Grand Ole Opry

I remember going to see the Grand Ole Opry as a boy. My father drove through the busy city of Nashville. I was five, he was thirty-six.

“Daddy,” I said, “Do you think that there will be anyone famous there?”

“Do I?” he said. “You better know it. There’s always famous people at the Opry, and famous ghosts, too.”

“Ghosts? Really?”

My daddy always was good with a ghost story.

“Why sure,” he said. “The ghost of Hank Williams, for one thing. And Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell… There’s always ghosts at the Opry.”

“Are they nice ghosts?”


“Depends on what?”

“On if you’re a nice little boy or not.”

“What happens if I’m not a nice little boy?”

“A ghost will swoop down from the rafters suck out your soul, and send you to Hell and make you listen to classical music for eternity.”

Daddy’s ghost stories always were a little offbeat.

Then he would laugh. My father had a laugh that sounded like Mister Ed.

My father and I walked into the amphitheater and were greeted by the smell of hotdogs and popcorn. I had the greatest evening of my life.

Men in ten-gallon hats. Women in rhinestones. Steel guitars, dueling fiddles, the sound of Keith Bilbrey’s silky announcing voice.

We were suspended from the real world for a while. It was a star-studded dream, wrapped in a beehive hairdo, with a guitar strapped to its chest. Onstage we saw Jerry Clower, telling jokes.

My father laughed, slapping his armrest. And there was that Mister Ed laugh again. His odd laugh was funnier than any joke that ever inspired it.

But the height of our evening was not the music, nor the laughs, nor the sparkling rhinestones. The apex of this memory happened after the show.

We made our way to the lobby. There was a horde of people waiting in line. We couldn’t see what they were excited about. Maybe the president was in town. Or even better, George Jones.

When we got closer, I saw her. It was Minnie Pearl. The price tag on her hat dangled from the brim. Her voice was unmistakable.

Soon, we were standing in line to meet her. When she saw my father, she kissed him right on the cheek.

My father was so dumbfounded he could only mumble her classic one-liner. I heard him say to her, “I-I-I’m just so proud to be here.”

Minnie laughed and answered, “Hey, that’s MY line, Sugar.”

Sugar. She called my daddy Sugar. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.

Anyway, not long after my twenty-fifth birthday, I had a bad week. No, make that a bad year. I lost my job, and my confidence, and I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself.

If my father had been alive, maybe I would have asked him for advice. Maybe he would’ve given me a beer and assured me that everything would be okay. Maybe he could have treated me to that Mister Ed laugh one more time.

But life doesn’t work that way. So I left one morning for a three-day trip to Tennessee. It was just me, an overnight bag, and some Chili Cheese Fritos.

That Saturday night, I paid a few bucks to sit in a balcony at Opryland and become part of a dream.

The lights dimmed. I felt myself tapping my foot with downhome music. The folks onstage were the sort I’d grown up admiring. They were the kind who used more hairspray than allowed by the EPA. People who played fiddles like they’d been born with bows up their noses.

One woman wore so many rhinestones she looked like an aircraft landing light with a two-dollar perm.

Afterward, I exited through the lobby feeling a little better than before. That’s when I saw a crowd gathered. I couldn’t see who they were swarming.

Maybe it was the president. Or even better, George Strait.

I waited to get a better look, but I never got close enough. So I turned to leave. On my way out, I was interrupted by a voice. It was a woman wearing a large hat with a price tag hanging from the brim. She locked eyes with me.

“Well, hey there,” Minnie Pearl said to me.

“Who me?” I said.

“Yes, you. Thanks for coming tonight, Sugar.”


I walked to my truck and felt like I was floating. And somehow within these moments I knew that no matter how crummy my life got, no matter how bad I screwed things up, everything would be all right.

And when I looked into the night sky, I saw the stars of Nashville, twinkling like rhinestones never could. And I could almost swear I heard Mister Ed laughing.

Well. I’m not as good with ghost stories as he was.


  1. Leigh Amiot - September 3, 2021 9:35 am

    Perfectly fitting that music and storytelling beckoned when you were feeling defeated. When we listen carefully, we are shown the right way to go.

  2. Amanda - September 3, 2021 10:44 am

    Who says you’re not as good with ghost stories?

  3. Pinny Bugaeff - September 3, 2021 10:52 am

    Sean, you tell stories better than anyone else writing today. Your memories and the stories wrapped around them never fail to touch me, cheer me and give me the sense that I am not alone. Thanks Sugar!

  4. Sonya Tuttle - September 3, 2021 11:07 am

    Thanks for the first smile of the day.

  5. Debbie g - September 3, 2021 11:31 am

    Keep passing on the smiles. Love to all and thanks once again Sean!!!

  6. franfluker - September 3, 2021 11:45 am

    I read your tale of woe, how you struggled with math.I can completely sympathize. I have been ‘math impaired’ all my life. Due to being out of school one day in the fifth grade when the rest of my class started learning how to mulitiply and I got left behind, to never feel capable or caught up again. I had to take five different math courses in college in order to graduate: one was a ’99’ which was a non-credit, that I could not pass. The one I finally did make a barely decent grade in was a math for elementary teachers, that I squeaked through in order to graduate. You have my sympathy – and fortunately, someone who had the patience and knowledge to get you through that rough spot.

  7. Ann Harper - September 3, 2021 11:53 am

    Good one, Sean!🤩👍

  8. Paul McCutchen - September 3, 2021 12:06 pm

    Growing up on a farm in Arkansas, if the weather was right, I could pick up the Grand Ol’ Opry on cub scout crystal radio. People now don’t believe me much less know what a crystal radio is.

  9. Nikki Wright - September 3, 2021 12:17 pm

    I grew up in Nashville about that time and remember those artists well. Little Jimmy Dickens. Marty Robbins. Roy Acuff. Jeanie Seeley. Jim Ed Brown.

    Thanks for that memory.

  10. Nancy Crews - September 3, 2021 12:40 pm

    ❤your writing.

  11. Jan - September 3, 2021 12:57 pm

    Don’t sell yourself short … you are pretty good with stories period!

  12. Kathy Szala - September 3, 2021 1:07 pm

    Sean, you flush my tear ducts every morning. Thank you for sharing your feelings and experiences.

  13. Karen - September 3, 2021 1:22 pm

    Thank you for a great start to my day.

  14. beachdreamer1 - September 3, 2021 1:28 pm

    Once again, you touched my heart, taking me to a place I have never been…The Grand Ole Opry! Sean, you are so gifted. Not everyone who writes can also paint a picture of the story. Loved this one. Thanks for your memories and sharing them with us. God bless you ❤️‼️

  15. Rikki - September 3, 2021 2:27 pm

    Priceless…..and then some.

  16. PWS - September 3, 2021 2:36 pm

    Another gem. Thanks

  17. Tom Wallin - September 3, 2021 2:54 pm

    Memories. They can be great and put a smile on your face. Your story took me back to the first time I went to the Grand Ol’ Opry, still in the Ryman. I saw Blake Shelton when he was just beginning and I could tell he would become a huge star. Thanks for taking me back to then. I’m smiling with you.
    P.S. I can hear that Mr. Ed laugh. Another smile.

  18. Stacey Wallace - September 3, 2021 3:29 pm

    I sure do love you, Sugar. And I loved me some Minnie Pearl; I watched her on Hee Haw in the ’70s, way before you were born.

  19. Joyce Crook - September 3, 2021 3:40 pm

    Love your writing, as usual, but this one is particularly special. I am a big fan of the Grand Ole Opry, especially as it was in the old days with people that were as sincere as Minnie Pearl. As most people know, she was not the country bumpkin she portrayed on stage, but a true refined Southern lady. Country music today is sorely lacking in the angst and melodies behind the songs of Minnie’s day. Give me the old stuff and a square dance on Saturday night any day.

  20. christina - September 3, 2021 5:04 pm

    The healing power of “sugar”, old familiar laugh, and memories of a man who loved you.

  21. Mary Joann Wilson - September 3, 2021 6:39 pm

    I loved this story, Sugar! One story you told recently really resounded with me as well as someone else who posted a comment. It was your story about Math. It’s so funny to me how some people are math people – it’s their second language! I was, still am, ADHD. I don’t know if that was my problem but I just couldn’t get it. I could memorize the tables but I was a total blank on anything that required “figuring out”! It totally zapped my confidence and made me hate school! I did start college but after a couple of semesters I decided, “What’s the point?” Not being in school to have to perform was heaven. Turned out working was fun. I got along just fine without figuring out algebra, geometry or long division! Keep on writing, Sean!

  22. Linda Moon - September 3, 2021 6:46 pm

    Your daddy’s ghost stories…you gotta love the man. I bet your daddy’s jokes and stories were as good as Jerry Clower’s. Some kinfolks of mine travelled a long way in the back of a pickup truck to the Grand Ole Opry a long time ago. They saw Miss Pearl, too, but didn’t get a conversation with her. I (bragging rights, here) have a good friend who’s had lots of conversations with Sarah Cannon. Lots. I like your father’s tales of ghosts, and you’re a pretty good storyteller yourself, Son!

  23. Sharon - September 3, 2021 7:40 pm

    Sean, thank you for your great stories. I always look forward to them every day. Obviously you have a good heart and love for people. I’m so grateful there are good people out there that still care & write with compassion & humor. :).

  24. MAM - September 3, 2021 9:05 pm

    You don’t tell many ghost stories, but your every-day stories are always awesome! I look forward to reading your missive each day. Thanks, Sean, for pointing out the good, with humor and compassion!

  25. MAM - September 3, 2021 9:07 pm

    You don’t tell many ghost stories, but you recount your stories every day with humor and compassion, making every single one of them awesome! Thanks, Sean, for bringing out the good in our world.

  26. Chris - September 3, 2021 10:31 pm

    Love this story and your connection to the Opry. My great grandfather started an insurance company that “owned” the Opry. Minnie Pearl, Mrs Cannon bought the house my mom lived in and was there for many years. I love Nashville but I also love you and your stories. Thanks

  27. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 4, 2021 1:46 am

    I listen to the Opry on the app for WSM and have been hoping I would hear you doing the comedy segment. It could happen! It should happen!

  28. Cathy - September 4, 2021 2:09 am

    I have loved the old music all of my life and five years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Grand Ole Opry. Chris Thule was taping “Live From Here” and my husband and I had tickets to see the show and I can tell you, I’ve been to lots of music venues but when I walked into the lobby and saw all of the old history and beautiful stained glass windows, I almost lost my breath. Thank you for reminding me of that.

  29. Amy Flanagan - September 4, 2021 10:23 am

    From Nashville and Minnie Pearl was a favorite!
    Great writing Sean and knowing all from your book “Will the Circle”, I was even more enriched by the story! Thank you!

  30. Faye Hutt - September 5, 2021 12:38 am


  31. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 5, 2021 1:02 am

  32. Bill Harris - September 8, 2021 4:51 am

    Thank you Sean! I’ve always loved Minnie Pearl. I still remember hearing her tell the story about visiting NYC with her mama. She got stuck in a revolving door and her mama said “Minnie honey, say something!” Every time she went around she sad,” Howdy Mammy, howdy Mammy, howdy Mammy”. Still makes me chuckle 60 years later.

  33. johnallenberry - September 8, 2021 1:31 pm

    And here you claim you’re not a poet. Goodness. This was just beautiful.



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