Going South

I wanted to be one of them—the old men, not the nurses. I still want to be one of them. I can’t wait until my hair turns white and my skin looks like aged paper. My highest ambition in life is to be elderly.

I am driving five hundred miles south. I’m going home. But my trip gets off to a rough start because the woman inside my GPS is a Godless heathen who refuses to talk to me.

I’m driving blind through South Carolina—eating crackers and pimento cheese.

The cheese was a gift from a woman at a country church I visited this morning. I sat in the back row in a room of mostly white-hairs.

After service, Miss Nelle sent me on my way with pimento cheese, a jar of homemade peanut butter, and a SOLO cup of banana pudding. Leftovers from the church refrigerator.

I have never met Miss Nelle before today.

So I’m rolling through the Carolinas and the scenery takes my breath away. Tall trees, swallowed in green. Sprawling farmland, framed with sky.

And suddenly, I realize that I’m lost without the help of the devil-woman in my GPS.

I stop at a filling station outside Ridge Spring. I’m here to buy a map. The clerk has tattoos and a bushy beard.

“Sorry, dude,” he says. “We don’t sell maps, but I can get you to Georgia, easy.”

He guides me to Augusta using the ancient, but widely practiced art of hand gestures.

Augusta—I’m in a bookstore. I ask the cashier to show me the atlases. She hands me a Rand McNally paper map. The kind of maps I was raised on.

This was the same kind of map Chad Williams’ daddy taught us how to read in Boy Scouts, when he took us white water rafting in Tennessee. It was the same camping trip that Elliot Stevens got so constipated he had to go to the emergency room.

The bookstore woman has greenish hair. She is pregnant with twins. She also tells me she is an amateur poet. I ask her to recite a poem.

She doesn’t even pause. She rattles off a magnificent verse about twins.

Heaven didn’t make me a poet, but sometimes, I wish it would have. I wish I could use four-syllable words to describe life, and people.

Sadly, the best four-syllable word I know is “munificence.” My late father taught me the word when I was nine. He called it a “five-dollar word.” But, since I can never find a good place to use this word, I don’t.

I outline a route home on the map using a red pencil. I’ve finished my pimento cheese. The banana pudding is my next victim.

Now, I’m eating, and driving, and listening to Bob Wills on my radio.

My old friend and longtime mentor, Stuart, introduced me to Bob Wills. I’ll never forget when he gave me the record, a lifetime ago.

Today, Stew is nearly eighty-eight years old. He is a guitarist who taught me everything I know about life.

But then, my heroes have always been old men, just like him. My mother used to take me to the nursing home to visit my grandfather and I would find myself lost in a circle of wheelchairs. I’d be listening to men tell stories about fishing, picking tobacco, hunting turkey, the Civil War, and which nurses at the home were “real lookers.”

I wanted to be one of them—the old men, not the nurses. I still want to be one of them. I can’t wait until my hair turns white and my skin looks like aged paper. My highest ambition in life is to be elderly.

Now, I’m watching Georgia go by. The peanut fields. The alfalfa. The kudzu problem gets worse every summer.

And now Alabama. I have had a lifelong love affair with this state.

There’s a tractor holding up traffic. A line of angry cars tries to speed around him. But not me, I like tractors.

Now Florida. My home. My map is taking me through Graceville, Jacob City, Glass, Cottondale. They don’t get too worked up in Cottondale.

Finally, I’m at my place. The sun has set, and my wife is beside me on my tailgate, listening to the summer frogs. My bloodhound is on my lap.

If I were a poet, I’d use words that could describe how short, but beautiful life is. And how lucky I am to still have one. And about how grateful I am to meet pregnant cashiers, and gas-station clerks who give good directions.

Life is a gift. No, it’s more than that.

It’s pure munificence.

Thank you for the food, Miss Nelle.

29 comments

  1. Fredda Shutes - July 23, 2018 6:55 am

    Sean, your words are truly munificent, especially those that describe the beauty of the South. Not sure I used the word right, but I do know your words enrich my soul.

    Reply
  2. Lynda - July 23, 2018 11:09 am

    When I go out and about around the hometown, or when traveling along on a road trip, I am mainly focused on getting where I am going and accomplishing the goal intended when I left. Starting today, (I plan to go to Walmart) I am going to pay close attention to the people around me, in the check out line, the cashier, bagger, etc. I hope even in a small way I can see people as you see them.

    Thank you, I love you and you are valuable to me.

    Reply
  3. Beth Andrews - July 23, 2018 11:26 am

    First – you are a poet – your words may not rhyme or follow a set cadence or meter, but you are a crafter of words nonetheless. And judging by your route home, you came mighty close to my home in Rehobeth, Alabama. Next time you’re through, stop in – we’ll fix you some BBQ chicken and tater salad!

    Reply
  4. Leia Lona - July 23, 2018 12:00 pm

    Your words are a gift, I look forward to each day. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Edna B. - July 23, 2018 12:19 pm

    Sean, your words are better than verses. Through your words, we get to see everything you see. We get to travel along with you wherever you go. Don’t be in such a rush to get the wrinkles and gray hair. Enjoy today. The rest will come in its time. You’re a blessing, young man. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  6. Suze - July 23, 2018 12:47 pm

    Thanks Edna….good advice. Now he is in my area….first thing in the day: my coffee and read Sean.

    Reply
  7. Connie Havard Ryland - July 23, 2018 12:48 pm

    What a lovely way to start my day. Thank you. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  8. Ms. Mary - July 23, 2018 12:57 pm

    You have a poetic way with words, for sure. And, I know that it takes work and energy to pick the best words. That’s what poets do, they pick the BEST words. Not the biggest, or the smartest, but the BEST.
    Ture story: when we moved to the South 25 years ago, we noticed every one who gave directions (using, of course, no street names) included a Shoney’s as a landmark. No matter where we went.

    Reply
  9. Jane Thomas Crawford - July 23, 2018 1:04 pm

    Good one, Sean!

    Reply
  10. Carol - July 23, 2018 1:04 pm

    Thank you Sean!! Your magnificent!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  11. Jeanne butler - July 23, 2018 1:07 pm

    Good morning Sean. Wish I could drive south. I love the South. Years ago my husband, young son and I spent a month traveling around down South. We were going to go across country but lived it so much just stayed in the South. We knew we were in the Nirth when the people got unfriendly and we saw graffiti and trash in the roads. And this was back in 1985 when people weren’t as bad as they are now. Sad. Love you Sean

    Reply
  12. Ann - July 23, 2018 1:45 pm

    You have a good life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I need to go fix a pimento cheese sandwich.

    Reply
  13. Patricia A Schmaltz - July 23, 2018 1:52 pm

    My Dad would always use large words, and when I inevitably would ask the meaning, he would tell me to look it up. Later that day, I would be asked to spell it (had to when looking it up – 50 lb dictionary) and then use it in a sentence. Today, I had to look up Munificence (THANK YOU!). I think that describes your approach to people exactly: unusually generous. You have a generous spirit that entices others to return your munificence. YOU are part of my life’s gifts. Thank you Sean!

    Reply
  14. Phyllis V Bergenholtz - July 23, 2018 2:00 pm

    I love your descriptions of people so much. It makes me wonder how you would describe me if we met.
    You will have lots of wonderful dtorist to tell when your skin looks like aged paper.

    Reply
  15. Phyllis V Bergenholtz - July 23, 2018 2:01 pm

    Stories, not dtorist.

    Reply
  16. cinwoo - July 23, 2018 2:27 pm

    I would love to see the online stats of how often “munificent” was googled today. I love banana pudding, especially in a SOLO cup. I have had many that way. Great story.

    Reply
  17. Melodie - July 23, 2018 3:20 pm

    I thank you every day for your inspiration. A friend of mine saw you not long ago, and was so impressed with you and your lovely wife. Another friend of mine, gave me a book written by you. I love it, and can’t show enough appreciation. Thank you for staying grounded. Thank you for being…..YOU!

    Reply
  18. Phyllis Hamilton - July 23, 2018 4:22 pm

    Life is a gift. I recently saw my childhood girlfriend I had not seen in 30 years. We met and all the time washed away. I want to grow old and have wisdom. Life is a gift…..

    Reply
  19. Lee Headrick - July 23, 2018 4:46 pm

    Love reading your stories. My grandfather played and sang sometimes with Bob Wills and his playboys in Tulsa, OK. You never hear about them anymore. I am listening today and wanted to thank you. I had almost forgotten.

    Reply
  20. Jack Quanstrum - July 23, 2018 6:41 pm

    Your right, Sean, life is a gift!

    Reply
  21. Kathy - July 23, 2018 11:45 pm

    Sean,
    Are you going to post your interview you had with the real Thelma Lou? Would love to hear it!
    Thanks, Kathy

    Reply
  22. Brenda R. - July 24, 2018 12:28 am

    Sean, the next time you go thru Graceville stop at the Circle Grill, You will partake of the best fried shrimp, hushpuppies and fish and just about anything else your taste buds can imagine that is “southern”. Also, if you have the time, stop by the Graceville Newspaper and ask to see my cousin Samatha “Sam” Angerbrant. who is a promising young journalist, a surviving preteen daughter of a prince Dad, mother of a beautiful little girl and a woman badly in need of a “heart”. No joking, she needs a heart transplant at the young age of early 30’s. You will find many things and precious people in Graceville. Most of my cousins still live there and a few miles down the road in Chipley. But Graceville is my favorite. I spent many long endless summers in Graceville with my widowed Grandmother who loved unconditionally but carried a switch just in case.

    Reply
  23. Jack Darnell - July 24, 2018 12:35 am

    I hope you live long enough to enjoy the nursing home. I’m planning on heading that way at 103, that is only 22 years away! Imma try to learn the piano before then so’s I can entertain ’em old folk!

    Reply
  24. Dianne Kearns - July 24, 2018 8:16 pm

    Wish I’d known you were coming through Augusta! I would have hunted you down! Please come back and let us hear you in person!!

    Reply
  25. cronkitesue - July 24, 2018 11:43 pm

    Fine word, munificence.

    Reply
  26. Joe K. Sweeney - July 31, 2018 1:54 am

    you just made me feel good about gettin old Sean !

    Reply
  27. Kelly Joe Ray - August 3, 2018 2:14 pm

    Being both old…and a Poet…I can ensure you neither is what it’s cracked up to be…But munificence comes from God and is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit…It’s love…Any way you say it…Next time instead of a $5 word…Try a singularly un loquacious, diminutive linguistic expression to satisfy the contemporary necessity…Aiight!

    Reply
  28. Stu Davis - September 17, 2018 9:43 am

    You’re right, Sean. Folks in Cottondale don’t get too worked up, unless the train stops and blocks traffic on 231 for an hour…
    But you’ll never find better watermelon anywhere.

    Reply
  29. Terry Everett - September 17, 2018 2:52 pm

    You are a poet, and this piece perfectly describes what a gift life truly is! You rock!

    Reply

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