On The Road Again

CHELSEA, Ala.—We’ve been on the road all week. And I’ve been listening to Willie Nelson on my radio. I’m listening right now. He is singing one of my favorite songs.

“In the twilight glow I see her,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain,
“When we kissed goodbye and parted,
“I knew we’d never meet again…”

I turn it up because I am a sucker for this tune. Though, I’m not sure why. When I was a boy, the lyrics never made sense to me.

After all, nobody with blue eyes ever cried in the rain for me. And I certainly didn’t have blue eyes. My eyes are gray. My mother used to say my eyes were the color of our pump shed.

Even so, there’s something about this tune that moves me. I can close my gray eyes and go back in time.

And I see my father’s work bench in the garage. A radio sits beside a chest of mini-drawers that is filled with bolts, nuts, screws, washers, and rubber grommets.

Crystal Gayle is singing “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue?”

Then Willie begins playing over the speaker. My father turns it up.

“Love is but a dying ember,
“Only memories remain,
“Through the ages, I’ll remember,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain…”

And I am holding a GI Joe doll, watching a tall, skinny man work on something beneath a shop lamp, holding a screwdriver.

He does all his own repairs, this man. Because he believes it is wasteful to hire people to do work you could do yourself. Just like it’s disgraceful, and even unforgivable, to throw away refrigerator leftovers.

The people I come from are proud and self-sufficient, and they are not above eating ten-week old meatloaf that has turned Sea Foam Green. They cut their own hair. And their own lawns.

When I started travelling a lot for work, I hired a yardman to cut my grass. It only made sense. But it felt wrong. I was so guilty about it that I couldn’t sleep. If my father were alive, it would kill him to know I pay a guy to mow my lawn.

I don’t know why I just told you that.

Things have changed a lot since the days when I played with GI Joe. Today’s radios have replaced Willie’s style of music with country singers who have backup dancers.

Over the years, country music kept sinking lower, until it sounded about as interesting as your Uncle Lou using the bathroom in his RV.

Almost every song on modern country stations seems to be about girls in tank tops, or beer, or knocking boots. Much of this music is performed by young men wearing jeans that have been pre-ripped, or young women dressed like centerfolds.

They can have it.

Because I still remember Loretta, and George, and Johnny, and Merle. And I will always remember Willie.

I remember sitting in Chastain Park, in Atlanta. I watched Willie Nelson play to a tame crowd. It was drizzling rain. And Willie invited Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn onto the stage.

People went crazy. It sounded like the crowd was going to tear the place apart. Then a hush fell over the audience.

The rain fell harder.

In this moment, Willie could have played any song and we would have loved him for it. He played “Amazing Grace.”

Though, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t hear Willie’s voice because Jimmy and Rosalynn were singing too loud.

It was a great moment, seeing Jimmy and Rosalynn singing a hymn in inclement weather. It was like watching your grandparents warm the front pew.

Jimmy and Rosalynn weren’t twirling, waving hands, or hopping up and down like the young people do at the megachurch my cousin attends. They were just singing.

I don’t have anything against megachurches, but my cousin’s church has a fog machine.

Before Willie, Jimmy, and Rosalynn got to the third verse of the hymn, they were joined by Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard’s boys, and seven thousand other people singing.

No fog machines.

And it reminded me of growing up the way I did, with simple people who were not fancy dressers. People who used weekends to do work around the house.

I come from a father who, just for fun, would separate bolts and screws and put them into little Dixie cups. A father who loved Jimmy Carter. And Willie Nelson.

After Willie sang a few more hymns, Jimmy and the others left the stage. It was still drizzling. And we all knew Willie was going to play it. All seven thousand of us. We just knew.

He started playing the familiar song.

I closed my eyes. All of a sudden, I was in my father’s garage. Holding a GI Joe doll. Watching a skinny man. He was alive again, and he was beautiful. Even if only in my memory. He was happy. And so was I.

“Someday when we meet up yonder,
“We’ll stroll hand-in-hand again,
“In a land where there’s no parting,
“Blue eyes crying in the rain.”

Don’t it make my gray eyes blue.


  1. Walter Mark Buehler - July 25, 2020 6:36 am

    Wonderfully evocative of memories and longings of many of us, thank you!

  2. Christina - July 25, 2020 6:53 am

    These oldies and sweet memories are what make our heart stir and smile. Enjoy your trip!

  3. Dean - July 25, 2020 7:27 am

    County music is not the same anymore. But we can always remember how is was back in our day.
    As always love your column

  4. David Harms - July 25, 2020 10:11 am

    Thank you Sean. Simple as that…. Thank You.

  5. Toni - July 25, 2020 10:26 am

    ‘So thankful for a father who worked hard and enjoyed fixing and tinkering with stuff. Thanks for sharing memories of a generation that had strength and heart.

  6. Dale - July 25, 2020 11:08 am

    Thank you so much Sean. I’ve been through a lot lately – chemotherapy, surgery, Covid-19, quarantine, you name it – but I do not despair because God is in control. My father also passed away a few weeks ago. He was a fine man and a humble servant of the Lord who taught me well, and though I miss him, I know he’s not crying at all, he’s singing with angels. And though these blue eyes are now spouting tears like raindrops, one day I will be singing right along with him.

    Your story today was spot on, Sean, spot on.

  7. Leialona - July 25, 2020 11:46 am

    My gray-green eyes are leaking after reading this.

  8. Tammy S. - July 25, 2020 12:19 pm

    Another good one. 😢💙

  9. Linda Clifton - July 25, 2020 12:21 pm

    Hang in there Dale! This too shall pass! I keep saying this to myself. It helps sometimes! Sending light & love ! ❤️🙏🦋🌹

  10. Pam - July 25, 2020 12:30 pm


  11. Jan - July 25, 2020 12:41 pm

    Oh so beautiful – this story you tell and this time you tell of … we will get there!

  12. Rhonda - July 25, 2020 12:42 pm

    Memories so thick you can stir them with a spoon. We didn’t make it to the Willie concert for Jimmy Carter but we were at the one at the Fox with the Outlaws and Charlie Daniels. As a matter of fact thats where we heard Walt’s wedding band go ting, ting, ting as it flew off his finger never to be seen again until the cleaning crew swept up the floor after the concert. It was awesome! Walt’s grandfather JW Brand lived down the road from the Carter farm. Walter as a child would go there when there was work to be done. The Carter’s treated everyone like a close neighbor. No matter your thoughts on politics a man of faith shines like a new penny. It comes from making giving back your life work. A visitor to the Forge made the mistake of actually saying to Walter I think Jimmy Carter is the anti-Christ. Walter was able to convince him otherwise. When he left he was firmly convinced Walter was the anti-
    Christ and not Jimmy. Your welcome.

  13. Dianne - July 25, 2020 12:58 pm

    Sean, again, you have started my day off on a wonderful note. Thank you!!!

  14. Gary - July 25, 2020 1:03 pm

    I remember those simpler days and real music and I miss them !

  15. Lisa Sanford - July 25, 2020 1:06 pm

    Sean, your column makes me tear up as much or more than my devotionals!!!! You have a gift… and we all know from whom it comes!!! Loved this!

  16. Dawn Monday - July 25, 2020 1:09 pm

    I believe Sean that we are forever young in heaven. The visions you have of your father sound like he is in his prime. Whenever I dream of my brother he is always so young and handsome, in his prime. He died at age 50 and my Mom and I were talking the other day about how we never got to see how he would have looked with gray hair. We know he would have been just as handsome but in our minds he will be forever young.

  17. Johnny Bracey - July 25, 2020 1:12 pm

    Sean, I enjoy getting your blog each morning. When I saw that you were on the road again, I wondered if it was to continue your book tour. I hope Thomasville is still on your route, as I was looking so forward to meeting you.

  18. Tracy Stewart - July 25, 2020 1:13 pm


  19. that is jack - July 25, 2020 1:26 pm

    Enjoyed this. Ain’t it the truth. ; -)

  20. Sue Ellen Terrell - July 25, 2020 1:35 pm

    Sean that was just beautiful and I love you.

  21. Teresa Tindle - July 25, 2020 1:48 pm

    Sean, I too love Willie. My son and his friend took me to see him. It was great. There was a beautiful American Flag draped behind him. As big as the stage. And you made me think of my dad. A lot like yours, hard working, frugal, kind. Most of all I think about how much I loved him and how much he loved me. I miss him.

  22. Bobbie - July 25, 2020 1:51 pm

    That sure made my brown eyes blue. But in a good way. Those good ole days have long past but we can still close your eyes and see those beautiful memories and remember. God bless you Sean …I love what Rhonda said about ‘making giving back your life work.’ Just imagine if we all did that! But it’s still a beautiful world. So much good is out there, we just don’t hear about it as much.
    We keep on keeping on❤️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸😷

  23. Roger - July 25, 2020 2:17 pm

    I’m convinced more than ever, that not only are the two of us twins, our fathers were too.

  24. Maggie Kruger - July 25, 2020 2:20 pm

    So very lovely

  25. Rick - July 25, 2020 2:43 pm

    It’s always the simple things that stay with you.

  26. Connie - July 25, 2020 2:52 pm

    Beautiful. I’m a Willie Nelson fan too and his SiriusXM channel is pretty much all I listen to. I can hear the music my dad and my uncles played; the music my mom sang; the music that is really music with heart. My dad and my uncles and my mom are all gone now, but the music lives on. I am so thankful for that and for you. Stay safe. Love to you and Jamie.

  27. Martha - July 25, 2020 2:56 pm

    O. MY. WORD. Just a few tears.

  28. Jon Dragonfly - July 25, 2020 3:25 pm

    Ahh, but Sean, that was not a GI Joe DOLL, he was a GI Joe ACTION FIGURE!!

  29. Penn Wells - July 25, 2020 3:33 pm

    In 2013, I drove cross county from South Georgia to Portland by myself. I did the bucket list and took 19 days. I did not turn on the car radio or watch TV in the room the entire trip. Nor did I read a newspaper. I did, however, take 50-60 cds that I had not listened to in a while. EVERY SINGLE MORNING I STARTED WITH WILLIE AND ‘STARDUST.’ I saw America’s great beauty and had time to reflect upon it. Other than watching my two daughters birth, it was the most spiritual thing I’ve ever done. (Playing the Augusta National one time would come in third…). Highly recommend everyone driving across this great country by themselves sometime. Life changing and blessed to have done it.

  30. Sally Jo Denney - July 25, 2020 3:56 pm

    This is great and so true!

  31. cekey44 - July 25, 2020 4:58 pm

    This made my old blue eyes cry but it’s not raining yet. Willie Nelson, Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter aRE my heroes.

  32. Linda Moon - July 25, 2020 5:25 pm

    This blue-eyed lady and a green-eyed man welcome you again to our Sweet Home. The green-eyed man is lot like your father, especially with the self-sufficiency. We have a ‘family name’ for that, but I won’t tell you just yet. He introduced me to those four iconic singers you remember, Sean. Yep, those familiar songs do that….make us feel and know and remember. I just had a memory of myself and that man at Chastain Park. And my blue eyes cried a little bit.

  33. MAM - July 25, 2020 5:34 pm

    Old country music is much better than “new” country music. The songs all tell great stories. Just like you, Sean. You tell wonderful stories.

  34. Sharon E. Foster - July 25, 2020 6:09 pm

    You nailed it again today, Sean! Thank you

  35. Beth Polk - July 25, 2020 6:15 pm

    As my mother used to say about Erma Bombeck, “I think she lives in our house.” I think a version you and your Dad, lived in my Dad’s garage. Although instead of GI Joe, there was my Barbie and her 1968 cardboard Barbie Dream House. My Dad would have preferred that Barbie date GI Joe rather than Ken.

  36. K.D. Kempf Jones - July 25, 2020 7:57 pm

    Sean – So wonderful! THANK YOU – as always for sharing! A friend just shared your column w/me and I am once again transported back to the things that really matter. We shall get through these crazy times, Lord willing! Just as our fore bearers made it through the Flu & Polio epidemics (with less than half the tools & communications systems we have available now, I might add!) – so we Will survive & thrive after this challenge! Take good care & keep on writing – it is so uplifting to see your much-needed column!!

  37. Ronald Williams - July 25, 2020 10:22 pm

    Love your column. Read it monthly in Alfa’s Neighbor’s magazine. I absolutely agree with you about tomato sandwiches. Even though I grew up in the north, I know what country/farm life is like been in Alabama for 32 years and love it I’m 73 and a Vietnam vet. I look forward to your column every month

  38. Chasity Davis Ritter - July 25, 2020 11:22 pm

    You wrote some about this before and you got me just like you got me today. I know I shared it on Facebook. I had stories to go along with it. I will probably repost this one too. Amazing Grace is my Daddy’s song. My grandpa and my best friends dad and her husband all love Willie Nelson and there’s a jimmy carter story to go with it. But just like making your grey eyes blue I really do have brown ones and they’re leaking all over the damn place right now. I miss my Daddy today. I miss him everyday. 🎶 and some day when we meet up yonder.. we’ll stroll hand in hand again🎶 But Lord do i miss him so much today…..

  39. Christine - July 26, 2020 9:45 pm

    Another great story. So happy that a friend forwarded me a story of yours 3 or 4 years ago, which made me subscribe so I could enjoy your great stories every day.

  40. Jonathan Machen - July 27, 2020 12:19 am

    Yes again!
    Local Colorado public Radio podcast about Willie And his relationship to cannabis

  41. Joy Taylor-Lane - July 28, 2020 12:57 am

    In the early 2000’s I saw Willie Nelson at Pensacola Spring Fest. It was awesome. He played at least 18 songs. I wrote them down right afterwards so I wouldn’t forget. It was an outdoor concert. I danced with strangers. I was in my early twenties, I am a short woman. I wanted a good view of Willie. There was what seemed to be a platoon of Navy personnel near the stage. I fought my way into their midst, one friendly fellow hoisted me onto his shoulders. (which was expressly forbidden) I proceeded to flail my arms like a crazy woman until Willie himself waved at me. Then made a motion chastising me and telling me to get down. I have a picture. The picture is from one of those disposable cameras we all used before cell phones. It doesn’t do the moment justice. I was not under the influence of alcohol, I was high on music. I have had the honor of seeing Mr. Nelson preform a few more times, but that was the best. Thank you for reminding me.


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