Somehow I felt like I belonged in this colorful world. I was a lost boy with a dead father. Boys like me don’t often feel like they belong anywhere.

MOBILE—When you take in a deep breath, the salt air hits the back of your throat and you know you’re near the Gulf of Mexico.

I am eating a cup of gumbo for lunch, writing you, spilling food on my shirt.

There’s a saying about gumbo: “The longer it sits, the better it gets.”

I don’t know who said that. My wife, maybe. Or maybe it was Abraham Lincoln, or Engelbert Humperdinck.

I never knew what the phrase meant until my wife made gumbo for a bridal shower. The gumbo came out good. But after sitting in the fridge for two days, it became poetry.

Mobile and I have history. When I was younger, all my teenage friends wanted to visit New Orleans to sow their wild oats.

But not me. Mobile was the siren that called to me. And I didn’t have many oats.

I remember visiting here for Mardi Gras when I was seventeen. I clocked out from work, I stood on a curb with a duffle bag, waiting for a truckload of my friends.

My mother had given me a twenty-dollar bill and told me to stay out of trouble. I promised her. She made me look her in the eyes and promise again.

The city was full of things that kids from nothing towns haven’t seen before.

For instance, Mobile was once a baseball town, the home of Satchel Paige, and Hank Aaron. The old mansions are worthy of Margaret Mitchell’s words. Dauphin street looks like an oil painting. And the azaleas.

One of my friends pointed out the truck window and said, “Look, a band!”

A brass band played “O When the Saints.” We saw old ladies with umbrellas strutting on the sidewalk. Their dance looked like a cross between the Funky Chicken and a seizure.

Somehow I felt I belonged in this colorful world. I was a lost boy with a dead father. Boys like me don’t often feel they belong anywhere.

My friends and I split the cost of a grungy motel room. That night, I laid on the floor, listening to four sleeping teenage boys demonstrate early symptoms of sleep apnea.

The next day, we explored. We found a joint that served gumbo. It was rich. Buttery. Spicy. It was so good that it brought out the Catholic in me, even though I was raised fundamentalist. I ate six bowls.

That night at the motel, while my friends snored, I digested six bowls of gumbo, reading a book with a flashlight.

I’d found the book in the nightstand drawer beside the Gideon Bible. It was a novel written by Winston Groom. I opened it and read the whole thing. It meant something to me. I still have that book somewhere.

The next morning, we awoke late. We ate more gumbo for breakfast. I was in hog heaven.

In France, people drive across countrysides to sample regional wines and cheeses. They swish bordeaux in their mouths, then spit, and talk about its “body” or “bouquet.”

In America, we have filé gumbo. It is the fingerprint of our Gulf Coast. No two roux are alike. No two recipes are the same.

After the Mardi Gras parade, we boys sat in an ugly motel, eating a supper of gumbo and beer, talking about the things we’d seen that day.

Our conversation turned toward serious matters. We talked about where life would carry us. About what we wanted from the world.

One friend wanted to get married and move to Tennessee to buy a farm. Another was going to start a business in Andalusia. One boy was going to join the Navy.

I simply wanted to be found. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, just to be found by someone. And maybe, if God wasn’t too busy, I wanted to one day write a novel somebody might find in a motel nightstand and enjoy reading.

One kid said, “Hey, let’s shake on it.”

“Shake on what?” another said.

“Let’s promise to follow our dreams, no matter what.” Then he spit into his hand.

“Gross. What are we, ten years old?”

“You gotta spit or it don’t count.”

“I’m not doing it.”

“You gotta do it, or you’re a loser baby who wears his mother’s bra.”

We all spit. Then shook.

That’s how boys can get when they eat too much gumbo.

Over time, your memories get hazy. But other memories blend together and become even more perfect than before.

Like the memory of a brass band. Or the memory of an ugly motel. Or the twenty bucks your mother gave you. Memories stick with a man.

And one day you wake up in Mobile and you get to relive them again over a cup of seafood and sausage. Only this time, you realize that the lost kid you always thought you were was never really lost. He just needed time, that’s all. Life itself needs time.

Because the longer it sits, the better it gets.

I love you, Mobile.

32 comments

  1. aclownn - May 7, 2019 7:37 am

    Ken…

    Reply
  2. GaryD - May 7, 2019 9:39 am

    I’m Mobile born and raised. I remember crabbing on the Causeway and our neighbor Betty Williamson making The Best Crab Gumbo ! This was in the 60’s .Miss those days and Mobile .

    Reply
  3. Nancy - May 7, 2019 9:49 am

    Sean, your writing makes my heart happy! Thanks for being you.

    Reply
  4. Karen - May 7, 2019 9:54 am

    “In America, we have filé gumbo. It is the fingerprint of our Gulf Coast.“
    I don’t know Mobile very well, but you have made me want this relationship.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Bobbie - May 7, 2019 10:00 am

    Thank you…again. Here’s to that book you’ll write one day.

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth - May 7, 2019 10:55 am

    Oh, you got me again. Great one!

    Reply
  7. Elizabeth - May 7, 2019 10:56 am

    Forrest Gump!

    Reply
  8. Nell Thomas - May 7, 2019 11:21 am

    Great story first thing this morning. Very inspiring.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Beth Reinert - May 7, 2019 11:44 am

    Welcome back to Mobile, Sean. Located by the Bay of the Holy Spirit, folks have a way of finding their life’s purpose and calling here. So glad you found yours. Looking forward to reading your novel.

    Reply
  10. Liz Watkins - May 7, 2019 11:57 am

    Perfectly perfect!!
    Liz

    Reply
  11. Ralph - May 7, 2019 12:16 pm

    Try some gumbo from Cherry Street in Monroeville. The best; and you know them! Bbq mighty good too!

    Reply
  12. Peggy Savage - May 7, 2019 12:24 pm

    And we in Mobile love you Sean. Come back soon.

    Reply
  13. Ahna Baggett - May 7, 2019 1:11 pm

    You are an amazing writer, Sean! Every day you make me laugh, cry and marvel that someone’s could be talented enough to bring a piece of writing to such a masterful conclusion! To quote someone brilliant, “The
    Longer it sits, the better it gets!” Don’t ever stop blessing us!

    Reply
  14. Susan - May 7, 2019 1:12 pm

    Sean,
    This may be my favorite piece!! Well done and thank you!
    SM

    Reply
  15. Patricia Pope - May 7, 2019 1:18 pm

    You’re the greatest, Sean! No one says it quite like you🎶💖

    Reply
  16. Pat - May 7, 2019 1:57 pm

    Tjhere’s something special about the culture of those living on the coast…my “other home” is Biloxi. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful and unforgettable times there with my friends who are residents of that city.

    Reply
  17. Sara - May 7, 2019 2:17 pm

    Sean, I swear if you’re not telling ALL our Alabama Gulf Coast secrets! I can already see more of those Northrenurs packing to move in on our gumbo, etc. Waiting for the book!!

    Reply
  18. Leslie - May 7, 2019 2:22 pm

    Thank you! I love Mobile, too, and can’t wait to get back there! I’m so glad I get to enjoy you every morning.
    Thank you for following your dream! You are a blessing!

    Reply
  19. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 7, 2019 2:23 pm

    Here’s wishing that everyone has a bowl of gumbo, a beach to sit on, a pal to share it with, and the knowledge that he is loved and has a special place in this world.

    Reply
  20. Jan - May 7, 2019 3:01 pm

    Excellent!!!

    Reply
  21. Anne Swinson Godwin - May 7, 2019 4:01 pm

    I wish I had your memory! I’m so thankful that you share your memories with the world. Mobile’s my home. Born in Ancon, Panama Canal Zone. Raised by a strong little woman who nurtured six children. My Dad died by suicide when she was pregnant with the baby. Lived in Hotlana for a while. Came back home. Your stories resonate with me. Thanks again.

    “Only this time, you realize that the lost kid you always thought you were was never really lost. He just needed time, that’s all. Life itself needs time.

    Because the longer it sits, the better it gets.

    I love you, Mobile.”

    Reply
  22. Debbie Britt - May 7, 2019 5:46 pm

    You’ve got one thing wrong in this column….. it’s STILL a baseball town!😍. Our son went to the University of South Alabama on a baseball scholarship and we also fell in love with this beautiful southern town and the families of all his teammates during those years! The smell of the gulf, the Spanish moss hanging from the majestic old trees lining Old Shell Rd, and the friends we made oh so many years ago!! We still love Mobile and our precious memories!!❤️

    Reply
  23. Rebecca - May 7, 2019 6:45 pm

    My husband and I loved Mobile while on one of our road trips. We ferried across Mobile Bay, thinking of Farragut, and loving the smell. Husband ate up Civil War history and one of his ancestors died near there, so this was a special stop.
    But I just loved that smell of the Bay.
    Thanks for taking me back there today!

    Reply
  24. Debbie Jones - May 7, 2019 7:18 pm

    I grew up in Mobile. I love that town. It’s changed, never really grew. Occasionally, every couple of years, I have to go “home”. I moved in ‘79. Spent the years since in Michigan. But, when I go home I eat like crazy. Crab legs, gumbo, fried catfish, and shrimp and more shrimp.

    Reply
  25. Roy Parker - May 7, 2019 8:35 pm

    I have been a resident of Mobile most of my 64 years. Sean, you nailed it. Thanks for your one-of-a-kind view of Mobile and all points on your compass.

    Reply
  26. Clark - May 7, 2019 8:36 pm

    To be found and remembered. Many years after being a public servant in a small west Georgia town, I came across a man and his wife from there who called me by name. It amazed me that they remembered me after so much time had passed. That meant a lot.

    Reply
  27. Cathy - May 7, 2019 10:50 pm

    Well, you really spoke to me today bc the subject was good. My family moved to Mobile from Mississippi when I was abt ten yrs old. It was a whole new world and while it took awhile to feel at home, my Mom was a fabulous cook and pretty soon she nailed that gumbo. As I read your message I could smell it. Everything good all in one pot. It’s a religious experience and I don’t trust anyone who does not like gumbo. You have a gift just like a painter has a gift. When I read your words I could smell gumbo. When I see a good piece of art I feel as if I am. Where that painting was created. Don’t stop Sean, you are headed for great things. I feel it in my gumbo❤️👍🙏🏻

    Reply
  28. Jack Darnell - May 8, 2019 2:05 am

    I’m 80 now, I hope I get to sow my wild oats soon! LOL Very good. I like Mobile, butmostly I just drove thru it about 100 times to Biloxi, Nawlins and Texas. BUT but, I have met some sweet folk from Bay Minette(?) I guess that is close!
    Sherry & jack haveing a good day in NC

    Reply
  29. Charaleen Wright - May 8, 2019 4:47 am

    Reply
  30. Terrie Streed - May 8, 2019 12:05 pm

    And Mobile loves you! ❤️

    Reply
  31. Edna B. - May 8, 2019 6:19 pm

    What a fun memory. Did the other boys follow their dreams too? I hope so. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  32. Janet Mary Lee - May 16, 2019 6:12 pm

    Wow!! Just Wow!!! Profound piece, you sly devil!! ((hug!!))

    Reply

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