Ashland, Alabama—I gave a speech in a little theater. I told stories to warm up the audience before a bluegrass band took the stage.
The band was good. The lead singer was the grandson of Ralph Stanley, and he sounded like it. The boys picked their strings so fast their instruments started melting.
The people in the audience were in good spirits. Thank God for that. Last week, I spoke to a crowd of Presbyterians in Florida. I’ve had conversations with water heaters that went better.
I wish I could tell you how much I love Alabama, but I think I already have. I’ve been writing about this state for a long time. I wrote a novel about it, sang about it, told stories about it, and once I got stuck in Birmingham traffic on a holiday weekend.
I am not from Alabama, I married into it. But I’m glad I did. There are a lot of reasons why I love it.
One big reason is barbecue. You can get pulled pork anywhere in the state. In Mountain Brook it comes served on fine China with garnishes of parsley. Down in Georgiana, you get it from a utility shed beside a gas station. Tell them Sean sent you.
Alabama football is also important to me. I have been watching the boys in crimson since the day of my birth. Literally.
I was born during the third quarter of a Liberty Bowl. My father held his infant son before a black-and-white TV in the delivery room and introduced him to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It was decided that my middle name would be Paul.
The literature from Alabama couldn’t be any better. I don’t care who you are, Kathryn Tucker Windham is queen.
And music, Lord have mercy. William Lee Golden couldn’t be any cooler. Nat “King” Cole had no equals. If I had a son, his middle name would be Hiram.
His first name would be Jalen. Maybe Tua. If I had twins: Satchel Paige and Willie Mays.
A lot of people don’t realize that the Florida Panhandle, my home, is an unofficial extension of Alabama. At one time in American history, West Florida and Alabama were the same territory. Politicians fought over who owned the Panhandle. Alabama lost, and we became Floridians.
Even so, few who I ran with rooted for FSU or the University of Florida. At least not publicly. There were only crimson caps with white “A’s,” or orange caps with the letters “AU” embroidered upon them.
I have seen tavern-clearing brawls over these two caps.
Once, at a joint in Pensacola, I saw one such fight. It was just after the Iron Bowl. An ambulance had to be called. The paramedics didn’t bring enough stretchers to accommodate all the injured. They placed the fallen victims in the parking lot like soldiers after the Battle of Atlanta.
Before each man was placed into the back of an ambulance, he would either moan, “Roll Tide!” or “Gene Stallings can kiss my…”
Assuredly, it’s a great state. I don’t know how a place can feel so much like home when it’s not.
Take me to the Panhandle bay of my youth, and I will swoon over our wiregrass, palmettos, and endless longleafs. But drop me in Alabama, and I become a novice poet.
Bessemer, Dadeville, Gadsden, Prattville, LaFayette (pronounced: la-FETT).
Loachapoka, Notasulga, Weogufka, Macedonia, Letohatchee, Opelika, Tallapoosa, Montevallo, Talladega (tal-a-DIGGA), Sylacauga, Tuscaloosa.
I enjoy sunrises on Lake Martin. I like the streets of Tuskegee. The Mount Vernon Theater in Tallassee is perfect.
Hank Williams’ boyhood home still stands in Georgiana. In McMullen, they have a population of ten people.
The porches overlooking Lake Guntersville are a revelation. I know a judge in Greenville who picks one mean guitar. I know a football coach in Ashland who wears overalls.
Don’t drive too fast through Eufaula, you don’t want to miss the old homes. Visit Luverne at least once, and eat at Michael’s.
Don’t forget the Loveliest Village on the Plains.
A lot of people think that after they die, if they’ve lived a good life, they will wake up in Fairhope.
It’s all lovely to me.
Once, at a crucial time in my life, I thought I had no family. Somehow I was invited into the arms of a place called Brewton. There I found the greatest thing this state ever produced. Her name is Jamie.
She’s a woman whose straight-talking father used to say, “If you don’t like football, strong women, loud preachin’, pork butts, Hank Aaron, Jesus, and the Bear, then you ain’t an Alabamian, you just live here.”
I think it’s time I found some barbecue.
Steve Winfield - March 31, 2019 8:14 am
In Bessemer, 9 out of 10 are Alabama fans. The other 10% are rude & obnoxious. I’ve seen a few nights where the police had to settle the battle. 99% of the time it’s just good fun.
In the Navy I met lots of folks from all 50 States & Puerto Rico. There’s 2 States that guys always can’t wait to get back to. Alabama & Texas. The other 48 could care less. Many will never go home. Never met anyone from here that wasn’t eager to get home. Me included.
Meredith Smith - March 31, 2019 9:46 am
@Jamie Dietrich – ❤️.
Jean - March 31, 2019 10:49 am
Cathi - March 31, 2019 10:53 am
We’re so glad you joined us, Sean, and regularly give us words to smile or tear up about. And WDE! ????
Karen - March 31, 2019 11:02 am
This is spot on! Thank you.
Virginia Hamlin - March 31, 2019 11:43 am
Love it, love it, from an uprooted Alabama girl living in Orlando.
Jan - March 31, 2019 12:42 pm
No place on earth like it. Thanks for being one of US, Sean! WDE!!!
Barbara - March 31, 2019 12:43 pm
I’m from Fort Payne, Alabama. I married a man from Ashland, Alabama; the county seat of Clay County. Clay County, AL is known as “The Volunteer County.” Both National Guard posts, Ashland and Lineville, were deployed at the same time. The only males in Clay County during Desert Storm were those under 18 and those over 60. And every one of those at home, wished they were deployed with their brothers. I love Alabama. I live in Florida, now, but my heart belongs in ‘bama. Thank you for this….
Jess in Athens, GA - March 31, 2019 12:56 pm
I’m a fourth generation Floridian, but I enlisted in the Army in 1963 and by the time I retired in 1992, Florida was so crowded with “Northerners” (not so fondly referred to by some as Yankees or damn Yankees) I decided not to go back. My wife, daughter and I ended up settling in Athens, GA, and I must say it’s the perfect spot for me. I love everything about Athens, especially the UGA Bulldogs (or Dawgs if you’ve lived here for more than a month). The Dawgs had Bama on the ropes twice in the last two years and Bama rebounded and beat my beloved Dawgs. Well, mister, 2019 is a new year and Kirby Smart is building another high-powered football team. Time for a rematch………Go Dawgs!!!!
Kaye Wells - March 31, 2019 1:11 pm
Amen and Roll Tide from Dothan!!
Trina V. - March 31, 2019 1:52 pm
From a born and bred Alabamian, ROLL TIDE!!
Jack Darnell - March 31, 2019 1:56 pm
It is hard to tell, have you ever been to Alabama? hahahahaha Good on you. I am sorta stuck on a big corner of the USA, the southeast. I think it would be nice to be dedicated to one state. I reckon if I wuz a dedicated dude it would be NC, and I can’t tell you the name of any of the important things that other people know like sports people or teams, but I do know my girl was born here.
I have met some WONDERFUL BAMA FOLK. two are Sheila and Jean of OPP, you should meet them, they are natives. Myra just moved there from AZ and really likes it for some reason.
But Bama is good and as Sheila says, ROLL TIDE!.
Shannon Shelton Brown - March 31, 2019 1:58 pm
Thank you, Sean. Every day your words elicit cathartic tears, ones that need shedding to cleanse our souls. From a native Alabamian, born under an Azalea bush here in Mobile :)?
Elizabeth - March 31, 2019 2:03 pm
Sounds like a list of places to see on a great road trip!!!
Ruth in AL - March 31, 2019 2:25 pm
We will always claim you Sean. You are an Alabamian through and through and there is nothing better. From Headland, Alabama, the best little town around, we love you and War Eagle! and Roll Tide!
Carol Heidbreder - March 31, 2019 3:11 pm
Born in Fairhope , Actually Point Clear(Battles Wharf) and you are right . What a sweet sweet place to grow up! Still in the southeast (SC) and go back to Gods country every chance I get. Nothing like it. Many of my “people ” are there and of course we are a house divided…War Eagle/Roll Tide!!! Come have dinner on the ground with us at Montgomery Hill Baptist Church (established 1845 I think) in Tensaw first Sunday in May. Love to have you. We’ll show you around. You’ll love it! You’re just up the road from us. Thanks for the nod to our wonderful part of the best country in the world!!!
Carol Heidbreder - March 31, 2019 3:22 pm
No idea what just happened to my first reply! But from a born and raised Fairhopian (actually Point Clear/Battles Wharf) you nailed it as a little piece of heaven. Go back often. My “people “are there! Come see us at Montgomery Hill Baptist Church(1845) in Tensaw first Sunday in May for our homecoming and dinner on the ground. Love to have yall! You’re just up the road. Come on down. We’ll show you around, fill you full of fried chicken and wonderful Baldwin County history and you will love it and WE will live having you! Will try again to post this!
Edna B. - March 31, 2019 3:26 pm
A fun story today Sean. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Jack Quanstrum - March 31, 2019 4:00 pm
Great story! Great state! Great place! Perfect reading for a day like today!
Ala Red Clay Girl - March 31, 2019 4:31 pm
American by birth, Southern (Alabamian) by the grace of God. They don’t call it Sweet Home Alabama for nothing. War Eagle!
Tommy Counce - March 31, 2019 6:33 pm
Sean, you obviously have never been to Mississippi. Your loss?. We’re siblings & neighbors though. Nothing like some jostling among friends. Hail State!
Betty When You Call Me - March 31, 2019 6:40 pm
Preach, Brother Sean. LA, and if you’re lucky enough to have spent time in actual Alabama, then by God, you’re lucky enough.
Where I’m at, we’re 18 miles south of FL-GA line. I’d occasionally refer to it as Lower Georgia, and was once delightfully corrected: “Lower Alabama.” Well, thank you Wiregrass (shout out, Wiregrass)!
I have a midsize Chevrolet truck, blacked out. Stickers on the back window are just enough: houndstooth hat, JOIN CCA, and a yellow & black flag with a statement about unity. If you know what you’re lookin’ at, you can tell where the driver is from-FROM. As one of the few native Floridians anymore, I used to ask, “Cool, but where’re you from-FROM?”
Whenever I’m getting back to the place I’m not from-FROM, those Alabama coastal pines just carry me home.
Linda Leighton - March 31, 2019 7:49 pm
Good piece I really enjoyed reading it today. It made me laugh a lot. War Eagle!
Ann Marie Bouchet - March 31, 2019 9:29 pm
ROLL TIDE ROLL and thank heaven for little towns. I live in Cleveland, Alabama, Sean. The people are friendly, the Bbq is perfect and football is the best….Roll Tide!!!
Barbara Wells - April 1, 2019 12:00 am
Right on–except I think you’re misguided in your football team loyalty! I was born and raised in Brewton and spent many summer days with my cousin in Georgiana. I’m now happily retired in the Panhandle. I love that you love my home state!
Steve Welch - April 1, 2019 2:13 am
Great piece Sean. One half of me (my mother) is Washington County, Mobile, Birmingham, Selma and all the places my cousins, aunts and uncles lived. Bear Bryant was a god, and Auburn was an acronym for Alabama Usually Beats Us Red Necks. We vacationed at Gulf Shores, got fussed at by our parents on these vacations for going to the FloraBama and actually doing the mullet toss at the end of April. But would not trade it for the world. You are lucky you found Jamie. You and I are both lucky that we found and can embrace the good parts of Alabama in our DNA.
Charaleen Wright - April 1, 2019 3:43 am
Carolyn Allen - April 1, 2019 3:49 am
Sean, I grew up in Bay Minette and have lived in Dothan for the past 44 years. Both seem like home to me….and there’s no place like home.
So glad you love our wonderful state.
robert - April 1, 2019 1:21 pm
Sean, you nailed the pronunciation of Talladega. That’s how the locals pronounce it. As a Sylacauga boy I pronounced Childersburg as “Childessburg” for some reason. I guess it was my dialect. My best friend was an Auburn fan and we used to argue and fight a good bit. He was especially obnoxious after Bo went over the top for Auburn’s 23-22 victory after Bama had one ten Iron Bowls in a row. Brewton native Brother Bill Dean pastored the First Baptist Church of Sylacauga for many years. He had a deep southern drawl and was a no-nonsense leader who loved the Lord and people.
Melody Warbington (@rwm52) - April 1, 2019 2:44 pm
Tennessee girl who bleeds orange here, but I fell in love with and married a Tuscaloosa boy. I love Alabama. If you haven’t tried Archibald’s in Tuscaloosa, it’s time. And give a listen to Alabama Pines by Jason Isbell.
You can’t drive through Talladega on a weekend in October.
Head up north to Jacksonville. Cut around and over.
Watch your speed in Boiling Springs.
They ain’t got a thing to do. They’ll get you every time.
Somebody take me home through those Alabama pines.
Shelton A. - April 1, 2019 3:14 pm
Count me in on the barbecue…only use down-east NC sauce!
A love note to Alabama - Cerakko Farm - April 1, 2019 3:18 pm
[…] “I wish I could tell you how much I love Alabama, but I think I already have. I’ve been writ… […]
Sharon Hand - April 1, 2019 3:49 pm
When we(my husband and I) travel to Adel, GA to dragrace, we would go through Eufaula. I love that town. This is what a southern town should look like. When we are returning from a race, it never fails for us to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” on the radio. That’s when I know that we are almost home.
Debbie Hall - April 1, 2019 7:44 pm
May I please tell you how very much I loved Kathryn Tucker Windham? I lived in Selma for 6 years. For some reason I’ll never understand, she “adopted” me. She had me helping her with the storytelling festival (doing all the leg work); she invited me to her monthly Rabbit, Rabbit breakfasts with ladies her age (I miss it every first of the month); she included me in her New Year’s Day event at her home. More important than anything, she befriended me. And here is how much of a queen she really was. After I moved back to Mississippi, I had to have surgery within a couple of months. She called me and said, “I know that you are new and don’t have sick time accrued. Please let me send you some money.” My new job had worked that out with me…but I hung up the phone and cried over the precious gesture that she had offered. She continued to sent me postcards and notes until she died. I feel so lucky to have been her friend.
Dianne - April 2, 2019 2:42 pm
I was born in Birmingham, lived for six years in Gadsden, and then moved to LaGrange, GA which I call home. However, you can’t take the Alabama out of me……………especially, Auburn – The Loveliest Village of the Plain!! There is no place like Auburn!! I attended college there, married while I was there, and every time we head down there for a game or whatever, I always feel like I’m going home when I arrive. And the awesome tradition of “rolling” Toomer’s Corner is an event not to be missed. War Eagle!!
throughmyeyesusa - April 2, 2019 8:26 pm
Great piece, full of your trademark sights, sounds and flavors of the South that made you.
However, I can’t help but think that this week there are many who are swallowing their Tide Pride and, if not yelling, at least thinking,
GO SPARTANS! GO BIG GREEN! GO WHITE! BRING US THAT CHAMPIONSHIP, TOM IZZO!
I love you, Sean. I love the South and my Southern relatives and friends.
But I love my Alma Mater and the husband I met there 55 years ago to depths of my very soul!
You know that feeling, right, Sean?
Barbara Mc - April 4, 2019 12:18 am
You read my mind and my heart. Nothing better than the state of Alabama. Only difference here is that “The Bear” doesn’t hold a place in my heart. The loveliest village does, Orange and Blue does, rolling Toomer’s corner does and the warmth and belonging of being in the Auburn family does. I understand your loyalty to that school so I hope you understand my loyalty to mine. And it’s amazing because I am able to understand that loyalty of yours I can still enjoy everything you write (and loved seeing you in person) anyway!! War Eagle, Final Four!!!!! It’s GREAT to be an
John Allen Berry - April 28, 2019 7:21 pm
We’ll claim you any time, Sean!
Karen - April 30, 2019 7:57 am
I was raised in Brewton from the time I was 3 years old and am proud to call it my hometown. I live in Nashville now but I still “Roll with the Tide” and love my home state. God has truly blessed Alabama! Thanks for loving her, too, Sean!
Dorothy Stanley - April 30, 2019 10:58 am
I’m from Shubuta, Mississippi, but when I first visited Fairhope over 60 years ago, I knew that I wanted to spend my last days here! My husband didn’t make it, but I made it back to Fairhope after retiring. The only negative…..I can’t imagine that heaven won’t be a disappointment after living in Fairhope…..heaven on earth!
Leda McKemy - April 30, 2019 12:44 pm
We have a fish statue in Eufaula too….Roll Tide!!
Carolyn Molyneux - April 30, 2019 3:32 pm
I was born and raised in Birmingham and have left a couple of times, Mississippi, Georgia, but I keep coming back. Good place to come back to.
Sara Voorhies - April 30, 2019 5:46 pm
I was born in Sheffield, AL and have lived all over the states and primarily in Washington DC until 1986 when I moved back to the music capital of the world, Muscle Shoals, AL… I never felt like I was home until I came back to Alabama. I told all my DC friends when they would ask why on earth I would move back to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. My reply was always the same, “ I want to go where people talk like I do and be around folks that will nice you to death…
As far as football, when I told you hello, I told you everything I know about football. I do have grandchildren at Alabama and Auburn so I pull for both…
Russell McLaney - April 30, 2019 7:57 pm
In the key of G “My home’s in Alabama, no matter where I lay my head, My home’s in Alabama, southern born and southern bred”
Chris - April 30, 2019 8:10 pm
I loooove this! I’ve lived in SC 6 years, but Alabama is still where I call home. I’ve live in Opelika, Auburn, and Loachapoka (near Saugahatchee creek). And that BBQ in a utility shed beside a gas station…always my favorite!
Donald - April 30, 2019 8:14 pm
Yep, another heartfelt story to get ya’ going on and on ’bout the country that most folks don’t have any idea it exists.
I live in Texas now, but I sure do love going home to see Mama during the fall of ’round Christmas time. Y’all be careful and keep a pint of that mucadine wine on the cooler. Roll Tide!??
Tara Gerling - May 1, 2019 2:46 pm
Roll Tide!! Alabama ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Kelley - May 2, 2019 3:24 am
Roll Tide. This Alabama girl misses her home when you talk about it!