your dream. It’s not over yet! We are dreaming daily with you. “The little things of our lives are becoming more important” every day and your words help bring those things back to life. You either have our eyes leaking with heart wrenching stories that motivate us to help others or brains humming with distant memories that make us want to spend more time making memories with the ones we love or doing good things for others anonymously. I can’t think of any better way to invest your life; doing something you love and we’re obviously born to do, MOTIVATING PEOPLE TO BE BETTER PEOPLE. You have surpassed every Grizzard article I ever read (and I read a lot in the Hattiesburg American) because you make we want to be a better human being. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping. YOU HELP ME BE A BETTER ME! And for that, everybody I know should thank you too!
Debbie g - June 16, 2021 12:05 pm
I have visions of you being frisked by a little ole granny that I cannot quit smiling. Or laughing about 😃😃
Harriett Owen - June 16, 2021 12:13 pm
My momma used to make tapioca pudding, too. My brothers called it “frog eggs.” I never allowed it to pass through my lips!
Christine - June 16, 2021 12:24 pm
You are so funny and so talented. Thank you for writing every day😍
Abbe Laboda - June 16, 2021 12:32 pm
I love Atlanta too, and the Braves. Thank you!
Bette - June 16, 2021 12:36 pm
In one of your recent columns you mentioned you aren’t a very religious man. I take issue with that. I don’t believe that anyone with the kindness and insight you show in every column isn’t a person of deep faith. I should know-I’m one of those Episcopalians you sometimes comment about. Good bless you, Sean!
Harold - June 16, 2021 12:45 pm
I’m a new reader and simply love the SOUTH. Grew up in B’ham and U write MY LANGUAGE!!!! #KEEPTELLINGYOURSTORIES
Bobby - June 16, 2021 12:52 pm
My aunt lived in Newnsn Ga for years. When I was in college at Bama in the early 70s. She would cut out Lewis’s columns and send to me, knowing I could identify with most of his topics. Thanks for filling the void left by the pride of Moreland.
Jan - June 16, 2021 12:55 pm
Loved Lewis Grizzard too! He was my favorite until you came along. Telling life’s truths with love…
Thank you, Sean!
Tom - June 16, 2021 12:55 pm
Sean, your dream is reality. I liked the writer that you refer to, but you write to my soul.
Nancy Barker - June 16, 2021 1:06 pm
I read your column every morning, first thing. You’re part of my day and I appreciate you. I’m from Kentucky and live in Denver. Your words speak to my Southern (ish) soul. Thank you 😊
Tammy Troutman - June 16, 2021 1:12 pm
And Celestine Sibley (I live near her beloved Crabapple), Ron Hudspeth and Furman Bisher – don’t just watch the game, feel the game
Anna Reid - June 17, 2021 11:27 pm
Yes, I loved Celestine Sibley as well as Lewis Grizzard, and still have several of her books. The old Atlanta was a special place to live.
Suellen - June 16, 2021 1:23 pm
I’ve been through Atlanta (ugh!) but only TO Atlanta once. We packed a lot into a long weekend. The Passion Play at the First Baptist Church, the Varsity, Mary Mac’s Tea Room, World of Coca Cola, then to Stone Mountain where I fell in love with the place and Stone Mountain purses. I’ll always have fond memories of the place.
Steve McCaleb - June 16, 2021 1:30 pm
Sorry Sean……pass me the tapioca. I liked Atlanta better before it became NYC South.
Mary - June 16, 2021 1:35 pm
I feel certain you were referring to Lewis Grizzard’s column. I once wrote a comment to you that your columns reminded me of his. Thanks for continuing the work you do to make people like me start the day on a positive note. Enjoy your day and I agree with you on the tapioca pudding😊
Nancy Huey - June 16, 2021 2:10 pm
If we had security like Israel, 9/11 wouldn’t be in our history. Is it true, a FEMALE flight instructor in Minn MI, warned “suits” something was wrong.
A man only wanted to know how to steer plane? Today’s world requires TSA. 👍🏻🇺🇸
Barbara L - June 16, 2021 2:22 pm
I remember when Lewis started on the Sports Page of the AJC. His columns were so popular that the editors finally gave him his own daily column and he didn’t have to write only about sports. I couldn’t wait to laugh every morning as I read him with my coffee.
Pat - June 16, 2021 2:59 pm
I lived in Atlanta during the 50’s – wonderful town then. Thanks for the reminder!
Christina - June 16, 2021 3:43 pm
Yes all the little pieces in the past are not just memories, but part of us. I’m learning to embrace them more as they come back. Thanks for this reflection and for writing the words we want to cut out every day.
Susan Kennedy - June 16, 2021 3:51 pm
Lewis Grizzard was great. He would probably be reading your stuff if he was still with us!! And he may well be!
Ruth Ann Hayes - June 16, 2021 3:58 pm
Thank you for bringing back memories of Lewis Grizzard. Once on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle, I read his “Elvis
is Dead and I Don’t Feel so Good Myself” and laughed all the way. Got some strange looks, but didn’t care. I miss him, but you are a close second.
Susan Corbin - June 16, 2021 5:04 pm
My memories are Baltimore.
MAM - June 16, 2021 6:04 pm
Double ugh to airport security. I used to love flying in the “old” days, but it’s just a chore nowadays. TSA took all the fun and adventure out of it. And Jill, I’m so sorry you don’t like chicken pot pie. If made well, it’s delicious. Tapioca pudding, however, is not my favorite, but I “can” eat it without gagging. Keep up the storytelling, Sean. I’m always glad to read your column each day.
Carol Dingfelder - June 16, 2021 6:36 pm
The best way to start my day is with Sean of the South.
Every day, nothing, not even coffee beats him out Atlanta is, one of the reasons why.
Joann Thompson - June 16, 2021 6:54 pm
I read every book Lewis Grizzard wrote. Whenever I bend over in the garden, I think of one title….
Robert - June 16, 2021 7:15 pm
Atlanta- New York City with pecan trees
Linda Moon - June 16, 2021 9:02 pm
I’ll tell you nicely that Atlanta is my favorite big city in America. I have history and memories that connect me with Atlanta, including its airport. I once had a book by your favorite AJC humor columnist. Now, my FAVORITE COLUMNIST owns that book. Heaven has smiled on you, Writer…and it smiles on me when I need and read your good words. I hope the memories of you will be a part of me when I’m 93 or older. And, I hope you’ve enjoyed the book, Columnist!
Jo - June 16, 2021 9:49 pm
Oh the memories!! When I was a youngin we called tapioca pudding ” fish eyes in glue”. Weird stuff!
Rebecca Souders - June 16, 2021 9:52 pm
Sean, you are on the money with tapioca… that and oatmeal: bowls of boogers! If my mother had known how much oatmeal went down the kitchen sink, she would have sat at the breakfast table with us kids.
Love your stories, especially when they conjure up memories…. well, maybe not the tapioca or oatmeal.
Jerrie Elliott - June 16, 2021 10:04 pm
I grew up in South Georgia and I loved the Atlanta Constitution. Lewis Grizzard was a favorite. So was Celestine Sibley. You have both of their kind hearts and keen interest in people. Love your wonderful stories!
Kurt Rankg - June 16, 2021 11:46 pm
Sounds/reads like you were Lewis Grizzard fan too.
sueellen9497 - June 17, 2021 4:14 am
I left metro Atlanta in 1991, maybe we watched the same game at the stadium. And I hope your favorite columnist was Lewis Grizzard.
Leah King - June 17, 2021 9:01 pm
What a delight it was to read this. I was born at South Fulton hospital in Atlanta and have lived in Newnan for 20 years. I’m a UGA fan and adore the Varsity and catfish (both fried and Lewis’ dog) and I was an English major in college. My mama finally retired from Delta after 37 years so I’ve spent a lot of time in that very same airport. Yes, it is different than it used to be but thank heavens we can get anywhere on a direct flight. Layovers bite! Next time you’re there, build in a little extra time and head down to Sprayberry’s BBQ in Newnan. I always order the “Lewis Grizzard platter” complete with handcut fries, chopped BBQ sandwich, brunswick stew, pickles and sweet tea that’s second only to that of my great-grandmama, Effie Claude. I’m just bettin’ you’ll see a whole lotta’ folks who remind you of your “people”. God bless them all!
Suzi - June 20, 2021 9:24 pm
And you provide the good words everyday, thank you!
Bill Harris - June 21, 2021 1:53 am
Thank you Sean
Susan Marler - August 12, 2021 5:11 pm
Came to Atlanta in the mid 1960’s for college. You now have me remembering old Atlanta Stadium, was there when we won one of the World Series games, and the Falcons played there too. The AJC is not what it used to be but I bet you cut out Louis Grizzard’s column every day. Have all his books, my husband might share if you ask. We have lived in many different states over our lifetime, but came back to Hotlanta because friends and family were here in 2007. Not the same now, but it’s still a great place to be. We do not fly anymore, hate the hassle, but thanks for a smile about my husband’s home town.