Molino, Florida

Molino, Florida. Population 1,306. It was 1,307, but I heard Miss Carolyn’s mother went on to Glory last night.

You’re looking at hayfields, cowhouses, and a church every sixty feet. A night on the town would take four minutes.

The sky is cloudy. The foraging grass has recently been cut. It’s late autumn, a sweet fragrance hangs in the air because the papermill is in full bloom.

I once dated a girl from Molino. Her father worked at the mill in Cantonment. Every time I showed up to her house for a date, her father happened to be cleaning his Remington on the porch.

Jimmy’s meat-and-three sits off Highway 29. You can’t miss it. Jimmy’s Grill is just up the road from the feed and seed. Just look for all the trucks.

I am meeting my longtime friend and surrogate older brother, Steve, for lunch.

It is an average Friday afternoon. The parking lot is slammed with Fords and Chevys. You will not find a Tesla in Molino.

I open the door. The bell dings. There is a wait. We are greeted by a line of guys in boots, waiting for a table. They are wearing neon safety shirts, covered in mud, and they smell like hard work.

“We love Jimmy’s,” they say. “Only place around that serves real tomato gravy.”

Soon, we are waiting alongside a gaggle of people. In line beside us is a group of women with frilly white hair. I ask what brings these women to Jimmy’s.

“We’re in a sewing circle,” the spokeswoman says. “One of us has low blood sugar, so we all piled into Rhonda’s car and came straight to Jimmy’s because Jimmy’s peanut butter pie cures low blood sugar.”

“They have great butterbeans,” adds one woman.

There is another lady in line who overhears our conversation. She is from Canton, Ohio, just passing through. “What the heck is a butterbean?” the woman asks.

“Oh, honey,” says sewing-circle lady. “You’re heart will be blessed.”

We finally get a table. Steve and I are sitting in back. Our waitress is a gal in her forties who calls us “sweetie,” and she does this non-ironically.

A few tables over is an old man in overalls. He dines alone. His cap features a Browning Buckmark logo. He is leaning over his plate, “sopping.”

I’ll pause here, for any newcomers who don’t know what “sopping” is. Allow me to explain:

Sopping is a traditional American culinary artform, wherein you take leavened bread (usually biscuit or yeast roll, cornbread will do in a jam), you pinch off a piece, then mop your plate dry.

Traditional sopping is done in large circular motions, with the power coming, primarily, from your shoulder and elbow, wrist locked. Always moving clockwise. Never counterclockwise. The idea is to clean your plate until you can, at minimum, see your own reflection.

I order the chicken and dumplings. Steve orders the roast beef.

Before I eat my dumplings, I do the Spoon Test. My mother taught me that dumplings are not worth a spit if your spoon won’t stand up in the bowl. The Spoon Test proves successful. The dumplings are thick, rich, with actual chicken-bone fragments, so you know this is handmade fare.

I am in Heaven.

Steve and I finish lunch. After we pay our bill, we visit Jimmy’s Country Store. The tiny mercantile is done up for Christmas. They inventory all manner of knick-knacks and novelties.

Fresh-made pies. Homemade cakes. Yoder’s Good Health Herbal Tonic. Pickled Eggs. Chutneys galore. T-shirts that reads, “It’s Time to Ketchup With Jesus.”

They also have a hook-and-ring game on display. Also known as the “Bimini Ring” game. This game was supposedly—legend claims—invented in Florida, by pirates in 1716. It is our state game.

The premise is simple. A steel ring is fixed on a string, participants swing the ring until either the ring is caught on a hook, or someone passes out from alcohol poisoning.

Steve and I try to conquer the ring game, but we are deficient in our skillset. A young woman employee named Kinsley tells us, “Y’all are trying too hard, it’s easy.”

“It’s not easy,” says Steve.

“Pssht,” says Kinsley.

Steve is incensed. “Prove it.”

“I don’t have to prove it.”

“I’ll give you $10 bucks if you can hook the ring.”

Steve removes his wallet because he is not about to be shown up by a girl.

Kinsley accepts her summons. The young woman takes the ring in hand. She assumes the stance. She hooks the ring on the second try. Steve pays up, and we are sufficiently emasculated.

And it is within this simple moment that I am realizing something. Something profound. Something that makes me warm all over.

I am a Floridian. I am Southern. And today, I with my people.

Last year, doctors thought I had cancer. One medical professional told me to “get my affairs in order.” But he was wrong. Because this year, I am in the all-clear. I am in Molino, Florida. I am with my older brother. And I am loved.

And I swear to myself, no matter how long I have left on this planet, no matter how brief my insignificant life may be, I will never take magnificent places like Jimmy’s Grill for granted.

Not ever again.

53 comments

  1. Gloria Rolin - December 10, 2022 6:12 am

    I’m a fan of Jimmy’s Grill! Maybe I’ll see you there next time!

    Reply
    • Rena Anderson - December 10, 2022 1:41 pm

      Aawe my old stomping grounds!! And yes the “fragrance” from the papermill in Cantonment 🙈😆

      Reply
  2. Gayla - December 10, 2022 7:05 am

    🥂 Cheers! 🥂

    Reply
  3. Leigh Amiot - December 10, 2022 7:58 am

    It’s a good thing doctors aren’t always right. One told me my mother had weeks to live, this was October ‘99, and she and the Lord decided her homegoing date was January ‘03. Glad you are still with us, Sean, writing such captivating phrases such as the men who smelled like hard work. You write about my people all the time, keeps me coming back for more.

    Reply
  4. Trudy - December 10, 2022 8:11 am

    So glad your diagnosis was wrong, and you are here blessing us each day. I’m awake at 3 am,, so the first thing I do is grab my phone to see if your column is in my mailbox. Thank you, Sean. And thank you Jesus for giving the world Sean.

    Reply
  5. Renee Welton - December 10, 2022 9:59 am

    Nothing better than being with the people who know you best!💙💙💙

    Reply
  6. Gwen - December 10, 2022 11:17 am

    ❤️😭😊

    Reply
  7. mccutchen52 - December 10, 2022 12:01 pm

    I had a favorite place growing up but it is gone now. I miss Mr. Jacks pineapple pie.

    Reply
  8. Helena Shirley - December 10, 2022 12:08 pm

    Love your writings! So thankful your cancer scare ended well. I am from the Akron/Canto.Ohio area. When I came to Greenville. AL in 1975 I was served what I thought were baby Lima Beans. I was immediately instructed that those were Butter Beans. I could say that I liked them so much that I stayed. but it was the southern cornbread dressing that hooked me. Now I consider mysekf a Damn Yankee – one that came south and stayed!

    Reply
  9. Louise - December 10, 2022 12:19 pm

    So what is with the time on the comments being far ahead of the actual time we make a comment?

    And I thought you moved to Alabama?

    Reply
    • John - December 10, 2022 2:23 pm

      The posts are shown in GMT.

      Reply
  10. Roxanne Taylor - December 10, 2022 12:44 pm

    Sean, I am a Floridian, aka “Florida Cracker”, born here and have lived here my entire life. Yes, I am also a proud Southerner as well. You and I both know that life is different in the south. I’ve never had any desire to live anywhere else. Life is good here, so why would you want to leave! As a child I used to spend a week in the summer with my grandparents in a little town called Ft. Meade. Such wonderful memories of those visits. Thank you for taking me back. Wish you would come to central Florida, I really want to hear you speak!

    Roxanne

    Reply
  11. Joy Jacobs - December 10, 2022 12:48 pm

    You should never take anything for granted. That’s my advice. I’m 71 today and I know life is good. ❤️

    Reply
  12. Ruth - December 10, 2022 12:50 pm

    I love the way you appreciate what may seem ordinary to most but is actuality extraordinary and to be treasured. I have no Jimmy’s to enjoy but I do love the Cracker Barrel!

    Reply
    • Patricia Gibson - December 10, 2022 3:17 pm

      Me too!

      Reply
  13. Cheryl Newsome - December 10, 2022 12:56 pm

    Delighted to learn I’m not the only person on the planet who has eaten tomato gravy. When I mention it, people stare at me blankly. My grandmother, aunt and mother all made tomato gravy. I miss it (and potato gravy too–which is pure heaven on homemade biscuits).

    Reply
    • Susie - December 10, 2022 8:01 pm

      Okay, Cheryl. Ya got me. If you would, give me the quick lowdown on what’s in tomato gravy….. besides tomatoes. Thanks, Cheryl!!

      Reply
  14. Leia Lona - December 10, 2022 1:17 pm

    Tomato gravy and sopping in one essay, oh my!
    Thank you Sean and so happy your medical scare was just that.

    Reply
  15. Anne - December 10, 2022 1:18 pm

    Home of the triple pig! 🤩 We love Jimmy’s Grill!

    Reply
  16. KAY JENKINS - December 10, 2022 1:26 pm

    And that (not to take it for granted) is the secret of a life well-lived. God bless us everyone!

    Reply
  17. Tracy McLaughlin - December 10, 2022 1:28 pm

    You are loved by probably more people than you know! Keep writing and Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  18. Pogo Bob - December 10, 2022 1:29 pm

    We lived in the panhandle for 23 years. 11 of them in Pensacola. We still have friends in the Molino area and when we’re in town, meeting for lunch at Jimmy’s is a given. I can assure your readers that no part of this narrative is exaggerated!

    Reply
  19. Verna Smith - December 10, 2022 1:31 pm

    Looking forward to your speaking event with Hillcrest on Tuesday! I’m bringing a group of your biggest fans.

    Reply
  20. Amanda Gibbs - December 10, 2022 1:56 pm

    As long as I have lived in Escambia County Florida. I have never been to Jimmy’s Grill to eat. I’ve been in their crazy busy parking lot to meet up with a friend who bought something from my son who was a Boy Scout at that time or my children sold something to a friend and. We met there. But never been in side at all and I am 43 years old. We drive be there going to Pensacola and out of town, or we pass it again on our way home. Maybe one of these days I will stop in and try it out. I’ve heard it is good. Some Friday nights it’s jamming with local singin talents from the area. Molino is close to home. Maybe you need to do a story about Walnut Hill, Florida or Atmore, Alabama some time.

    Reply
  21. flkatmom - December 10, 2022 2:13 pm

    “I am a Floridian. I am Southern. And today, I with my people.” Alabama is a beautiful state Sean, but Florida is and will ALWAYS be home!
    Much love to you and Jamie.

    P.S. I’m glad the Medical Professionals were wrong!

    Reply
  22. Alisa - December 10, 2022 2:14 pm

    I have just recently found your column, but WOW! You have fed my soul like a biscuit sopped in Mama’s sausage gravy!

    Reply
  23. Ernie in T - December 10, 2022 2:41 pm

    Thanks for recognizing the magnificence in the so many of the things and people God creates and so many of us overlook. You are blessed and bless us when you share your joy.

    Reply
    • Ernie in River City - December 10, 2022 2:42 pm

      T is actually River City… a lovely burg in West Georgia.

      Reply
  24. Janice - December 10, 2022 2:44 pm

    I’m invested ( and not so southern, I reckon) in what is tomato gravy and how do I make it!! #yum

    Reply
    • Sharon - December 11, 2022 12:02 pm

      My maw maw taught me to make it by frying some onion and green peppers in bacon grease or oil until done. Add some flour and brown it some. Add a can of tomato’s and some water. Salt and pepper. Mix it up until you have gravy. Delicious.

      Reply
  25. David - December 10, 2022 3:09 pm

    Just got back from a bus tour up to NYC and I am so glad to be back to my community in the south where we don’t feel herded like cattle from place to place. I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my life. Jimmy’s sounds like a place I love to spend my time with my circle of friends. Another great story Sean. God bless you!

    Reply
  26. Patricia Gibson - December 10, 2022 3:14 pm

    You are so right! Every person, place and activity you experience should be treasured!! I am jealous that I haven’t been to Jimmy’s !!

    Reply
  27. Carlin Brooks - December 10, 2022 3:18 pm

    Sopping reminded me of my dear friend Hadden. He and I worked together for about 20 years, he in an office in Birmingham, me outside sales in Tennessee. During a quarterly meeting our boss took the 10 employees to his Country Club for lunch. Food was very good, but inconsistent. Hadden improved the meal by expertly sopping his plate. One of the old time Country Club members told my boss that the sopping person was not to return. We all rejoiced because from then on the boss took us to much better restaurants.

    Reply
  28. Peter Blay - December 10, 2022 3:24 pm

    I am a Floridian, too! I learned to ride hoses in Molino. I would drive up from Pensacola with friends that enjoyed the best of the Southern ways. I lost my wife to cancer about a year ago and I learned never to take for granted a single day on this Earth. I am glad you are living each day. By the way, you are an inspired writer! Thank you for sharing, Brother!

    Reply
  29. J - December 10, 2022 3:37 pm

    I’ve mopped a lot of plates in my sixty eight years and never clockwise; southern born.

    Reply
  30. Helen De Prima - December 10, 2022 3:53 pm

    Sean makes simple things magnificent.

    Reply
  31. Anne Arthur - December 10, 2022 4:02 pm

    The Lord knew we still need you to tell us about the beautiful, simple things of life. Thanks for this one.

    Reply
  32. Sharon Faircloth - December 10, 2022 4:35 pm

    Jimmy’s Grill is the best! Love your local story today!

    Reply
  33. Dee Thompson - December 10, 2022 4:51 pm

    Nice column. Every town needs a place like this. The sense of community is a treasure. I want to point out one small error. This sentence: “You’re heart will be blessed.” SHOULD read “Your heart will be blessed.”

    Reply
  34. Sean of the South: Molino, Florida | The Trussville Tribune - December 10, 2022 5:27 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

    Reply
  35. Charles Compton - December 10, 2022 6:15 pm

    I am very glad to know your cancer scare was a mis-diagnosis and you’re now in “the all-clear” status. So am I by the grace of God and the doctors at UAB (Birmingham, Alabama) who made it so.

    Reply
  36. dbdicks430 - December 10, 2022 6:21 pm

    Good sopping can be done with sliced white bread, or so my uncle says. I loved Carlin Brooks comment about never having to eat at the Country club again. Stick with the right people and sop away!

    Reply
  37. Linda Moon - December 10, 2022 6:31 pm

    Whether one is “getting her/his affairs in order” or just living life with cancer #4 or other challenges is a good thing. LIFE ITSELF. I sure do love it and the Diner on the Bluff just up the hill from me.

    Reply
  38. Stacey Wallace - December 10, 2022 6:48 pm

    Sean, my husband Mike and I were so relieved to hear that you are fine. Don’t feel badly about the ring game. We tried it in Dadeville, Alabama, at Niffer’s on Lake Martin and failed, too. It takes practice. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

    Reply
  39. Jean Sherrill - December 10, 2022 6:55 pm

    I am glad the doctors were very wrong. I am not from Florida but Tennessee and I am proud to be called Southern. I think people of the south are special…and that does include you!

    Reply
  40. Susie, as well - December 10, 2022 7:20 pm

    As usual, wonderful story! I got a chuckle out of and have never seen a description of sopping before, but I agree with J. I being
    southern born and bred, sop counter clockwise as well. Maybe it’s the right-handed thing.

    Reply
  41. karengodbey - December 10, 2022 8:42 pm

    Sean, your zest for life…and to live it FULLY, is highly infectious! Your column starts my day off in a way that feels like a personal message from God.

    Could you please consider taking your infectious writings and “accidentally” infecting all the downers, the nay-sayers, and all those who seem to not know right from wrong? Those who are filling the “news” will content that is more shocking as the days pass? Your kind of infectiousness is exactly what our nation and our planet needs these days. I hope they all get a big dose of it and those new antibodies renew their spirits and souls.

    You are such a blessing, Sean!

    Reply
  42. Steve McCaleb - December 11, 2022 12:17 am

    If you sopping clockwise you must be left handed. Everybody knows gravy, potlikker, butter bean juice, and pork renderings all run from high left to low right so the correct stoke is COUNTER clockwise. Consider this my civic duty good deed for this eon. You’re welcome

    Reply
  43. conkledavid - December 11, 2022 3:23 am

    Wish I’d known you were here . You were just up the road . Merry Christmas to you and yours . Thanks for your daily gifts .

    Reply
  44. George Robert Leach - December 11, 2022 10:36 am

    What a great story!!

    Reply
  45. Sharron Paris - December 14, 2022 3:15 am

    It is amazing how, no matter your age, a brush with the inevitable end gives you a brand new appreciation for the air we breathe. The ability to see things that were there all the time with a brand new appreciation and gratitude is a daily blessing when we realize it is a gift. Thank you for sharing your vision.

    Reply
  46. wgeorgegaines - December 14, 2022 2:57 pm

    Just had a chance to read your pieces on Selma and Molino, both of which are bona fide authentically Southern. I’m from Pensacola, lived all over the world in my 80 years, and most anywhere in the Deep South is my home. I once loved a little gal from Molino and later cheered for the great Baseball Hall of Famer, Don Sutton, who grew up in Molino. Such memories your writing brought back to me!

    Reply
  47. Morgan Eiland - January 5, 2023 8:02 pm

    Molino is special. An uncle had a small dairy farm there. He had machines, but he taught me how to milk a cow. I spent a lot of time in the pasture with the cows. He would empty the milkers into a big drum like container to pasteurise the milk. It was then transferred to a “chiller”, a refrigerated vertical metal wall with bumps in it that measured about four feet wide by three feet high. The milk entered at the top and rolled down both sides of the refrigerated metal wall into a small trough. There were holes in the trough to let the chilled milk fall into the old milk can. The milk was stored in the cans in a cooler until somebody came to buy them. The best thing in the world was to get a small cup of pasteurised chilled fresh whole milk to drink as it dripped into the cans. Pure heaven. Today’s milk, of all kinds, cannot touch it.

    Enjoyed seeing you in Bham. Thanks for signing the books.

    Morgan Eiland

    Reply

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