Eclectic, Alabama. Lake Martin. The sun rose over the distant tree line. The sky changed from pink sorbet to the same blue as my aunt’s ‘62 Eldorado, a car roughly the size of a Waffle House.
I heard a common loon. The birdsong bounced off the smooth water, and I was all smiles.
I haven’t heard a loon since I was a boy. It was such a lovely song that it was almost eerie. A lonesome sound. The sound of the lake. The sound of bygone memories. And most importantly, the sound of expensive lakefront real estate.
I’m getting closer to the age my father was when he died. And this feels weird because, in my heart, I’m still a puppy.
I’m not a boy, of course. Not even close. I don’t remember becoming middle-aged. But it happened. There are slight wisps of white in my beard. And when I wake up most mornings I feel like someone has beaten me with a length of rebar.
But deep inside, my childhood isn’t that far away. I can still remember wearing clothes with my nametag sewn into the collar. I still remember damming creeks and building forts.
Swinging from rope swings. Jumping from branches. Riding bikes down impossible hills and trying seriously to give myself a subdural hematoma.
I remember each dog who slept at my footboard. I remember how my mother made Spaghetti-Os on a stovetop, long before microwave ovens ruined the world.
I remember Swanson TV dinners in tin trays, cooked in range ovens. The mashed potatoes were always partially frozen, and the apple cobbler was boiling magma.
I remember playing in the woods until sundown, listening to loons on the creek. I remember smelling like dirt and sweat and stale Kool-Aid.
We lived outdoors as children. We stayed in the woods until everyone’s mothers emerged from tiny, distant houses and shouted out their nightly songs.
You’d hear Mrs. Fisk sing to her daughter “Margaret,” and stretch Margaret’s name into four or five syllables. “Maaahh-gahhh-rahhh-ett!”
You’d hear Adam’s mom call him home using a special tone that often sounded like Adam was about to fall victim to corporal punishment.
And whenever you heard your own mother’s voice, you ran toward it. No questions asked. It didn’t matter what you were doing. Didn’t matter where you were. You simply gave your friends a parting glance, then raced home.
My mother called me home every night except weekends, when she worked the midnight shift at the hospital.
On weekends it was my father who called me home for supper. And whenever it was him shouting my name, this meant two things. It meant that: (a) my father had cooked supper, which meant that (b) my supper would consist of beans and franks and sips of his Natural Light.
I can recall hearing his tenor voice in the faroff, calling my name. I would drop what I was doing. I would look at my friends, who were all knee deep in creek mud, and say, “Gotta go!”
And I remember my heart would be filled with a lot of joy. Because that’s the thing about childhood. Even if your childhood was less than optimal, even if your childhood stunk, children still feel more joy than adults.
Childhood is nothing but a continual buzz. A non-stop adventure novel.
I would run through those black woods until I neared our house. I’d see Daddy standing on the porch, shirtless. His silhouette in the bright doorway. A dishrag draped over his left shoulder. He’d be smiling at me. As though watching his little boy run home gave him pleasure.
I would sprint even faster once I locked eyes on him. I remember feeling happier than I have ever felt in my entire life. Just because. Everything was perfect. Boyhood was eternal.
And sometimes, here on this pristine lake, I wonder if that’s the way my father felt when God called him home.
Nazem Nassar - November 7, 2022 7:42 am
Wow woo .. thanks Sean. What a healthy childhood! You remind me of my very much similiar child plays out there in the country back in 50’s & 60’s. I feel sorry for the kids nowadays. They miss such natural lovely adventures out in the woods. The new technology, the addiction to Tiktok Facebook is killing the supposedly healthy childhood at country life around! But, who to blame?
D - November 7, 2022 9:18 am
Remembering your childhood brought back childhood sounds and the cool breeze which encircles a child on that walk home after sunlight was fading from the evening sky.
stephenpe - November 7, 2022 10:30 am
Boyhood is eternal. In our minds. I still believe I can…………all of those things and that friends I have not seen are still the same age as the last time we were together. Children still need to have a childhood if we want well adjusted adults. And love is the answer.
Debbie - November 7, 2022 10:35 am
How blessed you were in your childhood to have two loving parents, to have felt joy, to have friends, and the freedom to create your own adventures, to have grown up sheltered and in safety and have the privileges every child deserves. I’m glad you can look back and once again experience such wonder that still lives in your soul. Thank you so much for sharing this and allowing me to see the beauty of your beginning years.
Jim Kelly - November 7, 2022 10:42 am
Sean, I really enjoy your daily columns. Even when you write of love and joy, I sense an undertone of sadness. I have read you long enough to think I know why. I wish it had been different. God Bless.
DeeDee - November 7, 2022 10:47 am
❤️❤️❤️. I sure hope it’s how All of our loved ones have felt. It sounds exactly like I hope it will feel for me..
Te - November 7, 2022 10:52 am
Those were magical days. All the kids were outside from near dawn until suppertime and after, regardless of heat, cold, or snow. Especially snow, which was an event in Huntsville; you took advantage of every minute, despite the risk of frostbite. All I remember of heat was popping tar bubbles on the street. I recall going down a steep icy street in a big dishpan, not knowing there was an iced-over speed bump at the bottom that launched me into the air. The boys were impressed. My brother and I were reluctant to abandon our adventures when called to supper, but when we heard Dad’s piercing whistle, we scooted. For all that, I never heard a loon until I was grown. It is a haunting, lovely sound. And then there are grackles which sound like a rough metal file being drawn over a saw blade.
Morgan Williams - November 7, 2022 11:28 am
Timmy Burnette - November 7, 2022 11:43 am
I read you every morning as part of my devotions and Bible study… you speak to humanity and it keeps me grounded. I am a pastor and deal with hurt in peoples lives almost everyday…. Today just before I read your article ( which is always read after I read my Bible.) I got the dreaded phone call… the phone call you hate, for it arrives late at night or in the wee hours or the morning. It was my mom and my papaw had been called home in the middle of the night… you article was exactly what I needed. Thank you brother Sean….
Debbie - November 7, 2022 11:55 am
I’m sorry about your papaw. God bless and keep your family. Prayers🙏
ALLEN - November 7, 2022 11:49 am
Your description of childhood is precise! And Lake Martin is a wonderful place for recalling memories of that grand adventure novel and that remembrance of eternity.
firstname.lastname@example.org - November 7, 2022 11:53 am
I believe parents should choose names based on how they sound as you holler out the back door. They need at least 3 syllables to sound good.
Leigh Amiot - November 7, 2022 11:55 am
Mockingbirds and whippoorwills create the bird calls which transport me to my childhood home, morning and night respectively. Windows were open, not locked tight to hold in central air conditioning as there was none. Those of us who experienced premature losses measure time by them when we visit our memories. I’ve lived 17 years longer than my Daddy, three years longer than my brother. Loved ones who lived longer give us hope; my grandmothers both lived to be in their 90s. One of them encouraged me to learn about bird identification, by sight and by call, a renewing gift over a lifetime.
Ron Gilbert - November 7, 2022 11:59 am
Thanks for another warm memory – it reminded me so much of the closing words of Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain (read it if you haven’t). He writes of growing up in Birmingham living near East Lake, and kids being called home in the evening: “Most of the children in my neighborhood are called home for supper by their mothers. They open the back door, wipe their hands on their aprons and yell, “Willie!” or “Joe!” or “Ray!” Either that or they use a bell, bolted to the doorframe and loud enough to start the dogs barking in the backyard all along the street. But I was always called home by my father, and he didn’t do it in the customary way. He walked down the alley all way to the lake. If I was close, I could hear his shoes on the gravel before he came into sight. If I was far, I would see him across the surface of the water, emerging out of the shadows and into the gray light. He would stand with his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker while he looked for me. This is how he got me to come home. He always came to the place that I was before he called my name.”
Diana - November 7, 2022 12:14 pm
Growing up before the age of technology was great. We were never indoors except to eat and sleep. Kids don’t know how to be kids any more. It’s so sad.
Mac - November 7, 2022 12:34 pm
That’s exactly how it felt. Can’t wait to hear that call myself!
Susie - November 7, 2022 12:34 pm
Boy, so I ever remember those Swanson dinners. Your description brought it all back, those flimsy tin pans,those half-frozen mashed potatoes. 😂
Susie - November 7, 2022 12:49 pm
I, too, was called home by my mom by one of those old-fashioned large brass school bells. I can still hear it in my mind’s ear. 😊 Appropo, as she WAS a teacher.
Suellen - November 7, 2022 12:38 pm
I can see that image of heaven so clearly. Whatever we’re doing here can’t compare to the joy of going home.
Priscilla Rodgers - November 7, 2022 12:42 pm
In reading your column first thing, every day for the past while, I think I have seen you evolve. You seem to be putting the bad memories aside and keeping the good ones. Maybe we should all try that! Have a blessed day.
Lynn B - November 7, 2022 12:55 pm
I know your childhood was a difficult one. I love that you are still able to bring forth the best memories of all our childhoods and that Lake Martin brings them back for you. We feel the same way on this incredible lake.
Jocelyn - November 7, 2022 12:56 pm
Thanks for the memory reminders. My mom had a whistle that could be heard 4-5 blocks. She would whistle me home from the pool 4 blocks away, my friends house 1 block away and the cemetery 2 blocks. My response was same as yours. Gotta Go. Zero hesitation.
Susie - November 7, 2022 12:57 pm
Yes, Sean, your father DID love you very much. I’m sure of it and he made you feel that. If you haven’t, please grant him your grace with of forgiveness, if not for him, but for your peace of mind. He was not able to see his was out of pain. Bless your heart. Hugging you RIGHT NOW, Sean! FEEL IT
Susie - November 7, 2022 1:06 pm
Sorry about the poorly worded last post. For some weird reason, I can only see the top half of the letter I’m typing, so it makes it very hard to proofread before I send.
John - November 7, 2022 1:00 pm
My call was a unique whistle my dad would make. That carried further than a hollered name. Even after I was grown if we were at some event but got separated he could whistle and I could find him.
Frank - November 7, 2022 1:02 pm
An absolutely beautiful column, Sean!
Lucretia Chappell - November 7, 2022 1:03 pm
Oh, Sean. Thanks for making sad days bearable. Made me cry happy tears, instead of bitter. Sweet memories are truly a blessing, aren’t they? You’re the best for sharing. Lu
Laura W - November 7, 2022 1:04 pm
In our neighborhood one family had a large bell they rang to bring their kids home, my brothers and I listened for dad’s very loud whistle to let us know, others heard mom or dad hollering. It was the best.
Patricia Gibson - November 7, 2022 1:15 pm
You have such a gift for words and I am grateful you share💚
Barbara Farr - November 7, 2022 1:23 pm
Today your writing brought back so many memories of my child hood. Although I did not have a woods to play in, I had friends who lived within a 3 or 4 city block area. And like you, at dinner time I heard my mother’s soprano voice loud and clear, “Ba-ubs (Babs), come ho-ume,” in a sort of melody. And I would reply, “Cuh-in’,” in a sing-songy way. I would skip home. I perfected the art of “skipping high.”
I remember all the girls having to wear dresses to school. I walked to school (1 mile, uphill both ways). On real cold days, I had to wear long pants under my dress and go in the cloakroom and take them off when I arrived. One day it was very cold and the school bus driver stopped and gave me a ride.
After Christmas one year, my brother dug a big hole in the back yard. Then we gathered all the Christmas trees off everyone’s trash pile an made a roof for the “fort.” It was kind of spooky down in there! We would draw a circle in our dirt driveway and play marbles. Martha and I would play jacks after school.
A couple years ago, I asked Martha what she remembered about growing up (we are 74 and 75 years old now.) She said,”You had crushed ice.” Our crushed ice maker, hung on the wall. You lifted the lid and put ice cubes in (2 max), cranked the handle and crushed ice fell into the plastic cup below… In Pensacola FL, ice was special. But crushed ice was the “cat’s meow!”
I look forward to enjoying your writing each morning. Thank you.
Ann Boswell - November 7, 2022 1:48 pm
Great column! I just discovered Lake Martin this weekend with my college roommates. We’re not “old” but have been friends since the 70’s. Ha! Our piece of the Lake was quiet, beautiful and has recharged us. Check out is at 11 but I have a feeling the Lake will stay with us wherever we go.
Sharon of Southside - November 7, 2022 1:53 pm
Carol - November 7, 2022 1:51 pm
Yet another example of why your readers so anticipate and enjoy your writing (sharing). So often, you take us where we didn’t know we were going, as in the final lines of today’s essay. I didn’t see the end coming. Perhaps you didn’t either, when you first started it (writing being like grappling a goat by the horns). Beautiful, and, seems to this mortal, very likely true. Thank you.
Joy - November 7, 2022 1:54 pm
Thanks so much for sharing! The sounds of childhood, wonderful to remember a special good memory. Peace and joy fills our hearts. Take care, Have a great day!
elliemac3 - November 7, 2022 2:00 pm
I think that is exactly how your father felt when God called him home. Thank you for yet another beautiful post!!
Dean - November 7, 2022 2:04 pm
Another gem, Sean
Jeanine Sumption - November 7, 2022 2:06 pm
Beautiful, Sean. You had me there with you – both in loss and in life… Gratitude daily with faith and trust in Him always. 🙏❤️
Sally Speaker - November 7, 2022 2:13 pm
As I recall, all the many families with children had a bell. The mom rang the family bell out the back door when supper was ready. All the kids knew whose family bell was whose! We dropped down out of trees, stirred the last mud pie and raced home on our bikes. I remember it like yesterday – carefree times.
Maggie Priestaf - November 7, 2022 2:15 pm
My mom never called out my name, Margaret. However, we had a small bell on the kitchen window sill decorated like Aunt Jemima. Mom would ring that when it was time to come home. You could hear it’s shrill ring all up and down the block. It meant you better get home! Thanks again, Sean.
Tommy - November 7, 2022 2:27 pm
When i hear a prop plane drone overhead i’m a 10 year old boy on a summer day pining over the fence admiring Donald Franks’ mares with their colts and longing for one of my own. Now i have great grandchildren that age group. Still don’t own a horse tho i did own a herd of cattle years ago.
David - November 7, 2022 2:28 pm
“Because that’s the thing about childhood. Even if your childhood was less than optimal, even if your childhood stunk, children still feel more joy than adults.” So true. Perfectly written.
Christi OQuinn - November 7, 2022 2:32 pm
May we all feel the pristine perfection of eternal childhood, until we are called Home. I am forever grateful for refusing to grow up, amidst conformity of adulthood, by far, the worst hood I’ve ever had to live in. Thanks for your incredible writing from a neighbor, Lake Martin, Kowaliga Retreat since 1976, proximal Paradise. Happy Monday.
David - November 7, 2022 2:38 pm
Those were the days! Played kick the can many times. Went looking for crawdads in the creek. Tons of mischief to get into. Thanks for sharing Sean!!
Gigi - November 7, 2022 2:43 pm
Thanks for the walk down “Memory Lane”. I’m about 3 decades older than you, Sean, but our childhoods were the same, playing outside all day until one of our parents called us home for supper (mostly my Mom). Then back out until it started getting dark. I honestly feel sorry for kids that haven’t experienced that kind of childhood, it was the best !
Your last sentence made me catch my breath, and my eyes suddenly got misty. I’m SURE that’s exactly the way your Father felt when his Heavenly Father called him home. ❤️
Hall Powell - November 7, 2022 2:44 pm
Those were the days, back when a kid had to use his imagination rather than having everything made or planned for him. I grew up in the hills, creeks and rivers of N. Alabama, and Guntersville Lake where I learned to water ski at age 16. Precious memories.
Lily Kerr - November 7, 2022 2:59 pm
I wonder if your Daddy will be there like that when YOU go home!!!
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 7, 2022 3:05 pm
This one got me a little harder than usual. I know when God called my Daddy home he ran towards those open arms with a big smile on his face and amazing Grace in his heart. Even if it was too soon for the rest of us for him to be gone. Someday you and I will both get to run HOME too. Someday…..
elizabethroosje - November 7, 2022 3:08 pm
Oh Sean. Beautifully written. I can see how you remember the treasured moments and the beauty so deeply. But how tragic your loss. May God comfort you. You are such a blessing. Please know that we pray for you and Jamie.
Jane Sparacio - November 7, 2022 3:13 pm
Of course he did Sean, he ran towards the peace he was seeking and and finally found. Much love and comfort my friend.
Helen De Prima - November 7, 2022 3:32 pm
Debbie g - November 7, 2022 3:59 pm
Kids today have no idea what it is to go outside and play. My childhood was so much like yours. We went out at daybreak and came in when the sun went down. Thank Sean for reminding me of my childhood when everything was so simple.
Judy - November 7, 2022 4:20 pm
Your Dad is waiting with that same smile, that says welcome home son!
Stacey Wallace - November 7, 2022 5:09 pm
Sean, Lake Martin is too beautiful for words. I was born in Alexander City, (“Eleck” City to the locals), about 45 minutes from Electic. Your Daddy will always be with you, especially in a place like that. Love to you , Jamie, and Marigold.
Deanna Hindsley - November 7, 2022 5:10 pm
I love this. All great childhood memories.
Mary yates - November 7, 2022 6:01 pm
Absolutely perfectly beautiful. And that’s the way it was. Hope it still is somehow.
MaryBeth Patten - November 7, 2022 6:26 pm
Thank you for wondering about how your dad felt when God called him home. My husband died three weeks ago today and your thought made me happy when I thought of my husband smiling as he was approaching God. I’ll be holding that thought in my heart.
Lamar Branum - November 7, 2022 6:59 pm
This story resonants in my heart with similar childhood memories, thanks for the pleasant trip down memory lane.
Linda Moon - November 7, 2022 7:36 pm
I hope turning middle-age is well with you and your soul. Why, even past middle-age can be well, especially with a wellspring of memories whether they’re good or bad, because they are yours. Childhood memories of my flawed father are, well….just beautifully incredible. And they are eternal, now, Sean….my father and yours.
Fritha Dinwiddie - November 7, 2022 7:47 pm
Daddy just crossed the river a few months ago. He a from Opelika. I’m working on archiving his 500+ sermons in a blog that (as of now) I plan to call “A Way Home.” I hope that my dad met yours when he stepped onto the other shore.
jblackburn34 - November 7, 2022 8:54 pm
I say yes. And then there’s a giant hug that he ran into that never ends.
MAM - November 7, 2022 8:59 pm
Tears welled with that one, because, of course, that’s how your dad felt when he reached his final home with God. And the loon call, I can relate to. Where I have lived, I have not heard loons. But a visit to Maine let me hear them. What a marvelous, yet eerie sound that carried across the lake and fulfilled one of my bucket list items.
Pat - November 7, 2022 9:57 pm
If only the kids of today could experience those times. Playing outside until either your Dad called you home or the street lights came on! It was great. Knowing when you got home dinner would be ready and the family would sit down together. A warm feeling if happiness. Just like the feeling your Dad felt when he was called home by his heavenly father
Darrell Dame - November 7, 2022 10:31 pm
Very good , some poet once said, The thoughts of a boy are long long thoughts.
Max - November 7, 2022 10:35 pm
What was one of the best/worst experiences of childhood? Riding our bikes behind the mosquito fogger. I that’s still going on today, their parents are risking jail time.
Johnna - November 7, 2022 11:33 pm
“Even if your childhood was less than optimal, even if your childhood stunk, children still feel more joy than adults.” That there….
Mary Lee - November 8, 2022 1:57 am
Well you just took me right back from where I came from. My memories are so vivid after reading this. I am 72 years old today and don’t feel a day over 40. Thank you for making my day end with beautiful, sweet memories.
ponza a vaughan - November 8, 2022 2:16 am
A beautiful thought as God calls all of us home.
Paula Ann Loftis - November 8, 2022 2:42 am
Brilliant writing capturing childhood that not many children enjoy today….the outdoors, parents waiting, simple life and joys. Although sadness and disappointment waits at the edge of the memories. Thank you Sean for another emotional and meaningful slice of life.
Steve Winfield (lifer) - November 8, 2022 6:32 am
As I’ve said so many times. Mom left when I was 5, my brother was 2. We stayed with dad & always had a nanny that lived in M-F. Cooked, cleaned, got us off to school.
On weekends dad cooked those foil TV dinners or we ate out. Boy did we eat out a lot. Truck stops, diners, you name it. We never went hungry. Tons of Shoneys, back when it was good. Every BBQ joint within 10 miles of home. Dad didn’t like fast food. Arby’s was the only one we went to & that was maybe 5 times a year.
We usually ate where you sat & ordered from a waitress. Especially if they served Schlitz. Me & my brother loved sphagetti.
(It won’t even auto correct that word)
We ate tons of it. Dad ate steaks.
There were at least a dozen kids on our street. We’d play outside til 10 or later on weekends. Often dad had a date & they’d be watching TV & probably glad we were off having fun. Drinking Schlitz & smooching. Sometimes they’d dance to a record player on the back porch. Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, The Tiajuanna Brass. We would laugh at them.
If there was a better time to be a kid than the mid to late 60s please tell me about it.
Or to be raised by a man that was ten times better than Andy Griffith.
Boy did we have it great!
brucehrogers1 - November 8, 2022 4:50 pm
I remember when….
Thank you Sean; this brings back so many memories. A great way to start my day.
Bonnie Burt - November 11, 2022 4:33 am
Oh this story reminded me of nights with my cousins!! Best of times!
Anne Godwin - November 12, 2022 5:41 am
The four youngest grands spent the night last night. They had a good time playing outside. Went to the Veterans Day parade in downtown Mobile. Ate beignets. Two left early. The ten year old wanted to play kick ball. I wanted to sit. I’m glad his pleeeeaaaaaasssse Bebe got me to play. Making those memories.
Your older sister in Mobile appreciates your walks down memory lane. Our Dads and our Lord will be waiting for us with open arms.