Banjo Man

Then, I saw him fingerpick the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I never knew this man, I knew him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It’s a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn’t. It’s more than that.

You probably never met Ricky Edenfield. But you would’ve liked him. He played a banjo downtown, Crestview, Florida. He was a big fella, thick-bearded, with a personality so jolly he made Santa look like a jerk.

I saw him play. I remember it like it happened a few days ago:

“Whatcha want me to play?” he asks a few kids.

Somebody’s mother asks, “Do you know ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’”

“Know it?” He laughs.

He knows it. And he plucks through it like a man whose beard is on fire.

That’s my memory of him. He played this music like he belonged in a different world. An older one.

The world your great-grandparents came from—long before twenty-four-hour news channels and cellphone-based entertainment.

He was homeless for a long time, and it was hard on his body. He used a wheelchair. Once, he even died on the operating table from a collapsed lung.

But he was a cheery son of a banjo.

He had a way of looking at you that made you feel seen. And you’d wonder about things for a few minutes while he played. Big things. Universal things.

Like: why are people homeless? And: is anyone truly without a home?

“I ain’t homeless,” Banjo Bear once told me. “Got me a mansion. A nice one. It just ain’t down here.”

Then, I saw him fingerpick the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I never knew this man, I knew him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It’s a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn’t. It’s more than that.

It’s a rural church, with wood floors. Where preaching is more like shouting, and the pastor rolls up his sleeves to pray for folks. Where miracles happen, but not the big kind. The little kind. Everyday miracles like babies, marriages, and second chances.

His music was a funeral procession made of cars with headlights blaring. His music was salt peanuts in Coca-Cola, straw hats, and side-of-the-road boiled-peanut shacks.

Like the peanut stand I stopped at last week, outside Dothan. The old man filled my bag until I needed a forklift to move it.

“It’s on the house,” the man said.

I paid him anyway.

Ricky and his banjo weren’t playing for onlookers at all.

He played for men who hunted at night with oil lanterns, and women who could grow camellias in red clay dirt—and did.

Women like Miss Flora, whose hair is whiter than Elvis’ Resurrection suit. Who still remembers when the biggest news in the universe wasn’t Facebook politics, it was a war in Europe. It was Jackie Robinson. It was standing in her front yard, staring at the night sky, while the television showed footage of a man walking on the moon.

“During the Great War,” Miss Flora said—tapping her foot to the banjo rhythm, “this town had flags everywhere. Hanging in stores, churches, theaters…”

I’ll just bet it did.

I remember closing my eyes while the banjo rolled. I saw the old world. Our world. With hog head cheese, Hank Aaron, rag bologna, Hoagie Carmichael, and country stores.

Like the Country Store, in Jefferson, Alabama—a creaky place that’s been along Highway 28 since your ancestors used mule-wagons. Where you can still buy everything from Duke’s mayo to plug tobacco.

The music made me see farmland—the kind owned by families, not corporations. And the way the stars look over the bay. And big lunches. Sunday naps. Women who use talcum powder after showers. Witch hazel at barbershops. Gas-station clerks who bring their bloodhounds to work.

And banjos.

The instrument sounds like history. And it sounded good in his hands. He had a light touch.

Few ever got to know Ricky. Fewer saw the little pallet where he slept during cold weather. Even fewer asked how he was doing. But he was ours. And so was his music.

When he finished playing that day, I watched children applaud him.

He told the kids: “My father instilled four things in me, you wanna hear‘em?”


The kids were eating out of his hand.

“PLEASE!” they shouted. “TELL US!”

He held up four fingers and said, “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t judge, and don’t disrespect nobody.”

He was beautiful. And this afternoon, he finally got to see his mansion.


  1. Linda D. - August 25, 2018 5:52 am

    Truly lyrical, Sean. RIP, Mr. Edenfield.

  2. Pecos Kate - August 25, 2018 11:05 am

    Beautiful tribute. Heart wrenching. Bittersweet.

  3. Sandra Smith - August 25, 2018 11:31 am

    He got his mansion, and we lost an Angel on Earth. ???

  4. Connie Havard Ryland - August 25, 2018 12:20 pm

    Sweet. Brings back memories of my music playing family. Sad but happy.

  5. Joy - August 25, 2018 12:32 pm

    Another great story about a man who used his talent to praise God and please people. Thank you Ricky Edenfield for blessing so many people and most of all pleasing God. I really liked the four things your father taught you.

    Thanks again Sean….you are the greatest.

  6. Jackye Thompson - August 25, 2018 12:46 pm

    Know that the mansion is just beautiful for this kind banjo musician.JT

  7. Penn Wells - August 25, 2018 1:43 pm

    As long as we have a Sean Dietrich, the country still has a chance. This one is going on my FB page. A keeper, for sure.

  8. Frank Huggins - August 25, 2018 1:49 pm


  9. Phillip Saunders - August 25, 2018 1:50 pm

    HUGE story, Sean – maybe not as huge as Ricky Edenfield and his music, but still a great one. Now he’s pickin’ an’ grinnin’ in his mansion.

  10. Julie Y - August 25, 2018 2:27 pm

    Sean, every morning I follow a 7-step prayer routine:
    1) Centering (meditative) prayer
    2) Bible Reading
    3) Pray for people in my life
    4) Pray for our President and America
    5) Pray for Israel
    6) Read/pray one Psalm
    7) Read Sean of the South
    I don’t know how you manage to write (and illustrate) a column every. single. day. But I’m so thankful you do. Because my devotional routine would not be the same without the final, daily reminder from you that this world is filled with wonderful people, if only we would look for them through eyes of love.

  11. WB Henley - August 25, 2018 3:24 pm

    “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t judge, and don’t disrespect nobody.” Hard words to live up to, especially the judging. It’s the beautiful few who can achieve it. And yet they walk amongst us, sometimes carrying a banjo, sometimes a pen. I didn’t know Mr. Ricky but thank you for telling his story.

  12. Patricia A Schmaltz - August 25, 2018 4:01 pm

    Ahhhhh… thank you for sharing.

  13. perry5360 - August 25, 2018 4:26 pm

    I’ll fly away oh Lordy I’ll fly away. I could live in your stories, just like coming home. It’s a beautiful story, and Ricky will know a happiness in the grace of gods light and his new mansion in the sky.

  14. thefabulousflamingo - August 25, 2018 5:42 pm

    Wow. What a perfect tribute. Wow.

  15. Cheryl - August 25, 2018 9:34 pm

    As always, you had me remembering Sunday rides after church. Stopping a “filling stations” to get a cold drink and, hopefully, a Moon Pie. Riding just to get out and see green fields, dusty roads, dustier dogs, old mailboxes. Stuff it is hard to see, now. God rest that Banjo Man and let him keep playing.

  16. Jack Darnell - August 25, 2018 10:36 pm

    We put our Ricky on the plane today, he is headed back to Saudi. Our Ricky is a guitar player, I wish he could have met THE Ricky. They coulda jammed together.
    Very good post.

  17. Edna B. - August 26, 2018 12:13 am

    Thank you for this beautiful story. And God Bless Ricky. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.

  18. Nancy Powell - August 26, 2018 12:21 am

    Banjo Man is playing for the Lord in Heaven now! Rest in Peace, Banjo Man! <3

  19. Minnie Tate Bourque - August 26, 2018 12:46 am

    God bless Ricky!

  20. Pamela McEachern - August 26, 2018 1:04 am

    Four and The Golden Rule…pure and sure
    Mr. Ricky rest in peace

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  21. Robin Rausch - August 26, 2018 1:48 am

    I live in Crestview. I have seen Mr Edenfield several times from my car window. I wish I had stopped and heard him play. Maybe I’ll see him again . Maybe I’ll have a mansion near his. Thank you Sean.

  22. Jane Vaught - August 26, 2018 2:54 am

    Glad Ricky got his mansion! Crestview isn’t bad, it’s where I was born ?

  23. Ava McCurley - August 26, 2018 4:10 am

    Hope he carried his banjo. Mamma would like it.

  24. Alice Morgan - August 26, 2018 4:24 am

    Superb. Absolutely superb. This one really transported me to a place & time I love. Woven magically all through it. Thank you for that.

  25. Shelton Armour - August 26, 2018 4:48 pm

    It’s sad that a light like Ricky had to go out…but he’s in his house/mansion now and that’s a good thing. Sounds like he will be sorely missed.

  26. Bill T - August 26, 2018 8:48 pm

    You have got to be my brother by another Mother cause I know everything you’ve talked about. Born 84 years ago and raised in rural Chambers County. Except boiled peanuts. Ughhh!

  27. Amy - August 27, 2018 12:14 pm

    I love this column. Every. Bit. Of. it.

  28. Janet Mary Lee - August 29, 2018 8:48 pm

    Sounds like 2 gifted people there! Mr. Ricky..and you! Thanks for this post!! ( and kiss Thel, too, please!!)

  29. Debbie Southern - September 6, 2018 2:25 am

    I was dumbfounded when i read this article. But I was shocked when I seen another Edenfield that is possibly related to me. I don’t know how but somehow he has to be related to my Dad. His name is Haywood Lamar Edenfield. If anyone know s anything please let me know. U can post it on here or go to my Facebook (Debbie Southern) maiden name Edenfield. Rest in peace maybe we can all have a great big family reunion in the sky one day lots of seafood! !!!

  30. Dawn Todhunter - October 21, 2018 10:22 am

    You also have a way of making people feel seen. I’m glad you saw Ricky.

  31. GigiBeth - October 21, 2018 1:01 pm

    Praise the Lord! Amen. (And I sang that song in my head. Childhood memories!)

  32. Carol Waller - October 21, 2018 10:08 pm

    I went back in my mind to those days you talked about. I miss the good ole days. Thanks for reminding me where I came from, Sean!


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