It’s morning in Alabama. I’m driving. There is green everywhere. Live oaks that are old enough to predate the Stone Age.
Tin sheds. Peanut fields with perfect rows that run for miles in straight lines.
American flags are hanging from most mailboxes, horse trailers, workshops, treehouses, and semi-truck garages.
There are plenty of curves ahead, winding through the landscape. They will take you past Faith Chapel Church, Providence Primitive Baptist Church, New Chapel Baptist, First Assembly of God, United Methodist Church. And a heap of other three-room meeting houses with well-kept cemeteries.
There’s the Perry Antique Store—which used to be a gas station one hundred years ago. It sits on approximately thirteen million acres of flat earth.
Old men sit on its porch, chewing the fat. Watching traffic.
There are ancient mobile homes with brand new Fords parked out front.
There are brand new mobile homes with ancient Fords.
I pass red-dirt-road offshoots that lead to God-Knows-Where. Horses in front yards. Cattle in backyards.
Weathered brick chimneys, standing in empty fields.
Telephone poles with signs that read: “Elect Twinkle for governor, for a brighter Alabama.”
I pass small towns, small communities. Brantley. Pine Level. Elba.
Kinston is about as big as a minute, but they have a nice baseball field.
Baseball is serious business in Kinston.
“Now entering Geneva County.”
I pass bumpy creek bridges—I have to slow down to drive across. There’s a crumbling red house—probably older than the late great Kathryn Tucker Windham.
Bass boats sit by the highway with for-sale signs. Farm-implement graveyards stretch clear to China.
There is a man, burning trash in his front lawn. There are manmade bream ponds.
Dead corn fields. Overgrown yards with rusty swing sets and children’s playhouses, with wood rot.
Rusty mailboxes with flags up. Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. Lowery Church of Christ. Grain silos.
Chicken farms. Cattle farms. Tree farms. Dirt farms.
The yellow line in the center of the highway turns solid. Then dotted again.
Duke’s Meat House is doing good business today. I’ll bet old Duke can hickory-smoke the sin out of a shoulder.
Earlytown, Alabama, has seen a lot in its day. So has the abandoned Volkswagen in a hayfield.
Round bales of hay. Tall longleaf pines. Tin roofs galore. Corroded fifth-wheels with DIRECTV satellite dishes on top.
The Geneva State Forest.
Farmhouses with grandkids, sitting on front swings, shirtless. A lonesome cow, standing by a mile marker.
Sardis Cemetery is as small as it can be.
Hacoda, Alabama. Ponds. Live oaks. Camp Victory. An old, white millhouse with busted windows and mold growing on the siding.
A homemade sign in someone’s garden which reads: “Heart of Dixie.”
Entering Covington County. There’s a kudzu problem here. And a sunshine problem. There is a young family, walking the shoulder of the road, pushing a stroller. They wave. So do I.
And I still haven’t passed a single vehicle on this highway.
Thank you, Lord, for all you give us. For kindness, white flour, and people who are brave enough to treat others how they themselves want to be treated.
But most of all, thank you for Lower Alabama.
Betsy Brown - July 30, 2017 2:02 pm
How could I not love these words about the roads I travel almost daily once off I65
And I85?Thanks for giving me some new appreciation for their beauty.
Elizabeth Westmark - July 30, 2017 2:09 pm
This took me back to one of Buck and my meandering drives from Cantonment, FL (just a few miles from L.A.) through some Alabama backroads just as you describe. An excerpt from an old blog post of mine describing that drive seems like a cousin of yours.
. . . The road to Monroeville takes us through the town of Red Level. A light rain freshens the chartreuse greenery of producing pecan groves, just-planted cotton and soybean fields, and acres of silky wheat full of promise. The John Deere dealership looks so fine to me, with all its pretty tractors. And in the town square, or what passes for it, we see families gathered drinking lemonade and having a picnic to raise money for the volunteer fire department. Dozens of little kids are gathered around the shining new ladder truck.
I feel a punch of emotion as I look at the scene. America. It’s still here. America: the hopeful, the bruised, the wondering. America: the seeking, the wayward, maybe the returning. This moment alone makes the trip. . .
Like a lot of other readers of yours, I appreciate your daily posts.
Barbara Parker - July 30, 2017 2:11 pm
Thank you for taking me on a tour of south Alabama – where my early memories were made, where my grandparents lived and are now resting in some of the cemeteries and whete some family members still live. Kinston, coffee springs, Geneva – I feel I’m traveling with you–a bug in your windshield.
Connie - July 30, 2017 2:11 pm
Born and raised and lower Alabama, and never really left. Moved around a little in the 80’s following my ex’s construction job, but we came back. And I’m still here. Raised my kids here, and my grandchildren are being raised here. Three in Grand Bay, and the one I raised in Perdido and Bay Minette. Beautiful country. Wonderful, weird, eccentric people. I love reading your words celebrating all that is good and not so good about our area.
Sandi - July 30, 2017 2:24 pm
Good morning, Sean. You deserve another feather in your cap for such wonderfully descriptive writing. I think all of us who read this delightful essay felt like we were passengers in your truck. As I drive through the L. A. (Lehigh Acres, FL) where I reside, I’ll be more aware of things on both sides of the road!
Kay Paul - July 30, 2017 2:29 pm
You just described what I imagine Heaven looks like. With a “Heart of Dixie” sign hanging over the Pearly Gates.
Shannon Simpson - July 30, 2017 2:36 pm
Love the reference to Kathryn Tucker Windham! I grew up on those stories. I love your writing. I know those small towns and can see them when I read your words. Come on up to north Alabama and do a piece about our part of the state!
Todd Bonin - July 30, 2017 3:44 pm
Now that’s the kind of L.A. that I could live in.
Sam Hunneman - July 30, 2017 3:45 pm
Thanks for the ride, Sean. Tho it’s foreign scenery to a Yankee like me, and I haven’t seen the like of it since 1974, I could see it all clearly.
Nicholas Curtis - July 30, 2017 3:57 pm
Good morning America, how are you?
Clare - July 30, 2017 4:28 pm
Yes, Alabama is beautiful. Last year I had the sweet pleasure of traveling through on my way from Wisconsin to Georgia. It was April and Spring was upon us. I felt like I was turning the pages of a calendar. I hope someday to have a longer visit. I do enjoy your writing.
In the great state of Maine
Robbey - July 30, 2017 4:37 pm
“Roll Tide Sean!” And I mean this in a reverent way… but could easily be said “War Eagle Sean! “in the right group of folks…
anyway I am not even thinking of football .
Thank you for your prospective as always.
Have a great week!
Ken Givens - July 30, 2017 6:29 pm
Thank you once again for painting beautiful mental images and providing serenity with your words. You are an amazing artist. I hope you get a chance to visit and write about the wonderful areas where I grew up in lower Alabama that included Headland and Newville, Alabama. The people in and around those two small towns have all the character of the beautiful souls you write about and the geography is pure heaven. May not be perfect but it is darn close. One thing that I learned growing up there is that farm people have qualities like no others. They are as honest as Moses and will do almost anything to help a fellow human who needs help; just like the Master taught.
Leisa Taylor - July 30, 2017 6:52 pm
Oh my heart! I’ve been on those roads many times being a girl who grew up in L.A. I call North Alabama home, but it has a character all of its own that is nothing close to the Wiregrass and surrounding areas!
Kathleen - July 30, 2017 7:09 pm
Description of these sights bring back memories of traveling through Al. Before interstates!
Susie Munz - July 30, 2017 7:12 pm
You travel the way I do, Sean, taking it all in. It’s folks like us that they invented self-driving cars for! ?
Camille Atkins - July 30, 2017 7:36 pm
I felt like I was sitting next to you on that drive. I grew up in Ozark, so all of those places were stomping grounds for me. I live in Tennessee now, making new memories on Tennessee roads. It’s all good!
Sandra Marrar - July 30, 2017 7:40 pm
I’m from Mississippi and all I can say is “there ain’t nothing like the south.”
James Thomason - July 30, 2017 7:51 pm
For 15 years, I managed highway construction in West Florida and South Alabama from offices in Dothan, Chipley, Defuniak Springs, Niceville, Valparaiso, Pensacola, Flormaton, and Mobile. Traveling those back roads was one of my favorite parts of the job. My shortest route to Dothan included a couple of miles of dirt roads. A client in Troy gave me directions for a shortcut back to Mobile. He said to turn of Ala 10 onto a county road at a place that was once a road house called the Big Apple. Thanks for memories of good times.
Eulene B - September 13, 2017 5:52 pm
Big Apple- just past Rutledge AL. I know the exact route he sent you on ?
Virginia - July 30, 2017 9:02 pm
Maybe you will pass
Orrville one day.
Marty from Alabama - July 31, 2017 12:48 am
Thank you for making it so vivid that we feel as if we are riding right along with you.
Meloney - July 31, 2017 5:04 am
Wonderfully written Sean. And if you had went a little further in Florala you could have written about Lake Jackson. Also thanks for writing about Old Sardis Cemetery, my great great grandfather and some of his children and grandchildren are buried there. Have a wonderful day and keep up the good writing.
Wendy - July 31, 2017 6:25 am
Thank you, Sean. For a while there, I thought you were writing about west central Alabama. I hope that some day you’ll be able to travel the back roads of Perry County & share the beauty with us. Again, thank you so much!
Renee Feliu - July 31, 2017 11:44 am
peggy peterson - July 31, 2017 12:35 pm
love your posts
Carlton Hornsby - May 23, 2018 4:46 pm
Having been born in Anniston, Al. and with relatives still in the state you have made me homesick. Coosa County and the Cemetary where I have relatives buried there.
Jack Quanstrum - July 31, 2017 1:10 pm
Amen to the Tenth agree! And thank you Sean for your Keen insight and wonderful writing style.
Beverly Stovall - July 31, 2017 6:09 pm
AND I THANK YOU LORD FOR
SEAN OF THE SOUTH…..HE BRIGHTEN’S EACH AND EVERY ONE
OF MY DAYS!!!!
Carrie - August 2, 2017 1:27 am
My husband is from Opp. It is beautiful there. When they wanted to go to a movie they went all the way over to Andalusia. As teenagers, if they wanted to buy beer they went to Florala.
I have attended many funerals in Opp and heard shaped-note singing at the Assembly of God, where on either side of the casket were artificial flower wreaths with plastic phones tied on, with ribbons saying “Jesus called, Lonnie answered”. My grandfather-in-law leaned over and said “Don’t know why he answered that phone.”
There were living room beauty parlors and the I.G.A., and if they got in too much trouble on a Friday night the Sheriff might just decide to bring you home to your Mama so she could decide what to do with you.
If your dog wandered over to someone else’s farm, they reserved the right to shoot it. And you would understand that, even if you were sad.
Everyone knows everyone and that’s good or bad depending on how you look at it.
It’s a tiny place but also the fields stretch as far as you can see, and my husband’s grandmother picked cotton in those fields as a girl and I’m sure the fields weren’t tiny to her.
Jody - September 13, 2017 8:22 pm
Loved your comments about the funerals in Opp. Am still smiling ?
Lucretia - August 3, 2017 2:46 am
. . .yes, thank you, Heavenly Father, for Lower Alabama.. .thank you for Southern people and for Southern writers. . .
Bruce C - September 13, 2017 10:29 am
… ancient mobile homes with new Fords in front, new Fords in front of ancient mobile homes … your words snap photos in my head. Thanks for the daily paintings of my semi-transplanted L.A. (snow birds that we are). Can’t wait to get back down.
Mike Welch - September 13, 2017 1:15 pm
Perry’s store…..4 way stop…..dominoes was the game of choice played for many years on the front porch. Passed it twice a week on my way to and fro from Troy State University.
Traveled many of those roads you mentioned having lived in Florala, Al., home of beautiful Lake Jackson.
Thank you Sean for your daily inspiration.
Margaret - September 13, 2017 2:02 pm
Go a little further north to Peterman, and Pine Apple. Grands are buried there. Love LA.
Ava - September 13, 2017 4:11 pm
I’m headed to Gulf Shores next week. Not taking the interstate. No sir. I’m going on as many two lane roads as will lead me there. I love fields, pastures, fish ponds and old houses.
Donald Dye - September 13, 2017 6:25 pm
LOVE your stories, but be careful around BRANTLEY on the highway, Brantley is a “SPEED TRAP” and has very unpleasant officers. They are not trying to save lives only make and take your money…..
Claire - May 23, 2018 7:35 pm
If you obey the speed laws you won’t have to worry about the police officers that are there to keep you from running over other people. You know the ones you call when there is a tragedy. ?
Marvin J Hattaway - September 13, 2017 7:08 pm
Thanks for these memories, Sean. I was born about two miles east of Perry Store on one of the little dirt roads off Hwy 134 toward Enterprise,
and lived within that distance untill we moved off the farm to Opp as I entered the fourth grade. Having driven the roads you mention most of my life, I can really recall them as I read your words. Sitting on the porch at Perry’s Store, watching the old men play dominoes and telling about their yesteryears was an experience that helped formulate my own philosophy on life. I knew I could drive east to Enterpise, west to Opp, south to Kinston or north to Elba. In fact, Pery Store sat squarely on a magic site – THE CROSSROADS TO THE UNIVERSE !!!
mary - March 6, 2021 11:46 pm
My cousin shared this story in FB, and i became an instant reader and fan. My parents and grandparents are from LA, and their parents and grandparents. My sister said once that we were born and mostly lived in Georgia, but our heart and soul belong to south alabama.I lived in south alabama from 1967-1970. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Thank you for this beautiful story, it touched me deep in my heart.