FRANKLIN—It’s colder than a brass bra in Tennessee. This is the second day of my book tour and my cheeks are frozen solid. All four of them.
We left the hotel this morning and drove southward through Nashville. At each stoplight the morning road crews were spreading rock salt, slowing traffic to a crawl. Local traffic reports said that, due to frozen conditions, Nashville’s I-65 was gridlocked with nine miles of bumper-to-bumper bachelorette parties.
I was not prepared for cold weather. I am from Florida. I own exactly one winter jacket, which still has the pricetag on it. I usually wear this jacket on Christmas morning to walk the dogs—purely for a joke. This past Christmas, for instance, it was seventy-two degrees where we live.
But today, I’m wearing gloves, a scarf, long underwear, and the whole nine yards.
As part of this tour, I am a guest on some podcasts, which is a new experience for me. I am told that being on the air is sort of like taking powerful hallucinogenic medication.
Basically, you get locked in a studio and talk to inanimate objects (microphones, padded walls, English majors, etc.) for several minutes until you either fall asleep or the producers start decomposing.
Chris is the host of this show. He’s courteous, kind, and he asks thoughtful interview questions about my life and my work. Chris also has a real talent for listening. Which comes in handy.
Because when I answer his questions I tend to ramble and speak in caffeinated run-on sentences that can go for nearly six or seven minutes without a single breath or pause so that everyone inside the studio has fallen into a deep sleep and is currently having hallucinatory experiences of their own, kind of like you are having right now, because I just won’t shut up, because I keep coming up with something else that I HAVE to say until Chris finally dies of old age.
“So,” Chris asks, fitting a word in edgewise. “How do you like Tennessee?”
As it happens, when I was a kid we spent some time here. My father was an ironworker, building the GM plant in Springhill, not far from this studio.
I remember my father telling stories about his Tennessee coworkers and how great they were. What he loved most was how easygoing the Appalachian ironworkers could be.
I remember my father told me about one old Tennessee ironworker who wore a special wristwatch. On the clockface were numbers that read: “1-ish,” “2-ish,” “3-ish,” and so on.
My father thought this was so hysterical that he bought a watch just like it.
The funny thing is, I was not raised in an “ish” family. In my fundamentalist household, punctuality was one of the Ten Commandments. Being on time came right behind “Thou shalt not steal,” and just before “Thou shalt not dance at wedding receptions even if the band plays ‘Get Up Offa That Thing,’ by James Brown.”
Punctuality is such a big deal that when my family agrees to meet up for supper we always lie to my mother about what time. We do this because we know that she will arrive extremely early.
To give you an example: Let’s say that we all agreed to meet for supper at a Mexican joint at 6 P.M.
My wife and I would likely arrive at 6:03 P.M. My sister’s family would arrive about the same time. But by the time we get there, my mother will have been sitting at the same table since 10 A.M. the previous morning, and she will be semi-fluent in Spanish.
My people are early for everything. In fact, to them it is sinful not to be at least fifteen minutes early. It was even rumored that once when my grandfather had a bad case of chest pain he checked himself into the county morgue so he could be a few hours early to get his death certificate.
It bears mentioning, however, that my wife is not punctual. For the purposes of this column, I’ll give you a hypothetical scenario:
Say my wife and I are invited to a surprise birthday party for her friend Maureen. And let’s say that Maureen’s husband told us to be there at 8 P.M. sharp.
That same evening, my wife will begin getting dressed for Maureen’s party at precisely 7:58 P.M. She will change her outfit sixteen times, eating up valuable minutes, pausing only to ask me if her pants make her butt look big.
I will eventually answer, “For the love of God, can we please GO! We’re gonna miss the party!” And by about 8:46 P.M., provided traffic wasn’t too heavy, we will finally be walking into the ER because I have a broken jaw.
But anyway, it’s funny what I remember about Tennessee. I remember my father taking me to the GM plant, early one December morning to look at all the work everyone had done.
The cold ground was muddy and frosted. My father was wearing ten layers of clothes beneath his denim. He carried me on his shoulders and pointed out all sorts of heavy equipment, introducing me to bearded workmen who spoke with mountain accents.
“These guys are great, ain’t they?” my father said. “You know, I’d be tempted to live in Tennessee, except that it’s colder than a witch’s…”
Chris? Chris? Hello? Are you still awake? Speak to me.
Meredith Smith - February 28, 2020 11:01 am
I love your wife. She’s my long-lost twin. ❤️
sec040121 - February 28, 2020 11:10 am
Sean, it will be warmer next Tuesday in Greenwood, I can almost guarantee. Much buzz about your book here and you are going to flip over Turnrow Books and this old river town. I do hope you and your wife will be my guests for supper at the Crystal Grill (Google it!) that night, where you are welcome to talk through the appetizers, the salad, the main course (a 4-page-long menu!), the dessert (an absolute must) and coffee. This will be a very small “Thank you” for years of daily entertainment and blessing. See you Tuesday in the Delta!
GaryD - February 28, 2020 11:12 am
Anything below 60° is too cold ! It’s 33° in South Georgia right now. IT’S TOO DARN CCCOLD !!!
Pat - February 28, 2020 12:24 pm
Sean, Franklin and Spring Hill are NOT Appalachia. Nashville is in Middle Tennessee….and that GM plant was not built by mountain men!!!
Most of the workers in that first GM plant came from Detroit.
Jean - February 28, 2020 12:46 pm
Welcome to Tennessee!! Had you stayed a few minutes more….you could have probably gotten out your shorts and flip flops. It is my home and I feel that we are a lot alike here in the south….maybe not for the temps but in every other way. Come back….we will get the heat out for you!! hugs!
oldlibrariansshelf - February 28, 2020 1:48 pm
Amen to Jean’s comment. Tennessee no longer has rigidly-delineated seasons nor even smooth transitions between seasons. You will also find an incredibly diverse variety in its landscapes: rolling hills, plains, mountains, lakes, rivers, swamps, the most visited national park in the country. Enjoy and come back soon and often!
Harriet White - Atlanta - February 28, 2020 2:07 pm
You sound so happy. I love your ramblings and can’t wait to see you in Lawrenceville!
Shelton A. - February 28, 2020 3:01 pm
Sorry you’re cold. If long underwear doesn’t fix it, I don’t know what will. Hope you live through it.
Jo Ann - February 28, 2020 3:05 pm
You & Jamie are exactly like me & my husband. We’ve compromised some-we now arrive at designated places about on time. He’s not so late & I’m not so early. Good luck, have fun, & stay warm on your tour.
Judy Waldrop - February 28, 2020 3:47 pm
Where are you going to be? I’m in Henderson. Surely you will be around Jackson. I want to meet you and sweet Jamie. Hugs will be include.
Myra - February 28, 2020 4:01 pm
Note to self: Must find that watch for my hubby! He’s totally an ‘ish’ sort and I’m just like your mother.
Sooo excited to see you’ll be in Montgomery next month … I can’t wait!
Linda Moon - February 28, 2020 5:19 pm
So, just how do you know the temperature of a brass bra in Tennessee? Some people I know and love moved further south of Franklin, because of that “witch’s…..” But some are still there — God only knows why. Maybe it has something to do with the temperature of brass up there. I’m glad I’m still alive and awake at the end of your run-on ramble because I beautifully visualized you riding on your daddy’s shoulders near Franklin. Keep the price tag on your jacket…..it might just make you rich and famous like Sara’s from the Opry in Nashville! For me, YOU will always be famous!!
Lori - February 28, 2020 5:43 pm
Won’t need worry about traffic jams due to weather in Greenwood – might need to bring mud boots however. Count down has begun here for the arrival of Sean and the South and the Mrs to the Mississippi Delta.
Lisa O - February 28, 2020 6:37 pm
What podcast were you on. I’d like to listen. (I have trouble falling to sleep some times!) Hope to meet you tonight in Mt Juliet!
Betty King - February 28, 2020 8:01 pm
Franklin was a great town to grow up in but is much too chi chi now. I remember when they built the GM plant. Land prices skyrocketed and haven’t come down a lot since.
Hope you got to see some of the beautiful countryside. Still a good bit of farmland.
I am addicted to your stories each day. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad.
Tammy Moody - February 28, 2020 8:04 pm
I’m Irish, I don’t know how to tell a long story short!! Comes in handy when you’re a writer don’t it?!? ♥
Nancy M - February 29, 2020 5:56 am
When and where in Montgomery?
Laura Young - February 29, 2020 2:38 pm
This one brought back memories from nearly 50 years ago. I worked ICU and as a new nurse had many thing to learn. One experienced nurse was always sharing her assessment of the doctors’ skills and knowledge. We all loved Dr C who was the best in our opinion.. As she was describing his clinical assessment skills, she said “He is so good that if he tells you you are going to die, you need to go to the funeral home and wait!”. Your uncle must have had Dr C as his doctor.😜
Nancy Vaughn Isbell - March 1, 2020 2:51 am
Enjoyed you so very much in Southaven today. Such a treat to listen to your stories. Loved meeting sweet Jamie also. Have safe trip home. Nancy from Missouri