Newnan, Georgia— The downtown is pretty enough to make a grown man cry. The old Alamo Theater building has been standing, since 1890.
The large neon sign glows red in the night, and the lettered marquee is perfect. In this theater, Chubby Checker himself once twisted the night away.
Some writers become inspired by Faulkner, Tolstoy, or Thoreau. Others draw inspiration from an old theater marquee.
My aunt went on her very first date at the Alamo. I understand the boy she was going with was Catholic. My aunt was raised Deepwater Baptist. This was a scandalous affair because Catholics are allowed to dance.
On North Court Square is a 20-foot-by-40-foot mural of Alan Jackson, Newnan’s native son. In the painting, Jackson sits atop a motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket and aviator sunglasses. He couldn’t get any cooler if he tried.
The newspaper in Newnan is also world class. Always has been. The Newnan Times-Herald, as I understand, is one of the few small-town papers still kicking tail and taking names after 150 years in the business.
You might not know this, but all I ever wanted to be was a small-town newspaper man. When I was a kid, my friends were dressing up as Army men, firemen, or doctors. Not me. I wore my father’s old fedora, with a slip of paper in the hat band reading: “PRESS.”
I wanted to cover earth-shattering local news items and write cutting-edge editorials like:
—The baby shower Miss Arnette threw for her daughter-in-law, Irma Ann, was an alleged success. One female visitor remarks: “I had a delicious time and appreciated myself.”
—The Little League game between Slocumb and Fadette on Friday went into extra innings. One man in the stands says, quote: “Fadette got smeared worse than spit on a windshield.”
—The Saturday chili-cornbread potluck social at the Presbyterian church was well attended. Miss Laura Jean Mae says she knows she will regret eating too many habanero peppers tomorrow morning.
I don’t know why, but there is something holy about news in a small town. All I ever wanted to be was a writer of these things.
I remember one day, my cousin and I talked about what we wanted to become when we were “all growed up.” I knew I wanted to write. My cousin said he wanted to either become an architect, or a professional women’s swimwear photographer.
We made a pact that we would one day become men who did exactly what our hearts told us to.
But, people get older, and their dreams sort of escape them. At least mine did.
One day, you wake up and realize you are a grown man and a blue-collar worker who is failing at everything. I tried several lines of work, but managed to succeed at little.
I attended community college, and busted tail for 11 years to maintain my steady grade point average of 2.3.
I once tried enrolling in a major university; they rejected me. I once attempted hanging out my shingle as a musician; I nearly starved to death. I worked a host of manual labor jobs; I hated them.
I laid tile and wood flooring, and on every jobsite, I would say to myself: “This is the last god-forsaken floor I will ever lay, one day I’m gonna write.” But I never seemed to get around to it.
Well, that was a long time ago. A lot has changed.
Last night, when I saw the glow of the Alamo Theater, I had to stop and take it in.
I thought about my aunt—who is still Baptist, and doesn’t even allow rubbing alcohol in the house. I looked at the glowing marquee and I felt good inside.
I’m older now, and somehow I’m not lost anymore. I have been writing this column for 5 years. I write you nearly every day, and this has compiled into roughly 1700 columns.
I am a painfully late bloomer, and I do not write great literature. I am the most average man you will ever meet, and I have a bad case of ear hair.
But sometimes, I am fortunate enough to cover baby showers, Little League games, and church potluck socials. And this has been the greatest thrill of my life.
I was interrupted beneath the glow of the theater sign. A woman and her daughter were walking the sidewalk. I could tell the woman recognized me, though I’ve never seen her before.
She stopped. She turned around.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Is your name Sean?”
You could’ve blown me to Vidalia with a hairdryer.
“Ma’am?” I said.
“I don’t wanna be weird,” she went on. “But are you Sean Dietrich, the writer?”
The writer. Me.
I hugged her. She hugged me. And that’s how a woman made a grown man cry on the streets of Newnan, Georgia.