Now Leaving Monroe County

MONROEVILLE—We’ve just left town and it’s getting late. My wife and I are on a desolate Alabama highway between Monroe County and the rest of the world. We haven’t passed a single car. We are on the umteenth day of the book tour. Everyone in their right mind is already in bed.

Except us.

We are traveling late because it’s easier to travel at night sometimes. My wife is driving, listening to an audiobook on headphones. I am in the passenger seat, drifting in and out of sleep.

I just finished making a speech in Monroeville, telling stories. I’ve been making a lot of speeches over the last few weeks. Right now, I am sick of hearing my own voice.

Occasionally, I feel like a fool with all this storytelling business. After all, no child grows up saying “I want to be a storyteller.” Because it’s not even a real job. How did this happen? Frankly, I’m not sure.

I’m getting hungry. So my wife pulls over for me to fix something to eat from the cooler. I open the back door and shove the hanging clothes out of the way. The cooler is filled with multiple tubs of pimento cheese.

Earlier tonight, I received three tubs of pimento cheese as gifts from different kindhearted people in Monroeville. One tub came from Miss Lisa, one tub came from Miss Barbara, and one special recipe came from Miss Beth. If gifts like that don’t humble you, nothing will.

So I’m standing on an empty highway shoulder, slathering pimento cheese on bread, listening for cars. Whenever I stand outside our vehicle I always listen carefully for passing cars because nighttime drivers are crazy. They don’t watch where they’re going and achieve speeds upwards of 94 miles per hour. They don’t mind amputating your side mirror.

But tonight there is no sound. No vehicle noise. No lights. No nothing. Just silence. There is a deer in the distance. I see his eyes reflecting. He is looking straight at me. I wonder if he’s hungry.

I fix three cheese sandwiches for my wife and I, each with a different kind of pimento cheese, and I grab myself a lukewarm beer. My wife and I don’t normally eat supper this late, but we were so busy tonight that we didn’t eat.

There was a time when I had a job that you could define. I was a drywall man. I was a tile-layer. I was a bar musician. I was a fill-in-the-blank. But now, I don’t know what I am. I rarely refer to myself as a writer because, let’s be honest, I don’t exactly write high-brow literature. I once wrote an entire column about mayonnaise.

And I don’t know what you’d call the little shows I do. Silly, maybe. I play some guitar, and if I’m lucky I make people laugh. But I’m certainly no comedian, and I’m not an accomplished guitarist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not poor mouthing my line of work. This is just the first stage of life where I haven’t been in a blue-collar job. And I feel somewhat ashamed by this. What would my father the iron worker think of me? Galavanting across the country in a utility van, playing guitar, telling jokes, receiving pimento-cheese based gifts.

According to the men in my family, you weren’t a man unless you worked with your hands. Which I used to do. My hands used to have calluses just below the fingers joints. The calluses were so tough that my sister used to marvel at how she could pinch the thick skin to form a point, and they would hold their shape. I was sort of proud of my calluses. They didn’t come easy.

But today my hands are baby smooth. If I trace my finger along my palms I can feel where the calluses used to be. I have a writer’s hands now. I don’t feel like I’m earning my keep.

To tell you the truth, it’s as though the universe is playing a grand joke on me. And since I’m being so honest, I feel sort of embarrassed by my line of work sometimes. Because I have a few old friends who tell me they would like to be doing what I do. I know this should make me feel lucky, but sometimes it just makes me feel guilty.

“Do you want a bag of pretzels with supper?” I ask my wife, who waits in the driver’s seat.

“Yeah,” she says. “And bring a water, too.”

“Coming right up.”

My wife and I sit in the front seat, in the middle of nowhere, sharing pimento cheese for supper. She turns the engine off. And we are in absolute stillness. She balances her sandwich on the steering wheel. I’m wearing mine.

A family of deer wanders across the quiet highway. They pause to look at us. They stop walking and stare. We stare back.

“What am I?” I ask my wife.

She swallows a bite and thinks about what I’ve said. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what am I? What are we doing? Do you ever stop and think about what it all means?”

She places her sandwich on the dashboard. She wipes her face. She takes my hand and squeezes the baby-smooth skin. “Just shut up and eat your sandwich. This pimento cheese is a gift, you’re supposed to enjoy it, you big dork.”

I knew she’d have just the right thing to say.

39 comments

  1. Rebecca Kinard - March 9, 2020 6:48 am

    ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  2. Grant Burris - March 9, 2020 7:35 am

    Yeah, you big Dork sitting there in the dark eating sandwiches on the side of the road. I admire you. And your wife too.

    Reply
  3. bkr - March 9, 2020 9:51 am

    How do you have the ability to use words- simple words – that stretch feelings then snap- make me laugh? Almost in the verge of crying – then I laugh! I love whatever it is you do and I admire Jamie for keeping you sane- which can’t be easy! Keep on. And I know you have yo be looking forward to getting home. Take care.

    Reply
  4. Cathi Russell - March 9, 2020 9:54 am

    The Oracle has spoken.

    Reply
  5. turtlekid - March 9, 2020 10:52 am

    Nights like that do make you wonder about things. Life is strange, but all we need to do is go one step at a time. God has blessed you both with one another, so enjoy the little things. Give HIM glory for the WORDS that have given you a good living.

    Reply
  6. Lisa - March 9, 2020 11:09 am

    Oh, God. I just love your writing.

    Reply
  7. Steve Winfield - March 9, 2020 11:39 am

    You two are partners. You’re the one on stage but she’s equally important to the operation.
    I know you look for the good in everything but there is plenty of bad out there. Being stopped on a deserted road in the middle of night is almost asking for trouble. Please be safe.

    Reply
  8. Harriet White - Atlanta - March 9, 2020 11:48 am

    Gotta love that Jamie!

    Reply
  9. Clara Howard - March 9, 2020 12:05 pm

    The pimento cheese was a gift to you, and you are a gift to us…accept both you humble human! 🙂

    Reply
  10. Jan - March 9, 2020 12:26 pm

    You are a kind, honest man who makes people smile, shares his love of life and people in words that we all can understand and appreciate. I sure am looking forward to hearing and meeting you on Thursday night!

    Reply
  11. Connie Havard Ryland - March 9, 2020 1:22 pm

    Relax honey. You are living a dream and making people feel. You are serving a purpose. Love and hugs. Hate I missed you this round.

    Reply
  12. Stephanie Schaeckermann - March 9, 2020 1:23 pm

    I don’t have a pimiento cheese recipe to share with you, but keep on sharing your stories, you dork! You’re inspiring me to share mine. Stephanie

    Reply
  13. Shirley - March 9, 2020 1:31 pm

    Eating pimento cheese on a dark road with the love of your life beside you, knowing there are deer nearby sounds like you have the perfect job! Enjoy it! Had the joy of seeing you in Fairhope!

    Reply
  14. George - March 9, 2020 1:34 pm

    You have published books and people pay you for what you do. You are a writer, get over it.

    Reply
  15. Amanda - March 9, 2020 2:21 pm

    We are not completely defined by our vocation(s). We are not defined by a job or one role. Our lives or livelihoods may be simple, but they can never be oversimplified if we live for very long. How grand is that? Even a very short life has meaning and purpose in its’ design. I truly believe there are no accidental births and therefore no accidental lives. And even if I feel like my life is a train wreck sometimes, it is not.

    Reply
  16. Glenda Hinkle - March 9, 2020 2:47 pm

    That Jamie!!! Now THERE’S the real artist in the family!!! An artist with her words, no doubt about it!! lol

    Reply
  17. Ruth - March 9, 2020 2:54 pm

    What are you? You are a special person that God has sent to us to help us see the world as we should. You are humble about your abilities and yourself, but we all know how special you are and how much we look forward to reading your thoughts each day! God also sent you Jamie to be your other half and to love you just as you are. She is special too!. Love to you both!

    Reply
  18. Julie Young - March 9, 2020 3:13 pm

    Now, don’t take this wrong, but I think of you as a red-headed Jesus, and I read your column as the ending touch to my daily devotions. I need your poignant, thoughtful reminders of how to really see and love the people I encounter in my own small world.

    Reply
  19. Susan - March 9, 2020 3:28 pm

    You are our Sean! And your love for people and this old world fills our hearts and our minds and our souls. Thank you. Thanks to your beautiful wife.

    Reply
  20. Ala Red Clay Girl - March 9, 2020 3:49 pm

    Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It sounds like that is what you’ve done no matter what you call yourself. Thank you for sharing your talents with us!

    Reply
  21. Linda Moon - March 9, 2020 4:45 pm

    Several years ago I took a group of students to Monroeville when we were reading “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Harper Lee, Truman Capote….two fine storytellers from there in that town. Their legacy might lift you up, Writer and Storyteller. Humility is a virtue, but self-deprecation is not. Someone I’ve known and loved since his childhood turned down a hand-workingman’s job to use his hands for writing. Jamie is right, Sean…..just eat the cheese and enjoy the Gift! I’ve enjoyed your gifts, Dork, and they’ve MEANT a lot to me in another year of the Gift of Life that I’ve been given!!

    Reply
  22. Celeste Sheppard - March 9, 2020 4:58 pm

    Sean! Stop selling yourself so short! I love you! A lot of other people do too. You are a beacon of hope in this messed up world we live in. You show us that there are good people in this world. Nobody else tells us because they want to sell newspapers and air time. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  23. Tammy Moody - March 9, 2020 5:02 pm

    James Taylor is a great storyteller – as are you! Listen to his new Audiobook! Only an hour and a half! Enjoy that pimento cheese man – I sure wish I had some! They don’t sell pimentos here any more – or Tetley tea! What’s the world coming to?!?

    Reply
  24. Barbara Barnes - March 9, 2020 5:19 pm

    You’re a gift of honesty, kindness, sincerity in a world that needs that so much. Thank you.

    Reply
  25. Beth Cowan Drake - March 9, 2020 6:01 pm

    I was there in Monroeville, Sean, sitting in the first seat on the front row. I wanted to ask you how you do it all. The blog, the podcasts, the books, the shows, the constant traveling where you barely get home and the two of you are gone again. But here’s the thing. This is your purpose. You work hard (with your hands and with your mind) — as hard as any “laborer” — to do something unique, something only you can do. And it brings so much joy and inspiration for those of us in your audience, on the receiving end of your words. For me specifically, I want to be a writer. I came to the literary festival to soak up the knowledge and hopefully get inspired to put my butt in the seat and do the heavy lifting. Like you already do every day. HEAVY lifting. You are a true literary inspiration. There is a reason God put you right where you are. All you have to do is trust this thing, keep growing in it, and try to sleep when you can.

    Reply
  26. Linda - March 9, 2020 6:11 pm

    I hated to miss you Sat. You were 40 miles from my home, and I couldn’t make it. If you came up 45 to AL 10 you went within 1 mile of my home. BTW, you are in good company, storyteller. Kathryn Tucker Windham was another storyteller. I guess that you know that there is a whole festival for ya’ll in Selma, I don’t remember the date, though. I love your stories. They give me hope for the world that has gone crazy. Thank you.

    Reply
  27. Mary Burns - March 9, 2020 6:25 pm

    You do work with your hands, you write, you play a guitar, and you (sometimes) drive, if only to give Jamie a break. ALL WITH YOUR HANDS! Lol!

    Reply
  28. Jess - March 9, 2020 8:02 pm

    Sounds like your wife and you are the perfect match and you compliment each other just the way you should. Sean, you’re a lucky man…….and a talented writer too, Keep[ doing what you’ve been doing, you make a lot of people happy with your words….very few people can do that.

    Reply
  29. Sandra - March 9, 2020 8:31 pm

    I love your stories….some make me laugh real hard, some make me smile, some make me cry but all give me joy!
    I am from Monroeville and wish I had been there to hear you tell your stories!

    Reply
  30. John - March 9, 2020 9:54 pm

    You have callouses. They just happen to be on your heart instead of your hands.

    Reply
  31. Ken Pounds - March 9, 2020 11:59 pm

    You sir are a bright spot in a world ever darkened by media hype of everything from disease to politics. Alot of sensationalized bad news everywhere. You are the good news our whole being needs. Keep brightening the world Sean!!! You are great at it!!!

    Reply
  32. Judy Tayloe - March 10, 2020 2:26 am

    Whatever it is you do, Sean, keep doing it. It works.

    Reply
  33. Doug - March 10, 2020 4:24 am

    I sure enjoy reading your stories… such a great way to end my day thank you for all you do.
    I hope to meet you someday.

    Reply
  34. Dawn A Bratcher - March 10, 2020 4:28 am

    You, Sir, are a Humanitarian. You care about your fellowman and strive to bring some joy, laughter, and understanding in our lives. We love you for that. It means so much more when we know it is genuine.

    Reply
  35. Robert Chiles - March 10, 2020 8:31 pm

    It’s all in picking the right one.

    Reply
  36. Laura - March 12, 2020 12:54 am

    Sean, if you don’t want to call yourself a storyteller, be a “motivational speaker.” They may get paid bigger bucks, too. Seriously, I so appreciate how you motivate me to really see, cherish, love and support everyone.

    Reply
  37. Ann - March 14, 2020 11:06 am

    That’s what love is….

    Reply
  38. Jane - March 15, 2020 4:30 am

    You, like Will Rogers, are a humorist and social commentator. Thank you!

    Reply
  39. Carolyn Molyneux - April 14, 2020 3:46 am

    If you’ve got people giving you homemade pimento cheese, you must be doing a good job out there.

    Reply

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