Clanton, Alabama

Get a map. Put your finger in the smack-dab center of Alabama. That’s Chilton County. Land of dreams, beauty queens, peaches that will ruin your shirt, and Stokes Chevrolet, Buick, & GMC.

I’m in the county seat today, the town of Clanton. I am giving a speech at an event the governor has attended, and I’m trying my level best not to sound like an idiot.

Everyone knows where Clanton is, of course, because there is a ginormous 500,000-gallon pedesphere water tower off I-65 shaped like an R-rated nectarine. You’ve probably purchased peaches near this tower. Everyone has.

Right now, I’m down the road from the tower, at Jefferson-State Community College, telling stories to educators and literacy advocates, causing my audience to nod off. Which isn’t difficult to do, inasmuch as most educators are sleep deprived. Although I might have set a new indoor speed record.

Meanwhile, the entire time I’m speaking, I am marveling at how I’m actually here in Clanton, of all places. I never thought I’d have a reason visit this little town again.

The first time I came to Clanton, I was a 16-year-old. I came with my friends to attend the annual Peach Festival, which is a big deal here. People in this town take peaches more seriously than, say, the threat of nuclear war.

My friends, however, were less interested in the festival and more fascinated with the beauty contest.

In this part of the world, Clanton’s pageant is legendary. The pageant dates back to 1947 when the Junior Chamber got together and decided to hold the first Chilton County Peach Queen beauty contest over in Thorsby.

Back then, the pageant was just a rural contest. The rules were simple and loose: Each contestant had to be (1) between ages 15 and 25, (2) unmarried, (3) the daughter of an actual peach farmer, and (4) have most of her original teeth.

The first winner of ‘47’s inaugural pageant was Essie Lou “Chick” Jones. It was a tense battle, but she won by a landslide victory. Also, she was the only competitor.

Today, the Peach Pageant is much more polished, and considerably more serious. Currently the pageant awards prizes for several age groups: Miss Peach, Junior Miss Peach, Young Miss Peach, Little Miss Peach, and The Girl Who Cries the Most When She Wins.

That summer long ago, one of my friends happened to be dating a pageant contestant. So he was very enthusiastic about us visiting Clanton.

To convince us guys to join him, he gave us an old copy of a Chilton County newspaper featuring an article on the pageant, with a large photo displaying dozens of young competitors clad in swimwear. The headline—I’ll never forget this—read: “Chilton’s Peach Crop.”

Thus it was, four of us boys departed from my friend’s house near Milton, Florida, early in the morning. We made the long drive in someone’s dilapidated ‘79 Chevy Impala, stopping every few miles to reinflate the tires and refill the radiator.

When we arrived in Clanton, we were overwhelmed by the crowds. Each year, about 10,000 people attend the Peach Festival. On that afternoon, these people were all fighting for the same parking spot.

The festival was fun. They had music, food, kids running around screaming, Elberta peaches larger than regulation volleyballs, and the Peach Parade.

The Peach Parade was your quintessential small-town ordeal, the kind you don’t see much anymore.

Local dignitaries rode through town in slow moving vehicles, doing the screwdriver wave. These vehicles were followed by John Deeres, Ford tractors, fire engines, military Jeeps, and people on floats who tossed handfuls of party favors at parade-goers. My friend Andrew almost sustained a concussion when the Jemison Future Farmers of America nailed him with an ear of corn.

The highlight of the parade, however, was when a flatbed trailer chock-full of teenage beauty contestants rolled down the main drag. The girls sat amidst crates of peaches, smiling at onlookers. All my adolescent friends stood in rapt silence, watching the float pass by.

My cousin, Ed Lee, placed his hat over his heart and remarked, “I love this town.”

I was thinking about all this while onstage in Clanton, telling stories to a room of gracious people who were—and I mean this from the bottom of my heart—asleep.

Because in many ways, it seems like I’ve come full circle in my life. Sometimes the vivid moments of my youth return to me like ghosts. Maybe this happens to everyone as they age. Maybe everybody feels like I do, like a kid trapped in an middle-aged person’s body.

Yesterday, for example, I felt like a child when I was rifling through old journals in my office. I found a limerick I had written a hundred years ago on notebook paper. I emailed this poem to my pals this morning.

“Four Florida boys left from Milton,
“In a Chevy with no A/C built in,
“They saw Clanton’s peaches,
“And girls in short breeches,
“Then my cousin said, ‘May God bless Chilton.’”


  1. MissusMux - February 25, 2022 10:59 am

    Bless your heart for the peachy keen story Sean.

  2. Joy Jacobs - February 25, 2022 11:10 am

    Peachy 🍑

  3. AlaRedClayGirl - February 25, 2022 1:09 pm

    Great story! I understand about the kid trapped in an older person’s body. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder how my mother got there,

    • Mark Landers - February 26, 2022 4:29 am

      And I look down and see my father’s hands!

    • Susan W Fitch - February 26, 2022 3:56 pm

      Me, too!

  4. Amanda Huber - February 25, 2022 1:32 pm

    I love your articles. I unsubscribed because I often tell myself that I’m too busy to read them and the daily reminder of my busyness and the additional daily email weighs on me but then I re-subscribed within minutes because – that’s a load of crap – I shouldn’t be too busy to read something I truly enjoy every day. So here we are. You’re part of my wake up routine. I’ve missed your sweet family and I’m happy to be back in the slower rhythm of life with you and your sweet wife. I heard about you on the Steel Magnolias podcast and have been a fan ever since. Keep it up. I appreciate you.

    One day, I’ll be a southerner – until then, I’m bringing the south into NW Indiana. ♥️

  5. Paul McCutchen - February 25, 2022 2:03 pm

    Old times are sometimes the best times. That and moving to a new home in Birmingham.

  6. Paul McCutchen - February 25, 2022 2:05 pm

    Old times are sometimes the best times. That and moving into a new house in Birmingham.

  7. dapeek43 - February 25, 2022 2:18 pm

    😊You always make me smile!

  8. JonDragonfly - February 25, 2022 2:36 pm

    Pedesphere; I’ve learned a new word today. And I’ve lived in the shadow of one for 25 years.

    • Anne Jester Turnerr - March 1, 2022 4:40 am

      Thanks for the memories. Your account, though many years later, was exactly as I remember the first Festival in 1947. I could have easily written this piece as the events are so indelible in my memory.

  9. JonDragonfly - February 25, 2022 2:39 pm

    I’ll put up a Chilton County peach against any Georgia peach any day of the week. They are the best you could ever find.
    And I’m talking about the fruit.

  10. Sue Adams - February 25, 2022 3:10 pm

    I remember activities like this when I was a young girl living in west Texas….no peaches but we had a tumbleweed festival!

  11. Stacey Wallace - February 25, 2022 3:23 pm

    Sean, thanks. I enjoyed your limerick. That was my favorite type of poem to teach my sixth grade babies. Also, if you’re in Clanton, be sure to eat at Kountry Kitchen of Clanton. The food is delicious; I gave them an A-plus when I wrote about them in my restaurant review column in The Opelika Observer. Love to you and Jamie.

  12. Steve McCaleb - February 25, 2022 3:26 pm

    And may God bless you dear boy. You continually reinforce something I’ve believed to be true for quite a few years now. It’s easy to separate the young folks from those of us who are getting towards the end of road. All you have to do is listen to them. Young people talk about things to come, places they’ll go, things they’ll do their dreams. Old people think and talk about the past…memories of people and experiences that have faded into what we call time….and all the things we have lost along the way.

  13. Shelton A. - February 25, 2022 3:34 pm

    Sean, just wait until you are a senior-aged man. Only kidding, memories for your youth still pop up like ghosts when triggered. That’s one thing that never seems to change. Your story on the Peach Festival reminded me of the Azalea Festival held where I went to college. The memories were welcome and most appreciated. Thank you for your sharing your memories and bringing us memories of events so very similar in our own youth. Blessings and peace

  14. Joan Mitchell - February 25, 2022 3:48 pm

    Once again you made my morning! Thank you for sharing your happy teenage memory, and for the info about Clanton and the Peach Festival. From my stops at the Peach Park I’ve gotten the impression that it’s a really big deal locally. And every summer I thank the Lord for the blessing of Chilton County peaches. Your limerick is priceless, and now I have a name for the screwdriver wave!

  15. frugalfellow - February 25, 2022 5:03 pm

    Gastonia SC has a giant peach butt, too:

  16. Linda Moon - February 25, 2022 5:48 pm

    Yep. I’ve purchased lots of peaches at the Peach Park. The Peach Festival sounds like a big adventure, with maybe just a little trouble. And, yep, I’ve been sleep deprived, but I never have and never will nod-off during your story-telling. May God bless you in this circle of LIFE and in your new home a-waiting for you in Birmingham!

  17. Debbie Anderson - February 25, 2022 8:45 pm

    Have been going there since 1960. My aunt & uncle are locals (90+ years). Lots of memories on Lake Mitchell and red clay roads. Such a special place with the best people!

  18. Shirley Robertson - February 25, 2022 9:12 pm

    I was born in Clanton, and lived there most of my life, until I was almost 10 and we moved to Gadsden! Every summer after that, I returned to the Enterprise community, to visit with my beloved Aunt, Thelma Pierce! I loved to pick peaches for extra spending money! I love Chilton County and miss spending time there!!!

  19. Phillip Williams - February 25, 2022 10:23 pm

    I grew up in this area, specifically in the Collins Chapel community, but Thorsby was actually home. I married a Chilton County beauty, Martha Palmer, who grew up in Clanton. We now live in Conover, NC and have been in this area of NC since 1971. The peach festival was, and I’m sure still is, a big event! I worked for Sam Bentley at his packing shed in Thorsby as a teen ager. I grew up on a dairy farm in Collins Chapel community, but helped several peach growers harvest their crops. Many great memories of the Thorsby/Clanton area.

  20. Grady Graves - February 25, 2022 11:43 pm

    I was one of the chosen few to be born and raised in Clanton, Alabama. I was also chosen to be a ‘Peach Bud’ as a toddler; (my pageant career began perfectly!) I wouldn’t trade being raised in Peach Country for anything. The hot summer days of my childhood were spent barefoot, walking a dirt road to go fishing in either a creek, a pond, or one of the three lakes Chilton County was blessed with over a hundred years ago. We’d stop at a fence row along the way, fill up on wild plums and honeysuckles, then go on to catch our share of bream, bass, crappie, or catfish. At dusk, we’d make our way back home, just in time to see the lone street light at Maple Springs Church come on, just like mama told us to. Those summer nights were the best. My dad put the first in-ground pool in Chilton County in, behind our house, the year I was born- 1971. My very first childhood memories are of nightswimming under a full summer moon, with an ever-present supply of those Chilton County peaches (and Peach Queen contestants, too!) We always had fresh peaches and watermelons back in those days; we always had a pool full of company, too. To a country boy, nothing could compare to nightswimming with beautiful girls while listening to groovy music and enjoying that Peaceful, Easy Feeling. I recall how my dad would toss a watermelon in the pool for the kids to play on as it floated, before mama would put newspaper down on the patio table and cut it up for us. Mama was well known for having the best peach ice cream in the county, as it was a poolside staple at our house that was enjoyed by many. So many nights of my latter teenage years were spent incognito, persona non grata, way out in the middle of a peach orchard, with a bottle, a bonfire, a Peach Queen (and a few runners-up), and Bocephus on the truck stereo. 50 years and two “beauty” contests later, my high school ‘Best Physique’ is gone but my perfect pageant career is still intact! Like Hank said, “I was one of the chosen few to be born in Alabam.”

  21. CM - February 26, 2022 12:42 am

    Those Beautiful peach country girls have been and will be around for a long time. My mom, a Montevallo College coed- 1948 Queen.

  22. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 26, 2022 5:12 am

  23. Earl Williams - March 1, 2022 4:12 am


  24. Becky Word - March 2, 2022 5:34 pm

    I love Chilton County peaches! Always looking for someone heading to Destin in the summer to bring me some.

  25. Kelley - March 4, 2022 4:19 am

    Proud to be from Chilton County and it is true there are no peaches on earth like the ones they grow there.


Leave a Comment