This is a small restaurant. A meat-and-three, where waitresses wear T-shirts. Where your iced tea never falls below the rim of your glass. Where catfish is fried whole on the bone.
I have two dates accompanying me tonight.
My mother-in-law—who holds my arm for balance. I’m carrying her purse. And my wife—who walks ten steps ahead of us at all times.
The dress code is summer weekend casual. I’m wearing jeans. My dates are wearing pearls, pumps, and ruby lipstick.
They always do. In fact, I’ve never seen them exit the house in anything they wouldn’t want to be buried in.
We order a round of teas. My dates scan the menus without conversation. When our server arrives, my dates have questions.
“Is your tartar sauce made with DUKE’S?” asks my wife.
“Are there REAL ham hocks in your collards?” asks my mother-in-law. “I don’t like those ham-flavored packets.”
“What’s in the potato salad?” asks my wife. “If I even LOOK at a stick of celery I start gagging…”
“Are your French fries STEAK fries, or shoestring?”
“What kind of cake do you have tonight?”
“Where’d you graduate high school?”
“What’s your social security number?”
The server looks to me.
“I’ll have a barbecue sandwich, ma’am,” I say.
Two more women enter the restaurant. They have white hair, and they are also sporting pearls. They sit behind us. They speak with accents that are soft and sophisticated.
As fate would have it, my two dates know them—sort of.
Miss Marjorie and Miss Sarah are from Hartford, Alabama. My mother-in-law is from Brewton.
And since South Alabama is one large family tree with lots of strings of pearls hanging from its branches, they know some of the same people.
“Do you know Bucky Mc-So-And-So?” asks Miss Marjorie. “His daddy ran the Western Auto.”
“Did you know Sister What’s-Her-Name?” says my mother-in-law. “She always made Coca-Cola cakes in Civic League.”
“I graduated school with her BROTHER.”
“Get out! Her brother’s niece’s Sunday school teacher is my COUSIN!”
“Are you serious?”
“Sister, if I’m lying I’m dying.”
“I heard her son landed in jail.”
“He’s out on parole now, living for Jesus.”
Our food arrives. My mother-in-law puts a hurting on two slabs of catfish which are roughly the size of men’s workboots. My wife’s plate is so big she has to remove her earrings to eat.
Mid-meal, my mother-in-law remarks, “I Suwannee, we forgot to say the blessing.”
She asks if I’ll do the honors. I tell the ladies to join hands and bow heads.
Thank you for catfish, fried whole on the bone. Thank for tea, sweet enough to cause temporary blindness.
Thank you for mothers-in-law who hold my arm for balance. Thank you for friends from Hartford, Alabama. For High Bluff, Bellwood, Eunola, Geneva, Chancellor, and Coffee Springs. God bless Brewton.
Thank you for hugs from small-town women who talk with soft drawls, and aren’t afraid to tell me they love me. Watch over my mother-in-law when she has surgery next week.
Thank you for my mama. For my sister. My niece. Thank you for my wife. Without these women I’d be nothing.
Lucretia - August 19, 2017 1:30 pm
Thank you, God, for the South, and thank you, God, for Sean and all that he holds dear.
Pat - August 19, 2017 2:05 pm
I so agree with your thanks for the south…I praise God everyday that he placed me here!
Mariam - August 19, 2017 2:42 pm
Mariam - August 19, 2017 2:46 pm
Love that last comment–so Southern !
Mariam Stephensyes - August 19, 2017 2:58 pm
Yes Southetn born & raised…?
All Southetn women will relate to this or have a friend that “fits the bill”! So typical ! You are a treat to my inbox every morning! Keep ’em comin’!?
Leisa Taylor - August 19, 2017 1:33 pm
“…I’ve never seen them exit the house in anything they wouldn’t want to be buried in.”
Best comment ever! I’ll have to tell my daughter! I look forward to your blog every day. You truly have captured the spirit of that large family tree of South Alabama!
Judy - August 19, 2017 1:51 pm
“And since South Alabama is one large family tree with lots of strings of pearls hanging from its branches, they know some of the same people.” … I love this…I always say, with a wink, “in the South, we are all related.” I am saying a prayer that your mother in law’s surgery goes well. Sean – you are a blessing.
Erika - August 19, 2017 2:03 pm
I read this with one foot (figuratively) out the door, headed to the Saturday morning farmers’ market, deeply KY Southern and Wendell-Berry progressive. Even if not all the vendors have heard of Wendell Berry.
I am wearing jeans and sandals, lipstick, and pearls at my neck and in my ears.
I’d be okay buried so. It would say it all.
Vhamlin - August 19, 2017 2:04 pm
And this southern lady loves you and your comments daily! It makes me smile and remember my days in Orrville. Thanks!
Pamela McEachern - August 19, 2017 2:17 pm
I am totally in love with your mother-in-law and your wife. There are standards you know. Sean, you too are a total delight and a very smart man.
PS. Labor Day is just around the corner, better get ready to pack up those whites until next year ?
Sam Hunneman - August 19, 2017 2:20 pm
Thanks for the smiles on this dampish day in Maine. We needed the rain, but the 60’s let me know that we’re on the downhill slide into winter and that’s just a little depressing. Love reading about your ladies, Sean. I’ll be thinking about your momma-in-law next week.
Mary Anne Weisiger - August 19, 2017 2:27 pm
Mr. Sean, I love your grateful spirit. I would dearly love to meet your girls. Blessings, Mary Anne
Jon Dragonfly - August 19, 2017 2:36 pm
Without these women I’d be nothing.
Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - August 19, 2017 3:37 pm
Amen from Southwest Florida.
Cathi Russell - August 19, 2017 2:45 pm
You’re a wise man, Shaun. I couldn’t see to type my response to yesterday’s column. I have my own Ellie Mae…she 16.5 years old & my favorite person in this world. She is the Peach, aka Peaches, aka Devious Diva Dog. We’ve been together a long time, the Peach and I, and hope for a long time to come. ❤
Melanie Dickerson - August 19, 2017 2:48 pm
Sherrie - August 19, 2017 2:50 pm
“And since South Alabama is one large family tree with lots of strings of pearls hanging from its branches, they know some of the same people.”
That ^ made me lol. ♡
Elaine Willmann - August 19, 2017 3:00 pm
You always uplift me. My niece sent me your article about a month ago. I joined your entourage and have been looking forward, daily, to your messages. You have a God-given talent to say the words that express the way I feel. You make me laugh, cry and feel empathy. My mother died when I was 7 months old, so your stories of your fatherless youth are particularly poignant. I turned 70 last week; I still think about my motherless childhood. Thank you for using your gift to touch us all.
Martha Jo Hurley - August 19, 2017 11:25 pm
Since I am from the Deep South……I think I know you Ms Willmann….do you live close to Enterprise??
Elaine Willmann - August 21, 2017 7:31 pm
Yes, Mrs. Hurley. I am your Elaine. Isn’t Sean wonderful?
Martha Gwen Sibert - October 4, 2017 7:06 pm
My mother died when I was one month old. I too relate to your stories of your fatherless youth. I am almost 75 and it. Is always in my thoughts. Thank you for your articles.
Jack Quanstrum - August 19, 2017 3:00 pm
Your surrounded by God’s beauty, wonder as well as his creative mystery of ladies. How truly blessed you are. All of us are blessed through them. Your story was totally enjoyable to read and has set a positive tone for the day. All I can say is How great Thou Art for the wonder of ladies. God knew we would need help so he blessed us with mom’s, sisters, girlfriends, grandmother’s and wives to keep us on the straight and narrow!
Tommie Jordan - August 19, 2017 3:04 pm
Lawesy Me, Mr. Sean, every time I read you, I cry and laugh at the same time. Only you can make me wish I was back home in Georgia, even though the humidity makes me feel as if I have green algae growing on me. Having to move out West due to allergies, where finding green is a quest, I still miss my Southern Roots and think of my green, green, blackberry lined cross fences entertwined with luscious wisteria, jasmine and honeysuckle vines with longing. You give me my Southern fix each morning and night. Thank you!..
NovaLee - August 19, 2017 3:11 pm
Lordy, I just loved this!❤
Sharon J - January 14, 2019 10:15 pm
Perfect!…”Lordy, I just loved this”!!
Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - August 19, 2017 3:35 pm
OMGosh! Ha, ha, ha. For real. When I return to the Mis sippy Gulf Coast going to Broome’s (grocery) is akin to a gentle CIA water boarding. Apparently the skill covers our beloved South like ONLY Duke’s should.
My 82 year-old, newly-initiated hospice volunteer Momma tells me when we sit down at restaurants, ” you see that boy (he’s probably 55!)? Well….he’s a Mallette. I can tell by his face.” Same goes for Seymours, et al.
We don’t need facial recognition software as long as my Momma’s alive!
You are a brave ‘boy’ accompanying two pearl-laden ladies.
Prayers for your forever-in-a-dress’ momma.
Janet Mary Lee - August 19, 2017 3:36 pm
Bless you for loving your ladies! Today’s post was just filled with literary and heart gems, no pun intended, but if the shoe fits… I have been here a number of years now, so this all made me smile! I have also lived in different countries (including the North) and climates, so I did have to roll my eyes at the celery in potato salad comment . I make and enjoy mine both ways! But, I can get over that!! Bless your other lady, Ellie, and a prayer next week for your Mother in law! The ladies of your life are Blessed.. and so are you! So are we!! Thanks again…
Trudy :) - August 19, 2017 3:56 pm
I was raised in Decatur, GA; watched some of Stone Mountain get carved; had to say “Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am”; loved, and still do, sweet tea (is there any other kind?), and knew what “Well, bless her/his heart” meant (it’s a gracious way of saying “That silly fool.”) “Y’all” was for one person, “all y’all” was for more. I still say those things which makes some folks wonder what I’m saying since I now live in the North. Catfish, hush puppies, greens with real ham hocks, and macaroni and cheese is my favorite supper with macaroni-cheese, stewed tomatoes, and green beans with onions and ham hocks in them is my second favorite. Thank you, Sean, for telling about your day with the ladies from the old South. That is culture at its finest, in my opinion.
Jeannie - August 19, 2017 4:00 pm
You are such a Good Boy!
Darlene Rhodus - August 19, 2017 4:05 pm
This touched my heart. Whether it’s true or just a story, you are blessed to have these women in your life.
Darlene Rhodus - August 19, 2017 4:08 pm
PS…..I especially liked this story because my Daddy’s people are from the Hartford, Slocomb, Wicksburg area.
Melodie - August 19, 2017 4:22 pm
I literally laughed out loud. Well, I’m still laughing, actually! Just precious.
If it’s true about the surgery. God Bless all who are involved.
Thank you for starting my day out right, with a smile. No, make that perfect, and with a big, guffaw! ☺
Donna Clark - August 19, 2017 4:48 pm
Hilarious and Right On. Authentically recreated.
Donna Clark - August 19, 2017 4:49 pm
Hilarious. Authentically Retreated.
Nancy Futral - August 19, 2017 4:59 pm
Ellen - August 19, 2017 5:49 pm
I LOVE EVERY WORD OF THIS! EVERY WORD!
Norma - August 19, 2017 5:52 pm
I’ve never been to southern Alabama, but I could almost see it in my mind’s eye you described it so well. Your prayer was wonderful.
Elizabeth May - August 19, 2017 6:08 pm
From another southern girl (80) this is REALLY close to my heart! Thanks!
David Wright - August 19, 2017 8:56 pm
My grandmother never went downtown or to church without a hat, gloves and her pearls. Two red circles of rouge on her cheeks and a little lipstick. She seldom went anywhere that she didn’t know who was going to be there.
Jean Moseley - August 19, 2017 9:40 pm
Absolutely southern to the core. Kinda like a sidebar to “Steel Magnolias”. Described my family of women to the tee. Thank you, Sean.
Linda Faust - August 19, 2017 11:58 pm
Aunt, uncle, cousins from Brewton.
Marsha - August 20, 2017 12:12 am
Amen. Your writing is such a blessing to me. Thank you Jesus for Sean Dietrich.
Carol Van Peelen-Cosper - August 20, 2017 9:28 am
Absolutely loved this one!
Rev. Steve Baccus - August 20, 2017 10:55 am
Sean, I’ll betcha some of those pearl-strung branches reach up here to Central Alabama as well. God bless you, sir!
George L Fisher - August 20, 2017 4:03 pm
My grandmother used “I Suwannee” …. she did unto others and carried juicy fruit gum in her purse. I absolutely worshipped her. How could you not automatically love someone who used that phrase? Thanks.
deborah - August 20, 2017 5:09 pm
AMEN! Love this. So true of Southern women. Grand!
deborah - August 20, 2017 5:11 pm
AMEN! Thank you Lord for Sean’s writing. I look forward to it everyday. What a blessing. Glad to be a Southern woman with South Alabama roots!
Sharon - August 21, 2017 4:06 pm
My husband and I run a small motorcycle repair shop. According to my husband, Chris, when a customer comes in I start up a conversation. 5 minutes into the conversation, I learn where they are from. 10 minutes into the conversation, I am related to them. (Side note: my Momma was 1 of 12 kids; my Daddy 1 of 9.) LOL
Margaret - October 4, 2017 1:45 pm
since that was dated August and I’m reading it in October, I am praying that your mother-in-law’s surgery went well. I also have the pearls and know folks from Brewton, Flomaton and Atmore.
G. Annette Hancock - October 4, 2017 11:25 pm
We had a good old Yankee girl that worked with us and when you bothered to ask her she was from she would say, “I am a Yankee by birth but I got here as quick as I could.”
Cathy - October 5, 2017 4:38 am
“I Suwannee”, Duke’s, sweet tea and pearls in the same story, pure gold.
Jae - October 5, 2017 12:34 pm
My daddy always said. “I’ll Suwanee”. And my mother was a Riley from Hartford.
Patricia - January 14, 2019 7:33 am
Loved your word pictures tonight. I will be thinking about those delightful ladies and their pearls as I go to sleep.
I am from Northern Ohio and I have to ask, what does Suwanee mean? I love learning about Alabama. Thanks to you Sean and your contributors with their insights.
Wanda Calvert Morgan - January 14, 2019 10:37 am
When i heard that word ‘suwanee’ from the booth of a New York Deli i almost peed my pants…..