I glanced at my phone and lost my appetite. An old friend died.

A breakfast joint, filled with smells of bacon and coffee. The sound of people, conversing. I was eating my eggs when I got the text.

I glanced at my phone and lost my appetite. An old friend died.

He was seventy-six. He used to be a singer. And I’ll never forget the story I heard about him.

Once, a nine-year-old girl from church asked him to sing for her dog’s funeral. He wore a necktie and the whole nine yards. He sang “Beulah Land.” That’s the kind of guy he was.

I was interrupted from my thoughts. It was another old friend who came through the doors. Lisa, a girl I grew up with.

I hugged her neck and asked how her father was doing.

Lisa smiled. “He’s okay, Mom hired a personal trainer to kick his butt, he whines about it.”

I’ll never forget her father. He once took me to a father-son church retreat at Blue Lake Methodist Camp, along with his own son. He did this because I had no father and he didn’t want me to be left out.

I stood to leave the restaurant. That’s when I saw another friend. James is his name. James and I used to have a summer job together, parking cars. He’s a mess.

Back then, James would try to procure the phone number of any female unfortunate enough to make eye-contact with him.

I exited the restaurant and saw two more friends in the parking lot. Samantha and her husband, Wade.

We hugged. It was nice seeing them. We were once in a Sunday school class together.

Long ago, our class took a trip to Nashville. Wade brought a Mason jar full of something his Episcopalian uncle had brewed in a bathtub.

Consequently, Wade doesn’t remember much about that trip.

After saying goodbye, I drove across town to the grocery store. I walked around Publix in search of a few items my wife told me to get: lip gloss, baby wipes, grape tomatoes, and collards.

In the produce aisle, I saw an old woman named Barbara, who used to cut my hair. I haven’t thought about her in years.

We embraced. She kissed my cheek. We had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes. She told me my hair was looking shaggy in front.

Then, in the checkout lane, I saw a man whose yard I used to mow when I worked in landscaping.

In the parking lot I saw a man who I used to work with, a woman whose wedding I attended, and a guy who used to do my taxes.

I left the store and drove to the post office where I stood in line to mail a few packages. There, I saw three friends I went to college with.

Three at once. What are the odds?

We all shook hands in the post-office line, then talked about what we’re doing with our lives. It was good seeing them, and I’m grateful I don’t look nearly as old as they do.

I went to the gas station next. And I think you know where this is going.

It was the cashier, he recognized me. He said, “Hey! Remember me? It’s Allen! I lived down the road from you!”

Allen? My God. Allen used to give me rides in his brother’s Camaro—which I later found out was a stolen vehicle connected with a Circle-K robbery.

I drove home. I pulled into the driveway and I saw my elderly neighbor, walking his dog, Buster. We shook hands. I asked how Buster’s recent surgery went.

“Well,” he said. “Buster’s still pretty mad at me for taking away his man card.”

Buster looked at me with disgust.

I bid him goodbye, and I was left in my front yard, staring at the sky.

For some reason, I felt so good that my cheeks hurt and my voice was hoarse.

Listen, I don’t know a thing about life, I know even less about what happens when it’s over. But maybe, just maybe, when we depart we arrive in a big place that smells an awful lot like a kitchen.

Maybe there’s coffee, the smell of bacon, and the sounds of happy conversation. Perhaps it’s a place where everyone stands in line to hug your neck.

Where old friends shake your hand and old mothers kiss your cheek. Where people you once loved are waiting at the bannister. Where old men who sang at funerals find rest for their souls. Where my late father resides.

A place so beautiful it makes you homesick for the country. Where no sad goodbyes are spoken. Where time won’t matter anymore.

Someday, perhaps, on thee I’ll stand.

Sweet Beulah Land.

42 comments

  1. Sarah - February 6, 2019 6:35 am

    I had to YouTube “Sweet Beulah Land” as I had never heard it. Someday, perhaps, on thee I’ll stand. Another great post, Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. rantsandravescom - February 6, 2019 8:05 am

    You are very fortunate to have so many friends. Most people have less than 5 days. Most likely because you are interested in them. Be Thankful for them. I hope you too reach that “Sweet Beulah Land”. What a wonderful writer of the South and it’s people you are.
    Happy writing, ESDavis

    Reply
  3. Karen - February 6, 2019 9:04 am

    Being socially connected in real, meaningful relationships is one of the strongest indicators of longevity. Friendships are really important, and they enhance your life so much. Thank you for teaching us how to be a friend to others.

    Reply
  4. Steven P Bailey - February 6, 2019 10:46 am

    Beautiful

    Reply
  5. Sherry - February 6, 2019 10:56 am

    Love this. I spent the high school part of my youth in a small town where I knew everyone and they knew me! I miss that so much…it’s retirement time now and I hope we will leave the city and spend some time among those we knew back then! Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth Edens - February 6, 2019 11:16 am

    I miss small town life!

    Reply
  7. Margaret Cade - February 6, 2019 12:14 pm

    That was absolutely beautiful. “I’m kind of homesick, for a country. To which I’ve never been before.”

    Reply
  8. Lucretia Jones - February 6, 2019 12:57 pm

    . . .there I hope to stand, Sweet Beulah Land. . .

    Reply
  9. Susan Self - February 6, 2019 1:06 pm

    Yes oh yes! To there I want to go. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  10. Marilyn - February 6, 2019 1:07 pm

    Small town living has so many perks. Love living in one, and also love your stories, Sean. Keep them coming!

    Reply
  11. Beki Denison - February 6, 2019 1:20 pm

    It’s been 22 years since my Paw Paw Cole died and Beulah Land was sang at his funeral. That song being a Southern funeral staple of course. To this day I can’t hear it and not cry. And apparently read it and not cry.

    Reply
  12. Kathy Daum - February 6, 2019 1:45 pm

    “There’s a gathering of spirits,
    There’s a festival of friends.
    And we’ll take up where we left off
    When we all meet again.” Carrie Newcomer

    Reply
  13. BJean - February 6, 2019 1:57 pm

    Connections, so wonderful, so important.

    Reply
  14. Connie Havard Ryland - February 6, 2019 2:24 pm

    What a wonderful thought to start my day. The sure knowledge that I will see my loved ones again. Thank you for the reminder.

    Reply
  15. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 6, 2019 2:25 pm

    Sean, you made me feel Heaven right there!

    Reply
  16. Jack Darnell - February 6, 2019 2:45 pm

    No! I didn’t know where that was going. I do not have a home town, but my wife does. Belmont, NC. I cannot go with her anywhere that she does not meet someone she was in church with, worked with, or went to school with or.. or…. or….! I thought you were gonna talk about hometowns.
    I wasn’t disappointed, I love Beulah Land, I hope that is my home town. LOL Good one BRo…
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  17. Shelton A. - February 6, 2019 2:52 pm

    Seeing old friends and neighbors is a blessing. You got a huge dose in one day! God bless you, your family, and all your friends.

    Reply
  18. Penn Wells - February 6, 2019 2:58 pm

    I lost my roommate from a thousand golf trips last week. How did you know? Love you, man

    Reply
  19. Judy Riley - February 6, 2019 3:29 pm

    The wonderful, happy perks of living and growing up in a small southern town!!!

    Reply
  20. Liz Watkins - February 6, 2019 3:41 pm

    Speechless❤️ Beautiful ❤️❤️

    Reply
  21. Connie Jones - February 6, 2019 3:58 pm

    Sean, you never fail to lift my spirits…what a beautiful post today…there’s nothing better than seeing old friends…God Bless you Sean.

    Reply
  22. Stephanie Cox - February 6, 2019 4:01 pm

    This one touched my heart deeply!

    Reply
  23. Mary - February 6, 2019 4:11 pm

    Small towns. I couldn’t wait to get out…now I can’t wait to go back. Great post.

    Reply
  24. HJ Patterson - February 6, 2019 4:18 pm

    Funny how people come in and out of your life and in the end, that’s all we have are those memories until we reach Beulah Land. Nobody sings it like the Mighty T. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avntXsW6WhU

    Reply
  25. flkatmom - February 6, 2019 4:39 pm

    Just what I needed today…

    Reply
  26. Tammy Moody - February 6, 2019 4:41 pm

    Amen, Sean. Amen.

    Reply
  27. Carolyn Allen - February 6, 2019 5:47 pm

    …..and especially Lord, please bless Lisa’s father
    in a special way today.

    Reply
  28. Judy Kate - February 6, 2019 5:50 pm

    Sean, thank you for this beautiful gift, which came at the perfect time for me. I’ve been having a major pity party and have been praying for peace and comfort. Your words answered my prayers. In the last two years, I’ve lost four of my dearest friends, my only sibling, a favorite cousin, and my precious mother-in-law. With the exception of my mother-in-law, each of these loved ones was well below the age that is considered the average life expectancy. The most recent loss was two weeks ago – the widower of my life-long best friend who passed in March of 2018. This loss has been particularly tough for me for several reasons: he was like a brother to me; his death was sudden and unexpected — he was working hard to eat ‘right’ and get in shape and he appeared to be the picture of health; losing him forced me to come to terms with the loss of his late wife. With his passing, I’m left alone with memories of the life the three of us shared. My best friend detested “Beulah Land.” So much so, it was the only song she requested NOT be sung at the celebration of her life. “It’s too sad and would have everyone sobbing,” was her logic. We honored her wishes. No Beulah Land for her or her husband’s service. But, because of you, I played Beulah Land just now for me. It was a much-needed reminder that “No sad goodbyes will there be spoken.” I love you, Sean Dietrich, and will see you in Beulah Land — Sweet Beulah Land. ❤️

    Reply
  29. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 6, 2019 5:56 pm

    Sean, I pray it’s exactly as you described it to be. Tomorrow is 5 months since my Daddy arrived there and When he went I pictured his reunion with the friends that had gone on before him. The hand shakes and hugs and stories being told all around. I pictured my grandmomma, his mom, who he hadn’t seen in 35 years kissing his cheek and his daddy, my grandpa, who passed 9 years and 1 day earlier than him waiting there to clap him on the back and say glad ya made it son. I hope it’ll be the same for me when I get there one day. Very few things in this world smell as good to me as bacon. Thanks again, Sean. I needed this today.

    Reply
  30. Brenda McLaine - February 6, 2019 6:00 pm

    This column hit home with me today. I buried my husband of 54 yrs. Sat. My children and grandchildren stood in line for over two hours shaking and hugging old friends, new friends and family. I’m looking forward to that “Great Homecoming in the Sky”.

    Reply
    • Kathie Kerr - February 7, 2019 5:48 am

      I am sorry for your loss

      Reply
  31. Alice Grimes - February 6, 2019 6:04 pm

    Thank you for the reminder of the the many thiings I still have. I pray you will dwell often on those you still have. Time in eternity is all just now. To those who are waiting for us it is only less than an eyeblink. God bless you and heal all your wounds.

    Reply
  32. Karen - February 6, 2019 11:56 pm

    Your writing touches my heart with tears and smiles daily…but today you have me in tears. I am thankful that I grew up in a small southern town, and identify with your stories. I’m even more thankful that one day Beulah Land will be my home. Looking forward to meeting you there.

    Reply
  33. Dru - February 7, 2019 3:51 am

    I love it! Sweet Beulah Land! Hope to see you there someday!

    Reply
  34. Kathie Kerr - February 7, 2019 5:46 am

    This is exactly my idea of heaven, too. Only, im on my front porch with ice tea and chocolate magraine pie, surrounded by every dog and cat I’ve ever owned. And, look, here comes an old friend walking up to the house and we sit and talk and visit and we are not in a hurry to get anyplace because we know we have an eternity.

    Reply
  35. Cathy - February 7, 2019 3:12 pm

    Sweet Beulah Land was sung at my daddy’s funeral. Thank you for your words every morning. God is using you!

    Reply
  36. Amanda Saum - February 7, 2019 10:00 pm

    This one literally has me in tears. I’ve been homesick for so long, living in “LA” for more than half my life but pretty much it’s been just my lovable mutt and myself. I think s road trip to Hoosier-land is in order soon. Thank you Sean ❤️

    Reply
  37. Mary Ellen Hall - February 8, 2019 1:19 am

    LOVE THIS, SEAN!!!💙💙

    Reply
  38. Dedra - February 9, 2019 5:31 am

    This piece takes you to a place where you can say…..I knew that was in there.
    Thank goodness for sweet words strung together that make you recognized a placed you’ve missed for a long while.

    Reply
  39. Eiizabeth - February 9, 2019 3:39 pm

    Very well written piece.

    Reply
  40. Robert Chiles - February 9, 2019 5:52 pm

    I once officiated at a full-blown funeral for a 42 pound pet raccoon.

    Reply
  41. Carol W Roberts - February 9, 2019 7:58 pm

    Last week was a busy week, and I saved all of your emails to read at once. Big mistake. 6 or 7 tender stories in a row will really hit you in the feels. Swore I wouldn’t do that again. But this past week was busy, too. So I am sitting here catching up on all the things I missed. At least I was smart enough to grab the tissues first. Love you.

    Reply

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