We are on a rural highway. We have a long drive ahead, but I could make this trip blindfolded.
Our journey starts in Defuniak Springs, Florida.
Defuniak is a lovely American hamlet. Before it was a city, it was a railroad stop called “Open Pond,” which featured a perfectly round spring-fed lake in the center of town, teeming with freshwater Baptists. The lake is still there. So are the Baptists.
After you leave Defuniak, you hit Mossy Head, Crestview, Deerland, and soon you’re riding through pine trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Which brings up an important point, I hope you like pine trees because you’re going to see a lot of them in the next paragraphs.
You’ll also see shotgun houses, rusty mailboxes, cows that stare, toddlers on ATVs, and speeding log trucks driven by adventurous men who steer only with their left knees.
Now entering Milligan, Florida. This unincorporated community used to be the county seat of Okaloosa County a hundred years ago. What will you find in Milligan today? Nothing.
That is, unless you count all the churches.
First Baptist Church, Shepherd’s Church, Milligan Assembly of God, Lebanon Baptist, a Church of Christ, Beulah Missionary Baptist Church…
Keep following Highway 4 until you get to Baker. Land of Dreams. Founded in 1861, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.
There isn’t much going on in Baker, Florida, and even if there were, you’ll probably never hear about it because the internet is slow.
Baker does, however, have a couple world-class restaurants. There’s the Gator Café—try the burger. And, of course, there’s Taco Town, which resembles a Third World gas station but once served exceptional fare. Sadly, they’re closed now.
So maybe you could get lunch at the high school cafeteria instead.
Baker High School is every small-town school you’ve ever loved. Their football team is bar none. Last year, for instance, their running back, Kayleb Wagner, made sports history by shattering NFL superstar Derrick Henry’s single-game rushing record.
What makes this so impressive? Two things: (1) Kayleb was a high-school junior, and (2) he was born without his left hand.
Moving right along.
Up ahead, turn left at the Baker Feed and Seed. Now you’re in Blackwater River State Forest. Prepare to lose cellphone reception. If, however, you happen to receive staticky calls from friends, tell them you’re near Baker. When they ask, “Where’s Baker?” laugh and invite them to Taco Town.
Next, you will ride through Berrydale. Pay no attention to the abandoned prison on your right. It’s just a rundown, overgrown, corroded, level-II medium-security detention forestry camp, clad in razor wire, which looks like it belongs in a B-horror movie.
Needless to say, standing within spitting distance from the blood-chilling prison is Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Berrydale Baptist Church, Stump Springs Baptist Church, etc.
Make sure you stop by Country Express filling station. Tell them Sean sent you. Purchase some corn nuggets, collards, or taterlogs. And if you’ve never heard of the items I just named, you can stay in New Jersey and freeze.
Turn onto Highway 87. Drive past the vacated Whip R Wheel gas station, the the dead possum, and the 1,202,338 logging trucks.
You’ll see a lot of logging trucks here, because you’re approaching Alabama, a state that is 70 percent forest.
Logging is a huge business in these parts. You’re looking at 23 million acres of longleafs out there, and the forest is almost ALL privately owned.
Another common feature to this region is the Great American Trailer Home.
Ah, yes. The house trailer. I was born in one. Call them whatever you want: “mobile homes,” “manufactured houses,” “prefab estates,” “ambulatory mansions.” We love our trailers. Who cares if our house moves but our 13 cars don’t?
The last landmark before the Alabama state line is the Sanhandle Lotto store. This is a shack that sells nothing but lotto tickets. Here Alabamians can legally play the Florida Lottery before crossing back into their home state where there is no lottery; a state where, if you are caught playing the lotto, you will be dragged behind the nearest church and shot.
Golden Memorial Holiness Church, Full Gospel Community Church, True Worship Assembly of God Church, Fidelis Church…
“Welcome to Alabama,” says the sign ahead.
We’re almost there.
Up ahead is the booming metropolis of Riverview (pop. 184). Ride over the Conecuh River, and witness the lovely bridge construction which has been in progress since before the Dead Sea was even sick.
Welcome to East Brewton. You will see homes of all shapes and denominations. You’ll see cute houses with potted ferns, and you’ll see homes with plywooded windows, porch freezers, and blue-tarped rooftops. The people are friendly.
Mickie’s Barber Shop. Evans Carpet Cleaners. A John Deere Dealership. Pioneer Mobile Home Sales. There is a billboard for Wind Creek Casino located right across the street from the First United Methodist church.
The Piggly Wiggly is always slammed.
Congratulations, you’ve arrived in Brewton, Alabama. The blueberry capital of Alabama. Hometown of American legends Hank Locklin, William Lee Golden, and the guy who wrote “Beetlejuice.”
Turn onto Belleville Avenue where you’ll see Aunt Catherine’s house in the distance. All those cars littering the driveway belong to cousins. And the happy people waving at you, that’s your family.
“I’m home,” says your wife.
Not a bad place to be.
Martha - February 14, 2022 9:17 am
Love your description of almost every small town in Florida. Derrick Henry is from my part of Florida. I hope you are happy in Alabama. I’ll not give you grief for leaving us. Have a blessed life.
Shannon - February 18, 2022 5:07 am
Well I hope when you become rich and famous you’ll at least buy a condo here in Florida 😊
Jack Lawrence Giddens, Jr. - February 14, 2022 11:02 am
In the “days of old” (pe-1950) when we drove down from Troy to Sunnyside, we’d stop in DeFuniak where a roadside stand sold tupelo honey, a favorite of my Dad and where our Trojan friend, “Sister” Wood Shubert lives. In those early days Brewton competed, like Troy, in the Class D Alabama State League.
Robert Smyth - February 14, 2022 11:48 am
Thank you, That is one of your best work.
suzi - February 14, 2022 11:55 am
Has anybody ever said “Sweet Home Alabama”? No…oh🎶
Theresa Kelly Chrsty - February 14, 2022 12:39 pm
Welcome home!!! Nothing like it…..we’re starting the same journey from Texas (which we love and have called home for almost 40 years), back to Rhode Island. Back home….nothing like it!1 Congrats!
Donna Powell - February 14, 2022 1:12 pm
I love your columns. And today’s when you talked about Brewton – I went to high school (here in Atlanta) with a person who lives in Brewton! Does your wife know Susan Wallace Wilson (she works at the local Ford dealership, I think). Susan and I go back a long long way! What a small world!
Candace - February 14, 2022 1:35 pm
Wonderful! I have a similar sentimental journey of memories when going home to Minnesota to visit. Wonderful that you brought your wife home. I have missed mine for 50 years. She will forever bless you for this.
Paul McCutchen - February 14, 2022 1:41 pm
I went thru Brewton headed to Pensacola. Miss the small town vibe because I was raised in one or should I say near (nine miles) one. I hope B’Ham isn’t to busy. Where I am now has a lot more traffic than where I was raised.
Ginger Smith - February 14, 2022 1:51 pm
…and if you kept going, you’d be in Belleville, and then Burnt Corn, on the county line. My grandmother grew up in both communities. And an uncle lived in Baker. My dad grew up in Castleberry, and an aunt lives in Fort Walton Beach. Reunions are in Flomaton. Small world.
Heather Miller - February 14, 2022 2:11 pm
Thanks for the guided tour. What makes you a wonderful writer is that you see what we all pass through in a hurry to get to point B. I love your exaggerations, which I’m sure you would say are the gospel truth. I’m sure your drive from Brewton to Birmingham will go by off-I-65 roads too; you’re a virtual Rand McNally tour, and I love to ride along.
Pamela H Thompson - February 14, 2022 2:12 pm
Please do a column on Longleaf pines. There are not many left.
M. Dixon - February 19, 2022 6:36 pm
As it happens, retired President Jimmy Carter cultivates long leaf pines near his home in Plains, Georgia. He is leading/supporting a longleaf pine revival.
Cathy M - February 14, 2022 2:15 pm
Have a great visit with Aunt Catherine and then keep on driving. We cannot wait to welcome you to Birmingham. I have heard that you bought a house but don’t know where. Matters not, I will find you and Jamie. There are a lot of excited people who are waiting with open arms. Birmingham loves you two before you get here. Happy Valentines to a wonderful couple. ❤️👏🙏🏻
Shelton A. - February 14, 2022 2:42 pm
I grew up in a town of 10-12,000. WE all knew each other’s business. We had our thousand or so churches. The first color photograph in our local paper was the first real stoplight in nearby Troutman (which beat out the largest tomato of the season story). We had one theater with one screen. Small towns are all the same. Welcome home To ‘Bama, Jamie! God bless to all-cousins, aunts, etc.
Tom - February 14, 2022 2:53 pm
Ain’t nothing like home- specially if it’s Sweet Home Alabama and you have a passel of cousins like I do!!
Susie Flick - February 14, 2022 3:18 pm
Sweet journey on Valentine’s Day!
Anne Godwin - February 14, 2022 3:38 pm
Sending blessings to you and Jamie as you make the move. Your writing has changed so much since I’ve followed you. The death of your Father is not mentioned as frequently. I was a child of 8 when my Dad died by suicide. I understand. I’m so happy to see the new chapter of your life begin. Never got to see you when you visited L.A. Something makes me think you’ll be back when the plague lessens. Happy Valentine’s Day
Sean of the South: Florida to Alabama | The Trussville Tribune - February 14, 2022 4:10 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 14, 2022 4:30 pm
As has now become my usual morning devotional, along with my usual vat of strong coffee, I smile, sometimes laugh out loud, at your descriptions of so very familiar Southern landscapes ingrained in the memory of this 80-year-old Southern lady . . sometimes rebel, sometimes wild child. Thanks for the memories, Sean. Have a great day.
Richard Owen - February 14, 2022 4:38 pm
I have not thought about corn nuts in decades! And, if memory serves, the largest landowner in Florida is the St. Joe Corporation!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 14, 2022 4:54 pm
jerriphil - February 14, 2022 5:17 pm
Where were the paragraphs about pine trees?
Jeanie - February 14, 2022 5:54 pm
Having taken that route from Memphis to the Emerald Coast 1,000 times, I could visualize everything you mentioned. I need a beach fix after that. Thanks!
NancyB - February 14, 2022 6:43 pm
If you hadn’t said you were writing about Florida and Alabama, much of what you described could be said about Missouri, especially southern Missouri in the Ozarks region. And I understand Jamie saying “I home!” No better feeling in the world than going home, especially when you know its going to be permanent. Blessings on you both as you begin this new life adventure!
Gayle Wilson - February 14, 2022 7:14 pm
Glad you and Jamie had a safe trip to home. Welcome to the next chapter that will be filled with beautiful memories.
Ann Syfert - February 14, 2022 8:29 pm
Sean, The two lines that had me crying because I was laughing so hard were, “We love our trailers. Who cares if our house moves but our 13 cars don’t? And the lovely bridge construction which has been in progress since the Dead Sea was even sick.” You are one funny, funny wonderful guy!!! God bless you and Jamie in your new adventure. Happy wife, Happy life!!! We love you both!!!
MissT - February 14, 2022 8:40 pm
NancyB I was thinking the same thing! Born & raised in Carthage, MO. This made me wish I could move back home again after 40 years!
Linda Moon - February 14, 2022 8:55 pm
Welcome back home to the arms of Brewton, Jamie Martin Dietrich, with all those waves and family! We’ll give you some waves and hugs when you arrive in Birmingham, too.
Donna Parker - February 15, 2022 2:28 am
So neat and last paragraph with all family is wonderful!!
Beverly - February 15, 2022 3:18 am
I have read your stories for awhile. I feel like we are a little related. I grew up in DeFuniak Springs and know well your neck of the woods. I moved to Montgomery years ago and now you are moving this way. You will never quit missing your neck of the woods, but you will find your place in Bham …. I have!
Greg B Baxley - February 15, 2022 7:56 am
Too bad you missed driving thru Geneva county. The only one in the state without (until recently) any 4 Lane highway.
Bonnie - February 15, 2022 6:20 pm
Of course, I had to Google Kayleb Wagner! Impressive – I hope he gets a college scholarship!
Becky Edington - February 18, 2022 2:33 am
My Dad played baseball for Brewton. I have a few pictures of some of the games.