The backroads between Florida and Alabama are perfect. The scenery is all dirt roads and sleepy homesteads. If you drive these two-lane highways with your radio playing old-time music, you will appreciate the music.
If you are so inclined, play a little Hank. If you are feeling adventurous, Willie Nelson. Romantic, try Patsy Cline.
I don’t know what it is about this drive that moves me. Perhaps it’s because this is my home county. Or maybe because I have been burning these local roads since my youth. Maybe it’s because once, I had this ridiculous idea that I wanted to leave.
I don’t know why.
Here, not much has changed since the pavement cooled. The one-story houses on the sides of the highway are frozen in time. The homemade vegetable stands, vacant until summer use. The broke down tractors, the cotton fields.
If you’re into rural beauty, there is nothing but beauty from here to Huntsville.
I pass Hart’s Fillin’ Station, in DeFuniak Springs. If you have never been to Hart’s to eat fried chicken, you aren’t living right.
On this road you see homes with hordes of cars parked in the driveway. Those cars probably belong to adult children who have returned home. It could be that everyone is in town for a wedding. Maybe a funeral. A baby shower. A birthday. Karaoke night.
Either way, there is going to be good eating, I guarantee it.
The narrow highway lopes across a flat Panhandle. I feel sorry I ever wanted to abandon it. Soon, I am leaving my county. Welcome to Florala, Alabama. We have officially left Florida and crossed into the Yellowhammer State.
The two locales look more or less the same. There are wide fields with gracious trees that bow over the roads. Pathways adorned with live oaks, flat green pastures peppered with round bales.
I pass children, seated on front porches. They are home for spring break, helping their parents do Lord knows what. Washing the siding, mowing the lawn, or raking pinestraw.
Right now, they are sipping juice boxes, counting cars on the highway. Just like I used to do.
There is an irony about me wanting to leave home when I was a younger man. On one hand, I wanted to be free. On the other, where would I have gone? I hate cities. I always have.
Only once have I visited New York City, and it was hell on earth. It was for a church trip. I was with the Baptist choir. I had a panic attack when we crossed into Time Square. I’ve never had a panic attack before or since.
Once, I tried living in Tallahassee, I even rented an apartment. I lasted a week. And Atlanta? Forget it.
Cities don’t agree with me. At any given moment, you are surrounded by a hundred thousand people. They are in buildings, looking down on you from fire escapes. They are in cafes, eating gluten-free miso. They are on the street, walking so fast you wonder where the fire is.
Sirens everywhere. Loud traffic. Some guy selling fake handbags. Blinking lights. Honking car horns.
I am a turtle in a world of rabbits. But it took me most of my life to figure this out because I am a slow learner.
The gentle roadway weaves through the azaleas that are in bloom. The whole earth turns pink and green. I am rolling through a land that has been unaffected by age. What exactly was I trying to leave?
The rest of the universe is growing more populated, and society is getting too complicated. Major TV networks air primetime specials about Lorena Bobbit. Newspapers try to get your attention with blood. The local news reports on out-of-town murders before they run the story of Girl Scouts raising money for breast cancer at the Walmart.
But this little highway defies all that. The simple homes. The kudzu on the longleaf pines. The red dirt roads that shoot into the wilderness. The adult children who still travel to Mama’s house for supper.
I turn up the volume on my radio. It’s Patsy Cline. I remember too much at once. I don’t know how this young fool ever grew up, but somehow he did.
And he was lucky enough to do it on roads like this.
Jean - March 26, 2019 9:54 am
I am born and raised in the south. No place on earth like it and that makes me happy. We are a special breed of folks not understood by everybody. Cities? no way!!
Elizabeth - March 26, 2019 10:25 am
Elizabeth - March 26, 2019 10:27 am
Makes me homesick Sean! I miss the crossroads with no red light, the small churches, the meet-n-greet grocery store, the diner and especially the front porch.
Jones - March 26, 2019 10:47 am
Yet another good one! Amen!
Debbie Taylor - March 26, 2019 11:03 am
Karen Leupold - March 26, 2019 11:27 am
Sean, since you love good country music, check out Aaron Watson. I believe you’ll love him. His music is authentic country music. He refuses to sign with with a big name studio because he wants to play the music he grew up on – Patsy, Waylon, etc. He has several albums out. He’s a good man who loves, God, his family and writing and making music. He believes the country singers who get on stage in their skin tight jeans are doing it all wrong!
Ginger Clifton - March 26, 2019 11:39 am
This is one of your better columns because you are writing your heart, not being flip or funny, just being Sean. Enjoyed this one a lot. I love Alabama, too. No big cities for me. Sylacauga, Childersburg, Harpersville, Alexander City, Goodwater, simple folks living good lives, working hard, loving on family, going to church.
Karen - March 26, 2019 11:59 am
I once traveled to Las Vegas for a conference, and I just wanted to leave, from the moment I arrived. I have lived in Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis because of my father’s work.
I now live in a small Alabama town, where I have been for the better part of my life. The soil is red, the air is humid, and the people are different. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Thank you, Sean.
Sherry - March 26, 2019 12:18 pm
Some of us slow learners need to think we’re living our dreams…until we truly realize those dreams were fulfilled years ago!
Jeanne Butler - March 26, 2019 12:35 pm
You are so right Sean. I hate cities. I was in New York once and never in my life saw so many ignorant people in a hurry to get no where. I’m in Delaware. Getting to be too many people here too. I live on the Delaware River in a lighthouse keeper’s house. Five generations of my family have lived in my home. I sit on my front porch outside and watch the river a lot. I only go out when I have to. I’m 74 and I want to enjoy whatever life I have left. Love you Sean
Nancy Shields - March 26, 2019 12:45 pm
“ A turtle in a world of rabbits” -genius
Debbie Shiflett - April 24, 2019 12:29 pm
Nancy, I find at least one precious nugget in each of Sean’s stories. The mark of a gifted writer!
Julie Y - March 26, 2019 1:11 pm
Sean, we know a little bit about your development as a writer, speaker and musician from some of your columns, but I don’t recall you ever mentioning your development as an artist. Your drawings are such a wonderful complement to your words, I wonder how you learned such skill. I feel a little sad for your Facebook followers because they don’t get to see this side of you (although the photos accompanying your FB posts are perfect, too). If anyone has published an interview of you talking about your writing habits (and how you manage to accomplish so much!), I would love to read it.
Helen Trammell - March 26, 2019 1:21 pm
Having a boiled egg, piece of toast & butter fried pineapple for breakfast here in NJ-45 minutes out from NYC-while reading this…I fly toward home in AL this Sat & happy to leave this cold country. Know those roads. Appreciate your writing
robert - March 26, 2019 1:36 pm
Sean, your reflections fit me to a T. I grew up outside of a small central Alabama town. I always loved the dirt roads and backroads of Talladega, Clay and Coosa counties. I too, sought life in the city as a twenty something, only to realize thirty years later that I hate the city. My commute to work is filled with hurried, angry drivers who jockey for position on the roads so they can get there two minutes before the other guy. There are people everywhere, although they don’t see you. They are connected to their smartphones and social media (which does not seem to make them social at all). Gone are the days of dirt roads, blackberries, Queen Anne’s lace, and potholes filled with tadpoles. How I miss those days.
Gordon - March 26, 2019 1:46 pm
Your words this morning reminded me of my wonderful growing up years when my Grandmother Medley would take me on Sunday afternoon drives on the country dirt roads around my hometown of Florala. She never really knew where we were going but we always made it back home. We were “exploring”. These days, I so enjoy driving the back roads from my now home of Selma to my hometown of Florala. As I drive those back roads, I look and see-things is the present; things of the past. Give me back roads and a small town any day!
Phillip Saunders. - March 26, 2019 2:18 pm
Great epistle of nostalgia, Sean. You may not be a John Denver fan, and he was sort of messed up, but I love his music. He sang about West Virginia, but Alabama and Florida would fit as well. “Country roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…”
Oh, yeah, those precious mem-ries!
Ala Red Clay Girl - March 26, 2019 2:27 pm
Alabama is where I was born, raised, and still live. I am also fortunate in that it was always in small towns or cities. To the foolish, small towns may appear boring and big cities glittery and appealing, but J.R.R. Tolkien said it best, “All that is gold does not glitter.” If I happen to die in another state, somebody please drag me across the state lines back to Alabama. There is no place like “Sweet Home Alabama”!
Lee in MS - March 26, 2019 3:05 pm
Sean, I suppose each of us has wanted to leave our geographical roots at some point in time. If so, those of us who remain near home may appreciate home a different way because we figuratively “left” and now choose to stay. If I had never “left” even if for only 2 summers, I don’t think I would feel drawn to the south as much. But, I did “leave” for at least 10 weeks. I explored the possibilities and saw many benefits along with soreheads. I chose to stay here.I am glad I did.
Mary T. - March 26, 2019 3:34 pm
I went to ten schools in twelve years. My parents left me in a small Alabama town when I married. They continued moving. People would ask me, “Are you going home for the holidays?” It was a hard question to answer because where my family was, had never been my home. My home is still that small Alabama town.
lisahowick - March 26, 2019 3:43 pm
So sweet, and true! But you overlooked the horrible speed traps on that desolate highway between Fla and Ala!
Shelton A. - March 26, 2019 4:49 pm
I’ve been to Florala once for the 4th of July a while ago. One rocket, off a dock on a small pond every 30-45 seconds. It was still beautiful and the people were so nice and friendly. North of Crestview, it all stays the same for a long drive-lots of farms and small town. I’ve been to Wing, AL several times and you can’t find finer folk (or better dogs).
Myra G. - March 26, 2019 6:50 pm
I was just telling my husband the other day how taken I am by the little homes situated on the sides of the road. Having marked my first anniversary as an Alabama resident, my only regret is (that) it took me so long to get here!
Kathy - March 26, 2019 8:20 pm
I have lived in Alabama all my life, except for college (SC) and a year in Atlanta. I have lived in a small town for over 40 years. The people are good folks, and if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t move. My only regret is that we don’t have good public schools anymore.
bibishan - March 26, 2019 8:20 pm
Thank you for another insight into the heart and soul of being a southerner. I tell my husband every day that I want to live in Mayberry – the one from the 1950s – where Andy, Opie, Aunt Bee, and Barney, Goober, and Gomer reside. No traffic, little crime, and caring folks who live the definition of being a good neighbor!
Richard C. - March 26, 2019 8:29 pm
Thanks for the mention of Florala. I grew up in the country just north of that major metropolis and I graduated from Florala High School, home of the Wildcats.
Pat - March 27, 2019 1:11 am
Charaleen Wright - March 27, 2019 3:09 am
Charaleen Wright - March 27, 2019 3:24 am
God put stars in Alabama to help you find your way back home…
Edna B. - March 27, 2019 5:23 am
It’s sort of like the saying “we don’t realize what we have until we don’t have it.” I prefer country, small town living too. You have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.
Shannon Moore - March 27, 2019 2:24 pm
You speak my language, Sean. Simple places, simple people……
Debbie - April 24, 2019 10:54 am
Hannah May - April 24, 2019 11:17 am
You remind me of Harper Lee. Moved to NYC, wrote a book, surprised she got famous, moved back to Monroeville and went into seclusion.
Ruth - April 24, 2019 1:39 pm
Such memories. I have relatives scattered all across north Florida, around those little towns along US90. My mama, now 99, says she grew up calling it “De Funkity Springs” along with her siblings and cousins. Red dirt, sandspurs, azaleas, pecan trees, barefoot kids… it doesn’t get any better.
Nancy - April 24, 2019 3:40 pm
I grew up in Alabama and couldn’t wait to leave. Now I live in California, but wait! We are in Northern California in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Tahoe National Forest. If you want to come here, we’re on CA Hwy 49. It goes through the gold country and is a two-lane mountain road. It’s a village called Downieville, population somewhere around 300 and we’re the county seat! We have wooden sidewalks (no roller skating) and benches scattered all over town so you can sit in the sun or shade depending on the time of day. You can catch up with the neighbors or visitors.
We don’t have mail delivery so everyone goes to the post office to get their mail. While you are there, you can chat with the post mistress and read the notices on the door to let you know who died or was born or who is in the hospital
We’re a major mountain biking destination, but we also have two rivers and lakes for fishing, hiking, camping, and mountain climbing.
I get back to Alabama every year or so and would like to move back, but my husband, kids, and grandkids are here.
Myra - April 24, 2019 8:23 pm
Sean. love your work. We also have some of the most beautiful countryside herein Georgia.
Mignon craft watson - April 25, 2019 12:22 am
Loved this one!!!!! I love the country too!!!