Milton, Florida—brick buildings. Old houses. Cute storefronts.
My wife and I roll into town early. The Imogene Theater is our destination for the evening. I’m here to tell a few stories at a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida.
Everyone tells me this theater is haunted, but I don’t buy it. I was raised by evangelicals. Believe in ghosts? We didn’t even believe in two-piece bathing suits.
This old opera house has been standing since 1912. Hank Williams played here once. So did Roy Acuff, and Minnie Pearl. My late father would’ve danced a jig if he’d known I was taking the same stage as Hank.
Anyway, they say the ghost’s name is Miss Imogene. She roams this auditorium, along with many others.
The stories are all alike. Some report hearing things, some claim to see a girl wandering the balcony. Paranormal enthusiasts around the nation believe this theater is a gathering place for metaphysical beings.
But not me. That’s kid stuff.
I am given the dime tour of the old hall. There are tall ceilings, stunning acoustics, and ornate woodwork. There is a rope and pulley system outside, once used to hoist steamer trunks for vaudeville performers.
“Here’s your dressing room,” the man says, flipping a lightswitch. “Can you believe Hank changed his clothes in this VERY room?”
“Yep. Hey, maybe he’s even in this room with us now.”
The hair on the back of my neck stands straight up.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I tell the man.
“Good,” he says. “Then you won’t mind if I leave Hank in here with you? He’s been getting in my way all day.”
Soon, I am in the dressing room alone. I’m thinking about things.
Mainly, how thrilled my father would have been to know I was in a room where Minnie Pearl once did her makeup, where Roy Acuff once tuned his fiddle. And all of a sudden it hits me hard. I miss him.
My father, not Roy Acuff.
I’m thinking about the wonderful things my father never experienced. Like all the things my wife and I have done these last years.
We’ve seen half the country in a car. I’ve told stories in small towns throughout the Southeast, and made new friends. We ate fried catfish on a Mississippi riverboat. I drank beer with an Episcopal bishop. I won two hundred bucks in Biloxi on a Roulette table.
My father hasn’t been here to see any of it. No matter how old I get, I wish I could share this life with him.
If ghosts were real, I wish he were one. I’d like him to visit me and say “hello.”
The band arrives. They warm up the crowd before I go on stage. The concession stand sells beer, wine, and popcorn. People trickle into the seats.
I take the stage. I tell a few stories. I pick at my guitar, I ramble.
And something happens. Nothing major, but something small.
While I speak, I am interrupted by one of my own memories. It almost makes me forget where I am. It’s a vivid recollection:
I see my father, seated beside a fireplace, stabbing a poker at a smoldering log. It’s Christmastime. He sings “Silent Night” in the German language of his ancestry.
Then, he teaches the song to me. It takes two full afternoons for me to learn these strange words. But I do, and it makes him proud.
He says, “You’re a smart kid, you know that?”
I can still hear his voice.
I am jolted from my memory. And I realize that I am standing before a microphone with an audience staring at me.
I have this whim. It might be a bad idea, but here goes.
I start to sing his song. I’m not sure if I will remember the words, or if I’ll get the German pronunciation right. But I go for it.
I surprise myself. The lyrics are still there. I don’t know how. It is almost paranormal.
I finish the song. I leave the stage. I sit in Hank’s dressing room. I close my eyes.
I feel something deep in my chest. It’s a heavy feeling. A good one. These might be the effects of a good memory. A memory so strong, I almost feel a middle-aged man’s hand resting on my right shoulder. A man who died too young.
The hair on my neck isn’t standing, there are no bright lights, I don’t hear noises. But I would almost swear Daddy’s here.
I open my eyes.
There is nobody in the dressing room but a gangly guy who was raised by evangelicals.
Ghosts? No. I don’t believe in ghosts.
But I sure hope they believe in me.
Thressa Wood - December 8, 2018 6:54 am
I’ve passed that theater many times, but I’ve never been in it. Now I wish I had!!
Love your stories!! Don’t be too hard on evangelical raising. We turned out all right!! T
Camille Atkins - December 8, 2018 10:28 am
Your daddy left you an extraordinary gift and you are using it just like he would want you to. I believe he is with you every step of the way and as much as we all adore you, he is still your biggest fan~
Roger Harrelson - December 8, 2018 11:48 am
Sean, I was at the Imogene and wanted you to know how much I enjoyed the show. I’m 62 yrs old and was raised Southern Baptist in Red Level ,Alabama, so I could really relate to a lot of whatyou we’re saying. Thanks for the laughs again I really enjoyed it.
Marilyn - December 8, 2018 12:04 pm
Sean, I do believe that your father knows what you have been doing with your life. He is with you on this journey, even though you can’t see him. There is so much we don’t know and aren’t supposed to understand until the end times. Keep following your heart and telling your stories. We need to hear them!
Naomi - December 8, 2018 12:33 pm
I had a wonderful father although no one appreciated what a good man he was. My late husband and I and our 2 toddlers were living in Illinois but spent Thanksgiving with my parents in 1968. Thanksgiving night he complained about his left arm hurting so we called his doctor who was still making house calls, even on Thanksgiving. We had to leave the next day to get back to work after the holidays. His arm pain turned out to be a heart attack. In December, he ended up in the hospital. I kept trying to call him but he was never in his room. After many attempts, I finally reached him and asked him why he was never in his room. He told me that he was sitting with other patients who never had any visitors. I told him that I loved him and he told me that he loved me. I got a call from my mother a few weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, that my father had died, 2 weeks after his 65th birthday. I still miss him every day.
MermaidGrammy - December 8, 2018 1:05 pm
This is so touching. I bet everyone who’s ever lost their daddy relates to this particular story.
Liz Watkins - December 8, 2018 1:15 pm
Your Dad is so proud of you!
Michael Guilday - December 8, 2018 1:18 pm
Sean, my dad and mom died in their fifties. I was twenty nine so I had them with me for a while longer than you but in a way, I hadn’t. I’m the number two child in a family of seven so my my mom divided her time, as best she could, among all of us. At least I got 1/7, or to be more specific, .14% of her time.
My dad was a career Navy pilot so he spent most of his time flying off of carriers some place in the world, in my formative years. Doing the math with him is harder, 1/7th minus carrier time, left each of us with about 10 days per year. When I graduated from high school my friends were all druggies. I could have easily joined them but didn’t. Even though my dad was never there, I could hear his voice in my head coaching me in the right direction. Those 10 days a year were enough to give me an image of a good man. I’m 71 now. My dad has been dead for over forty years but even today I can see him and hear him in my head.
I pray that I have given my two children an image in their heads that when I’m gone, like my father did with me, is a positive, loving coaching father. I pray.
Cathi - December 8, 2018 1:30 pm
Sean, don’t worry they do. And they’re always around, closer than your next breath. And they love you too!
Connie Havard Ryland - December 8, 2018 1:49 pm
I believe he’s always with you. The people we lose too soon will be with us as long as our memories are alive. Thank you for sharing this. Love and hugs.
Karen - December 8, 2018 2:16 pm
My father is with me. I carry him in my heart, and I have felt his presence on some occasions. Not in a ghostly way. One year, I had forgotten it was St.Patrick’s Day. On the way to work, I suddenly felt him say, “Don’t forget. You are Irish!” I didn’t hear him, I just knew he said it. Then I remembered the date.
I have no doubt that your father is with you, and is proud of you.
Some things can’t be explained.
Marilyn Vance - December 8, 2018 2:23 pm
My dad died in 1972 at age 57…21 years later, my mom died at 76. The week I came back to Georgia from Alabama and the funeral, I SMELLED my daddy in my house when I was walking through the hall. He had never been in this house, never met my husband but I knew he was here and telling me everything was going to be okay, even though I felt disconnected with BOTH parents gone. We tried to find anything in the hall that smelled like that smell…nothing. I’m convinced God gives us the sense of peace from our folks..not ghosts but peace.
Robert Chiles - December 8, 2018 3:11 pm
Our Episcopal funeral service tells the truth- “Life is changed, not ended.” Your daddy is a close as your next breath.
Steven P Bailey - December 8, 2018 4:08 pm
Wonderful. Wish I could have been there.
Kathy Barham - December 8, 2018 4:25 pm
Sean, he was there, he saw, and he did let you know!!!! xoxo
Carol - December 8, 2018 4:34 pm
Sean , do you ever find pennies in the strangest places or wonder how one just was lying there?
That’s your sign , he’s there.
My late husband who I miss as much or more than you do your daddy, leaves me pennies all the time.
And especially when I need him the most.
I have the poem, I would send you , but I don’t have your address!! PM me sometime !
Or maybe you already have it!
Happy thoughts and a whole lot of pennies!
Keith Allen - December 8, 2018 4:55 pm
Never forget the downing rods! Heard it was a great show, and family is always with you even from beyond. They live as long as someone remembers
Margaret Cade - December 8, 2018 5:19 pm
Your father lives within your memories. Embrace them and be at peace. You will see him again one day.
Edna B. - December 8, 2018 5:22 pm
Sean, I wish you lots of pennies. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Linda Whitman - December 8, 2018 6:47 pm
I love you’re writings Sean! Keep up the good work and God bless you and your wife!
Jack Darnell - December 9, 2018 12:55 am
That is neat… I wouldn’t mind telling a story where old Hank stood. I did pee once where John Wayne did. That was down on the movie set of The Alamo in Brackettsville, TX. I thought you needed to know that. 😉
David - December 9, 2018 1:27 am
I was at the Imogene with my wife on Thursday, 12/6 and heard you for the first time. My wife and I met your lovely wife and beautiful dog. The show was great. I really enjoyed your stories and especially your singing. I like that you bring your dog with you. I look forward to seeing you again next year.
Roxanne - December 9, 2018 2:23 am
The night my daddy died, I was at the hospital with my mother, and my husband was home with our kids. At about 6:00 the ICU doctors told Momma and me there was nothing else they could do for Daddy. I immediately called my husband and told him to throw the kids in the car and get to me. My father passed away at about 6:30. My husband had to drive through 6:00 Houston traffic on a Friday to get to the hospital. He had misunderstood when I called earlier and thought Daddy was already gone. Much later he told me that while he was driving, the car became silent all of a sudden, and he could FEEL my Daddy telling him that everything would be alright. Then the noise of the traffic came back. He glanced at the dashboard clock. It was 6:30. (BTW, I am STILL an Evangelical that doesn’t believe in two piece bathing suits, but I believe there is a lot about souls and heaven that we don’t understand.)
Lydia - December 9, 2018 4:45 pm
Love this one,Sean.Merry Christmas!
Suzanne B - December 9, 2018 6:01 pm
Goosebumps….I wish you lots more “visits”.
Janet Mary Lee - December 11, 2018 6:20 pm
Frank Hardy - December 14, 2018 1:50 am
Read the article in the Santa Rosa Press Gazette and enjoyed it thoroughly. I am sorry that whom ever promoted your show had done a better job since I never saw it advertised anywhere. I have been reading your blogs for several years and would have loved to hear you speak. Maybe next time….