Moreland, Georgia—it is almost midnight. The stars are out by the billions. I am pumping gas at a filling station, watching them.
I like watching stars. I don’t know why. Somehow, they remind me that I am never forgotten by this universe.
A few hours ago, our plane touched down, and it felt like coming back from the moon. The South is my home, and when I’m gone too long I start to miss it.
We’ve been traveling for seventeen days—most of those days were spent out West, where humidity is a foreign word. And I missed home something fierce.
We left the airport and I started driving southward on a dark highway with windows rolled down. I passed kudzu, longleaf pine trees, and old barns.
I drove past trailer homes with lit windows glowing in the dark. And tiny churches, abandoned long ago. I passed a stray dog, wandering the highway in the dark.
If I had a nickel for every stray on these backroads.
And I pulled over here, to fill our tank in Moreland. I still have a long way to travel, but I’m close enough to be excited about seeing my front porch.
There is a gentleman on the other side of the pump, filling his tank. He drives an ugly truck. He wears boots. He shows a two-finger wave.
I return the favor.
He introduces me to the dog in his front seat.
“Her name’s Uga,” he says. “‘Cause I’m a dyed in the wool Georgia Bulldog fan.”
Nobody says things like “dyed in the wool” out West. But they say it in our part of the world.
My favorite writer was from Moreland. I read every one of his books before I hit age thirteen, and I silently declared to the Georgia stars, one summer night on my aunt’s sleeping porch, that I wanted to do what he did. I didn’t know how it would happen, or if.
But that’s what I asked the universe.
My life has been a long road. I dropped out during the seventh grade after my father passed. I graduated college at age thirty. I don’t even have the credentials to be well digger, but somehow I ended up as a writer.
I’ll never forget my college graduation party, my wife and friends took me out to a pizza joint. Someone told the waiter I had just turned thirty.
When the waitresses and waiters sang “Happy Birthday” to me, I blushed until I was the color of a tomato.
Then my wife gave me a gift-wrapped book by the aforementioned author. It was a book I had already read ten or twelve times. Still, I read it again that same night, in one sitting. And it made me feel like a child again.
It reminded me that wishes from thirteen-year-old boys are not lost. They float in the universe, waiting for the right moment to land.
In fact, a boy’s wish might be the most real there is. More pure than the wishes of grown men.
Because a thirteen-year-old doesn’t know what he wants, he only knows what his heart says. He speaks without thinking. And there is honesty in that.
On this serene night, I remember that boy who once clutched a book against his chest, looking at a sky through his aunt’s window.
The kid didn’t just want to become a writer. It was more than that. He asked the stars not to forget about him. Because there is nothing worse than feeling forgotten.
Tonight, in the humidity of the South, where the highway’s dotted yellow lines eventually lead to my house in the Panhandle, I see the same stars a boy once saw.
They hang above Moreland, LaGrange, and Columbus. But they go farther than that. They cross the state line and become the stars of Alabama, the stars of the Gulf waters, and the stars above my Florida home.
The stars connect to swirling galaxies inside a big universe. A universe that doesn’t know the difference between losers and winners because it doesn’t measure things the way we do.
It doesn’t know days, weeks, or years. But it knows other things. Big things. It knows every man, woman, and dog named Uga.
It cares about each orphaned thirteen-year-old boy, and it knows where each homesick child belongs. And I realize something, here in Moreland.
God hasn’t forgotten about me.
And he won’t forget about you, either.
Karen - April 28, 2019 1:01 pm
This is one of your best pieces. Thank you.
drgalloway - April 28, 2019 3:34 pm
When I saw “moreland”, I knew you were going to mention
Grizzard and figured it would be about writing. I would go through Moreland on our way ro family vacations in Callaway Gardens. I fell in love with Grizzard;s writing early on. I actually have had the grizzard special at Sprayberry’s after my dad retired from Delta, moving to Newnan. But better than that is I got to play golf with Lewis several times. A life size portrait is at Ansley Golf Club where he hung out at the Men’s Grill, bought by the members who loved him. My father in law was in the surgical suite when he died with the irony of a pig valve was replaced, throwing a clot when he came off the machine. I would have loved to have seen how he negotiated age, as I am now. He was a good ‘un.
Judy Kate - April 28, 2019 4:34 pm
I’m thankful He never forgets about any of us. Welcome home, Sean and Jamie.
David Abernathy - April 28, 2019 8:02 pm
In the late 40’s and early 50’s we lived in Atlanta and traveled to LaGrange on US 29 at least once a month to visit my grandparents. I’ve probably been through Moreland 50 or 60 times. We had to ride the bus and every time the bus stopped in Newnan to let people off and pick up new riders the bus driver would yell “Newnan.”
My parents told the story that every time the bus driver yelled the stop, I would have to go to the bathroom. Without fail, he called out Newnan I would start pestering them I had to go pee. The bus driver would hold the bus while my dad and I got off. As soon as we got in the station, I would spot the candy display and didn’t have to go to the bathroom, I wanted candy. they said every time I screamed, laid on the floor throwing a fit, and wouldn’t get up to get on the bus to finish the trip.
My dad finally had an idea, every time the bus driver said Newnan, my dad said he made a mistake, it was Chickamauga and just like that I stayed on the bus until we got to LaGrange. I wonder why Chickamauga looked like Newnan, but to my young mind I thought there must be other bus stops that looked like Newnan, also.
Debbie Shiflett - April 28, 2019 8:25 pm
You are as gifted and have as big a heart as Lewis! Many people immediately think of Lewis ‘ humor when they think of his books, but for me, it was that he showed us his heart and soul so often in his stories. His love for his troubled daddy, his affection for his mom, step dad, grandparents, special mentors and of course, his dog Catfish and the South, well, for Georgia.
My faborites: My Daddy was a Pistol and I’m a Son of a Gun; Don’t Forget to Call Your Mama; If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground
Like in a previous comment above, I wonder too how Lewis would have navigated getting older if he and we had been so blessed. But, I’m not sure his weak and soft heart could have stood to see a lot of what’s going on in this old world. It takes a special writer like you, Sean, to remind us daily that LIFE IS GOOD!
GEORGE FISHER (HM) - April 28, 2019 10:18 pm
Awesome as usual; of course when one invoked the name Grizzard we all run to the sound of that gunfire; Sean, you Sir, provide that for us and scratch us where we itch. There’s plenty of room for Lewis, Sean and anybody who wants to tell the tales of the glorious South. Not the politics or the garbage that lights up our TVs and phones 24/7; but the PEOPLE. Everyone that goes out and busts their chops to eek out a living, raise a family and try to leave things better than they found them. Sean Dietrich is one of the rare sources of these stories that, like Lewis, rest in my bone marrow.
Kathy Daum - April 28, 2019 10:51 pm
We all need to be reminded of that. That God and the universe hasn’t forgotten us. We are loved.
Charaleen Wright - April 29, 2019 2:42 am
Sharon J - April 29, 2019 3:56 am
There is NO place like home – love the South. So glad you share that love!
Allie - May 5, 2019 7:54 pm
My BF has only ever lived one place: the county part of garnet & gold Co. and is very much a Southerner. The parents are from Denver and PA, respectively, so I can’t hold the following against him. Too much. On the way back from Dahlonega, I *made* him listen to Grizzard until we lost cell signal. No self-respecting Southerner shall remain ignorant of Lewis Grizzard. Not on my watch, and not holding my hand, either ?
Debra Fillingim - May 28, 2019 6:11 am
Loved this piece- as a writer, former librarian, and reader… I must know the name of your favorite author.
Misty King - May 28, 2019 11:50 am
Thanks for the mention of my hometown, the only place I’ve ever lived and the place I never want to leave, LaGrange! We have grown quite considerably in my 40+ years, a little too much for me, but it is home! The back roads that led to my grandparents home, the mill villages that so many worked for until they all closed and moved on. Both of my parents, their parents, their brothers and sisters all spent time in those cotton mills. I loved the days my mom would take me to bring my daddy his lunch! Thank you for all the walks down memory lane, keep telling your wonderful stories of our beloved south!
Caleb Halstead - May 28, 2019 1:26 pm
You’re my favorite writer since Louis Grizzard and Dan Jenkins (Jenkins – of whom you have likely never heard). The biggest noticeable difference is that you’re much more polite and more quotable in mixed company. That’s a good thing! 🙂 Love your commentaries.
Joe Patterson - June 4, 2019 12:32 pm
Thanks LEWIS was my hero too when he died I felt like I had lost a friend you may not be LEWIS but you are dam close and I look forward to your columns every day Keep writing I never met LEWIS if you ever get to The Shoals I will be in the crowd