I am in the sticks. Rural west Alabama. A land of hayfields, cattle pastures, automotive graveyards, and shotgun houses with porch sofas.
You haven’t lived until you’ve taken a nap on a porch sofa.
My vehicle rolls along an uneven two-lane, bucking and jumping over each bump. A blind dog named Marigold is in the passenger seat beside me.
I wave at people napping on their porch sofas. Sometimes people wave back. Other times they just watch me go by and scratch themselves in a deeply personal region.
I arrive in the town of Jefferson. Although calling this a “town” is a stretch. It’s just a wide spot on Highway 28.
Jefferson, Alabama, is the epitome of small. The population here isn’t big enough to form a decent baseball team. There is a volunteer fire department. Two churches—one Baptist and the other kind. And the Jefferson Country Store.
The mercantile is slammed today. There are muddy trucks, bicycles and ATVs parked around the clapboard store like cattle at a feed trough.
I open the creaky door and walk inside. George and Tammy are singing overhead about golden rings. The whole place smells like hickory- and pecan-smoked meat. Marigold is going crazy.
Tony and his wife Betsy, the owners, are slinging food in an open kitchen. It’s lunch rush. It’s a weekend. The place is elbow to elbow.
The Jefferson Country Store has been open since 1957. It used to be the only depot around for fifty thousand miles. It was also the only United States Post Office. Everyone in Jefferson used to visit this place to get their bank statements and Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs.
“People still mail letters here,” says Tony. “But we don’t do money orders no more.”
The innards of the store are a throwback to another era. The walls are adorned with antique tin signs. Red Man Chew. Ford Motor Co. Buy Coca-Cola Here. Nothing runs like a Deere. Camel Cigarettes—More doctors smoke Camels than any other brand.
Buckheads are mounted on the walls. Mounted trout. This place is so nostalgic it makes my chest hurt.
There are floor coolers full of Milo’s. Moonpies and RC Cola. Supreme Coconut Bars. Candy cigarettes. Bit O’Honeys. You can still buy hoop cheese here.
The customers at the tables are of the small-town variety. The whole room is entirely camo and denim. A few neon-orange caps.
There is a man in a rocking chair, perched in the corner. He is old. His hair is disheveled. He is snoring. His eyes are closed and a thin strand of drool strings from his mouth. This man is sleeping.
“That’s Mister Douglas,” says Tony, as though this explains everything.
And I haven’t even talked about the food yet. The food here is nothing short of Marengo County legend.
I ask those waiting in line for menu recommendations. The emotional reactions here are the same kinds of reactions you’d get if you asked Pentecostals to teach you how to speak in tongues.
“Get the baked beans,” says one woman. “Tony’s beans are ridiculous.”
“Do the pulled pork,” says another. “It will blow your freaking mind.”
“The ribs,” says one man. “Those things are an out-of-body experience.”
Which turns out to be an understatement. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone good. I don’t like to speak in generalizations, but the sauce on ribs is the greatest sauce on Planet Earth. Tony sells his sauce to anyone who calls the store.
“We’ve shipped it out to California, Texas, Alaska, you name it. Wherever anyone wants.”
The old man next to me is plowing through a half rack. His face is stained with sauce. He wears a Massey Ferguson cap and muddy boots.
I ask how he likes the food. He answers with a guttural noise that sounds exactly like a dog licking itself.
When I finish eating, I am sick from too much food. Tony sends me home with extra barbecue for the road. I tell him no thanks, I’m stuffed. But Tony assures me that I will find room.
Before I leave the store, I am given a round of hugs from Betsy and Tony. Real hugs. The kinds with back-slaps. And I get the impression that Tony and Betsy are the kinds of people who probably hug everyone who visits their doorstep. Even door-to-door evangelists and Amway representatives.
Later, while I am driving through the countryside on a serene summer day, listening to the radio, I find myself wishing the America from my childhood still existed.
I wish we still had country stores. I wish we still had Bit O’Honeys and Moonpies at old filling stations. I wish we still had old men in rockers with chaws in their lower lips. I wish we still had NEHI orange sodas, rag bologna, “Boys Life” magazines, Mary Jane taffy, and hoop cheese.
But right now what I wish most of all, is that Marigold and I had a porch sofa.
Robert - September 20, 2022 9:20 am
Sometimes u just make me smile as I try to wipe away the memories
Joan - September 20, 2022 9:57 am
I miss Swift in the glass bottle I’ve cold!
Ed (Bear) - September 20, 2022 10:08 am
Thanks for the literary hugs. Marigold is lucky you found her!
Starr - September 20, 2022 10:09 am
I sometimes wonder if my childhood -much as you just described -was as wonderful as nostalgia makes it seem. However the older I become, I truly believe I grew up in the best of times – though I didn’t realize it then.
Jocelyn - September 20, 2022 10:16 am
Yes we grew up in the best times. Our world has changed and our scenes from the past are slowly disappearing into the technological haze. Please keep reminding us readers. We need it. Love and Hugs to you and your sidekick Marigold the Blue tick hound. I love her ears.
mikec4193 - September 20, 2022 10:18 am
Marigold and you are gonna be an awesome pair of traveling buds…yes bring back the corner store…it is missed everywhere…
oldlibrariansshelf - September 20, 2022 10:36 am
When would you and Marigold enjoy a porch sofa. Y’all are roadies savoring the folks you meet along the way.
Roxanne Taylor - September 20, 2022 10:45 am
I used to spend part of my summer with my grandparents in Ft. Meade, Florida. Their wood frame house was across the street from a little gas station country store. It was such a treat to walk over and get a coke and some peanuts to pour inside! They had everything in the candy world, but also staples like milk and bread. Grandma would even send me to the A&P with a blank signed check, that the cashier would fill in for me after I got groceries. Everyone knew everyone and people left their doors unlocked. I miss those days too.
Ellen Hunsucker - September 20, 2022 10:46 am
I could comment every day on your wonderful articles! So many of them make me cry and that is not a bad thing! Your humor was off the chart today and so descriptive without being overly descriptive.
Larry Evans. Millbrook Alabama - September 20, 2022 10:47 am
This story brings back a flood of fond memories. My grandfather owned grocery, service station , hardware, and feed store (with an ice house). As a kid I stocked shelves, pumped gas, and thought I was a big man. While I love today’s technology I’m confident that has cost us the loss of closeness that existed back then that is lost forever .
CBW - September 20, 2022 2:14 pm
“While I love today’s technology I’m confident that has cost us the loss of closeness that existed back then that is lost forever.”
I definitely don’t love it, I use it. Sadly, the smart phone generation has suffered greatly.
Peggy C - September 20, 2022 11:17 am
You conjured up this place so beautifully.
Anne Arthur - September 20, 2022 11:22 am
Your power to paint vivid pictures with your words is awesome.
Dolores - September 20, 2022 11:28 am
My grandparents ran such a store when our county was mostly agricultural. It was a hub of local going’s on and how I loved listening in.
Women caught up on engagements and weddings, births and who was ailing. Always there was the state of the gardens and how many quarts of fill- in-the-blank vegetables they were able to put up.
The men sat on the store’s front porch smoking cigars or pipes. They’re conversations always included the weather, crops and livestock. Hunting and fishing stories peppered with comedy were my favorite.
Those were the good old days alright. We could ill afford the divisiveness that exists today. We were a self reliant bunch for a most part yet dependent on our neighbors too. We all brought something to the table and in that there was unity.
Caroline Williams - September 20, 2022 11:29 am
Thanks, Sean, for letting us reminisce and experience this nostalgia of the good old days with you. Your words took me back with you and I, too, wish we could relive the simplicity of days gone by. Just nice knowing that The Jefferson County Store still exists.
Priscilla Rodgers - September 20, 2022 11:39 am
We still do, they are just harder to find!
Trent - September 20, 2022 11:42 am
Still lickin’ the sauce off my fingers…you put the “eye” in “my mind’s eye” Sean. Thank you for sharing your many literary gifts and God Bless Rural America and the South.
Jojo - September 20, 2022 12:00 pm
Your column takes me back to my growing up yearsSean…and wishful thinking that this world was more like that. Thank you
olivia9506 - September 20, 2022 12:30 pm
I have read your article 3 times…..I believe I need to visit Jefferson, Alabama! I remember those days begone and miss them more than I realized…..thank you for all you do Sean~
Tom - September 20, 2022 12:31 pm
The sound of an old John Deere popping to life on a clear brisk spring morning, the smell of freshly turned soil….
Verna Kays - September 20, 2022 12:33 pm
Loving you and Marigolds story!
Sean of the South: Jefferson, Alabama | The Trussville Tribune - September 20, 2022 12:34 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
j - September 20, 2022 12:40 pm
Amen Yes. Mary Janes and a ice cold coke taken from the ice box, walked to the cash register over old worn wood floors worn from age by the many feet that entered here. The meat counter and grocery counter all one and the same. The old wooden screen door opens with the jangle of the bell overhead. Outside, an old maple tree stands guard at the intersection of the two roads that pass by. On Halloween, the store remains open for the kids to come by and see if the owners know whose who in the zoo, and then open the candy display for you to choose your halloween candy. I miss that ole country store. Thanks Sean for missing the good ole days too.
Hawk - September 20, 2022 12:46 pm
If you want to see the store this is an outside view.
JonDragonfly - September 20, 2022 2:53 pm
Debbie - September 20, 2022 12:48 pm
Sean, your story, I love it!
I can’t forget the penny candy counter, low and open for little hands to chose their favorite sweet candies and put them into little paper sacks.
Balogna sliced from a big roll.
Cokes in glass bottles.
Gilded in gold cash registers, beautiful.
Wooden plank floors
Stores with porches, ladder back chairs and benches.
Double glass doors with screen doors and the bell that rang each time the door was opened.
So many memories come to mind from nowhere it seems, however, they are not from nowhere; they are forever inside of me, reminding me of the importance of simplicity in life. How blessed I am to have experienced these things.
Diana - September 20, 2022 12:53 pm
Although I grew up in Tampa, I loved visiting relatives in the mountains of WV where I was born. Fits the description of Jefferson AL to a t. My grandmother and great grandmother both had country stores. Today you took me back there. Thanks.
Russ Johnson - September 20, 2022 12:57 pm
So… Have you adopted Marygold now?
Hawk - September 20, 2022 1:04 pm
I once stopped at such a store. I had lunch with the mayor, fire chief, postmaster. We had cheese crackers and cola. For desert, we had stage planks. I’ve had meals with a few people of note. I don’t remember them, but I still remember having lunch with three men of high character and steady moral compasses that I still look for in other people.
Debbie Schmidt - September 20, 2022 1:05 pm
Last Saturday night we attended the annual bluegrass gospel homecoming in McIntosh Alabama. It was put on by the Chastang family and it was like stepping back in time.
Guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos, generational family harmonies and a lot of denim and and a lot of overalls. Everything was free…a gift to the community. There were hot dogs, chips, cokes and a pot of jambalaya prepared in a big iron tub and stirred for hours by a man in overalls and a straw hat. The best jambalaya I have ever tasted.
This same group of friends went to see you at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile recently. We kept saying, “We wish Sean was here. We would love to hear what he’d have to say about all of this”.
Being with you and being with the Chastangs were both emersive experiences. A soul piercing return to the America where we grew up. A time when church and the gospel were at the center of our existence and life was simpler and kinder.
Anyway, I’m thinking you and the Chastangs might be a Pentecostal match made in heaven. You should go see them if you ever get a chance.
BTW…this advice is coming from a ‘frozen chosen’ Presbyterian.
joseybell - September 20, 2022 1:06 pm
No artist could paint a better picture with paints than you do with words. I could actually smell that barbecue and sauce.
P Deas - September 20, 2022 1:14 pm
Eat too much did we!
Pat harris - September 20, 2022 1:18 pm
Sean you are the eighth wonder of the world hug miss merigold for me please
Linda Kerr - September 20, 2022 1:20 pm
Great visit! Thanks!
mccutchen52 - September 20, 2022 1:44 pm
I grew up in the country and my Grandfather owned a county store near me. Of course near me was between a quarter to a half mile.
You and Marigold in a country store eating ribs??? There has GOT to be a song in there somewhere.
Debbie Schmidt - September 20, 2022 1:45 pm
Correct spelling is Chestang not Chastang
Margaret - September 20, 2022 2:02 pm
We had a porch sofa. It was made during World War II. It had no springs in the seat or back. It was as hard as a rock. I have a vivid memory of boys coming to visit my sisters, and one of them eyeing that sofa. He took a running jump at it, and landed full body with a huuuuump sound coming out of his mouth. He had knocked his breath out he landed so hard.
David Britnell - September 20, 2022 2:03 pm
Oh the memories!
Brenda - September 20, 2022 2:22 pm
Patricia Gibson - September 20, 2022 2:23 pm
I guess it is normal as we age but I wish for the slower way of life and the wonderful experiences.
Chris Spencer - September 20, 2022 2:42 pm
Here is the link to their Facebook page. Sounds like a great place that for me would be a short road trip. Thanks Sean!!!
David - September 20, 2022 3:09 pm
“There are muddy trucks, bicycles and ATVs parked around the clapboard store like cattle at a feed trough.”
One of the best sentences I’ve ever read.
Angelyn McCaulla - September 20, 2022 3:09 pm
I looked it up on my maps app. I want to ho there.
Jo Ann Ballantine - September 20, 2022 3:28 pm
Sean, your piece about Jefferson and the old store brought up so many memories of my childhood and my family travels around this entire country. My dad grew up in Neshoba County, Mississippi and I visit my brothers there often. In your treks around the south take time to go to Philadelphia, MS and visit the William Brothers general store. It’s a throwback to the times you talk about. The family who owns it is related to the Manning football dynasty. The boys have all worked in the store at some point in their lives and you’ll see polaroids of them on the wall. It’s great fun! And, if you go in July, take in the Neshoba County Fair. I doubt there’s anything like it in the country.
pattymack43 - September 20, 2022 3:36 pm
To wish is to hope for something better than where you are the moment. I like the way you “wish”, Sean! Blessings!
Cathy - September 20, 2022 3:39 pm
The old country store I remember in Tuscaloosa county sold minnows, worms, and crickets along with the usual hoop cheese, rag bologna, Viennas and saltines. Candy cigarettes, Tootsie rolls, moon pies, salted peanuts, and strong Coca Colas in those little bottles. ♥️
Dee Thompson - September 20, 2022 3:46 pm
My father’s father ran a store like that (except no BBQ or prepared foods) during the Depression in Hephzibah, Georgia. Dad and his brothers told me and my cousins many stories over the years ago the store. Daddy loved “rat cheese” like nothing else. Not long before he died, we were in Hepzibah for the Farmer’s Club meeting (really there for the BBQ) and when we left I asked where Grandaddy’s store was. Dad pointed to an H&R Block office. I said “Let’s go in there.” We walked in and I was astonished how tiny it was. I couldn’t imagine running an entire grocery store there. Dad’s eyes had a faraway look. The office manager walked over and they shook hands. I imagine in heaven Dad and his family are on the porch of just such a store, eating “rat cheese,” drinking RC Colas, and swapping stories. Thanks for the reminder, Sean.
southerngirlalways - September 20, 2022 6:11 pm
My daddy always called it “rat cheese,” too!
Steve McCaleb - September 20, 2022 3:58 pm
Son, you’re amazing. You have somehow made desperately homesick for a place I hadn’t thought of in years. I can remember my dad helping me up the steps going into J.A. Kelly & Sons General Store in Eldridge, Alabama. That was nearly 70 years ago. It was the most wonderful place I ever knew. The Kelly Boys had every thing you could imagine under that tin roof. I’ve never had such a sense of wonder before or since. You could get anything from from a Remington rifle to a bologna sandwich (slices cut off a meat log big as a man’s leg). The place is gone now….which is sad. But not nearly as sad as the passing of almost all the people who made it so special. It’s been said before ( and far more eloquently) but hey…….thanks for the memories.
Karen Maxwell - September 20, 2022 4:54 pm
You make memories come back in such vivid ways. Cheers to you Sean!
AlaRedClayGirl - September 20, 2022 5:08 pm
As a child I would visit an old country store in Moorseville, AL, and that little town is older than the state of Alabama. There is an old hardware store in Huntsville (Harrison Brothers) and an old seed store in Tuscumbia (Coldwater Seed & Supply). I love visiting old stores so I might have to check out this one in Jefferson. Maybe Jamie will let you drag a sofa out onto your porch.
Dolores - September 20, 2022 5:16 pm
I grew up in rural Virginia, we were dirt poor but my momma would not allow a sofa on the front porch. However, we did have a twin size cot on the back porch. A thunderstorm or heavy rain on the tin roof, wrapped up in a comfy quilt: snoozing there was heaven.
Rebecca Soude4rs - September 20, 2022 7:14 pm
Thanks for the memories of the two-blocks-away general store from my childhood.
George Culver - September 20, 2022 8:17 pm
Perfect Sean. I grew up in the small town of Munford, rural Talladega Co. My grandfather Joseph Renzo and uncle Dial had a Carter’s General Merchandise store. Short of the restaurant, your description was uncanny the exact of my childhood memories of the old store in the 50s and 60s.. What a joyful personal trip back to early youth. Appreciated it, George.
Linda Moon - September 20, 2022 8:36 pm
Marigold! She’s here again in this post, and more importantly…your front seat! I wish, too for those things you mentioned, and sometimes those childhood memories can serve us well to remind us of our roots and good times and even hard times. They make us who we became later in life. I’ve got some good porch-sitting stuff to sit on….come on over any time and we’ll do some sittin’!
patriciasimmonstaylor - September 20, 2022 8:40 pm
Love it…thanks for the memories…the good old days were special. Wish we had more of that now.
Slimpicker - September 21, 2022 3:09 am
My brothers and I always got RC Cola and a Moonpie. On Saturday we could get in the movie theater with 5 RC Cola bottle caps and a dime for admission.
Linda Long - September 21, 2022 6:04 pm
You should drive further north to a community called Colbert Heights. I am in TN now, but my roots are there. It is a wonderful place and there is a librarian at the school who would show you around. I love your stories.
sflouden - September 22, 2022 12:17 pm
I love this…makes me wish I could visit that store…and have a porch couch 🙂 You always make my day start with a smile…thanks from a 77 year old!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - October 12, 2022 1:40 am
Julie RN - January 21, 2023 2:41 pm
I’ve got an old sofa for you, Sean! And Marigold, too…it’s dog-friendly, and she will love it❣️ Just truck on up here, and head north to Champaign Illinois…if you get to Chicago, you’ve gone too far‼️