Pennsylvania

PENNSYLVANIA—There are three men sitting on a bench outside my hotel. They are wearing crimson jackets with giant University of Alabama logos on the backs.

I am in a remote community in Pennsylvania, not far from the New York line. A rural hamlet with sprawling fields, rolling hillsides, and breathtaking single-wide trailers with Chevy Camaros on blocks in the driveways.

In these parts, you do not see many Alabama Crimson Tide sympathizers.

I approach the men. They notice the University of Alabama ball cap I am wearing. When we see each other we are all smiles. We are complete strangers but it doesn’t feel like it.

“Roll Tide,” they say.

“Roll Tide,” I say.

“Roll Tide,” my wife says.

“Roll Tide,” their wives say.

“Roll Tide,” says their teenage son.

I know it seems odd that complete strangers would shake hands and chant a football related battle cry for a greeting. But you’re missing the point. What we’re really saying is “I love you.”

“Our dad lives up here,” says one man. “We always come up to see him because this is the best time of year to see Pennsylvania. The fall colors are awesome.”

The fall colors in this place are no joke. Where I live in the Florida Panhandle, we have two colors. Green and greenish-green. Unless there is a forest fire.

But Pennsylvania has a wide scope of color. The rolling golden farmland is cut with the distant flame-red leaves of an autumn-colored Appalachia. There are old barns, grain silos, and withered cornfields. To say it’s beautiful would be selling it short. This is pure America.

Earlier today we got stuck behind an Amish buggy on the highway. That was a real treat. A young man and young woman were in the carriage together. She was bird-skinny. He had the faintest hint of an Abraham-Lincoln beard. I waved at them. They scowled at me.

Next, I saw a road sign warning us about bears. Another hand-painted sign advertised a haunted hayride for Halloween. It read: “PREPARE TO BE SCARRED!” Two Rs.

I stopped at an antique store. The place was filled with ancient rural equipment and gramophones. The old woman behind the counter was talkative.

“Cold enough fer ya?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“You don’t hafta call me ma’am.”

“Yes, I do.”

This confused her. “Why?”

Because my mother said so.

She showed me a few antiques that dated back to the founding of Pennsylvania. Some were from her family. There were a few Amish items, and several things related to the Quaker tradition.

“My family was all Friends,” she told me.

“Good for you,” I said. “Most of my family can’t stand each other.”

“No,” she said with a laugh. “That’s not what I meant. When someone is called a ‘Friend’ that means they’re sorta Quaker, it’s what we’re called.”

She showed me a photograph of a Quaker Indian boarding school. It is old, black-and-white.

“See?” she said, “The Pennsylvania Colony was founded by Quakers. We were strong people. Folks really hated us back then, you know, folks can be dumb.”

I don’t know much about Quakers except that I am a big fan of their oatmeal. I asked what the Quakers were all about.

She said that she wasn’t going to tell me because if she described a set of formal beliefs, that would by default make it a rigid religion. Which she says it is not.

She added, ”We’re not about religious things, our whole life is really just about three little words.”

“Which little words?” I asked.

But that was all she said on the matter.

Instead she showed me a few more antiques, and she talked to me about her family history. I bought an old pocket knife from the 1940s, and a rusty horseshoe because I can use the good luck.

After that, my wife and I ate pierogies at a roadside restaurant. Pierogies are Polish dumplings filled with either savory or sweet fillings. They are served in a puddle of butter large enough to give you atrial fibrillation. And I could eat them every day until I blew up to the size of an Amish pole barn.

I have never been this far north before. In fact, until these last few years I’d never been anywhere of note. But at this stage of life, I am staring middle-age in the face, it feels like I am seeing America for the first time.

I have enjoyed seeing little pieces of this country. In fact, the humble American road trip has proven to be one of the greatest adventures of my entire existence.

I’ve seen a sunrise over the plains of Texas, and I was fortunate enough to eat etouffee on a Louisiana bayou. I saw the Washington Nationals play a ballgame with the U.S. Capitol building in the background.

I sang “Love Me Tender” with an Elvis impersonator in Biloxi. I bought a cowboy hat in Shreveport. I went to a potluck in Missouri and discovered that the church ladies had voluntarily put sugar in their green beans, but nobody knew why.

I camped in the woods outside Little Rock, Arkansas, and got bronchitis that lasted two months. I laid my head on Grand Canyon dirt and counted the stars. And I have shaken hands with a little old Quaker woman in Pennsylvania.

Sometimes, I feel so overcome by it all that I wonder if that old woman isn’t right. I wonder if life itself doesn’t come down to three little words. Three little words that mean the same thing in every dialect, region, and college football conference.

I would tell you which three words. But you don’t need me to.

30 comments

  1. Katherine Young - October 20, 2019 6:49 am

    Sean, you make me smile every time. I love best the sudden belly laugh and snort mergers… quakes. They almost disrupt my breathing. Keep it up, fine man. You lift many folks’ spirits… our loving Everyman.

    Reply
  2. Glenda - October 20, 2019 7:14 am

    I love you too.

    Reply
  3. Carolyn from Georgia - October 20, 2019 8:01 am

    Y’all mist go to EMMAS GOuRMET POPCORN in Holland Pennsylvania!!!! AMAZING!!!! ♡♡♡♡♡♡

    Reply
  4. Carolyn from Georgia - October 20, 2019 8:08 am

    Thats New Holland Pennsylvania in Lancaster County for EMMAS GOIRMET POPCORN!! YUMMM!!! https://www.emmaspopcorn.com

    Reply
  5. Vivian Brown - October 20, 2019 10:34 am

    This is my favorite column of yours so far, Sean. I love you.

    Reply
  6. Steve - October 20, 2019 10:51 am

    I thought of two dozen potential candidates for the “Three little words”. I was almost certain “love” was in there somewhere. Then I was reminded of my sisters voice, “Steve, you’re OVERTHINKING it!”. I rolled the dice, I was going with “I love you”. I think I got it right.

    Reply
  7. Susan - October 20, 2019 11:20 am

    Did you try the Shoo Fly Pie? It’s delicious !

    Roll Tide

    Reply
  8. Nancy - October 20, 2019 11:42 am

    War Eagle!

    Reply
  9. Karen - October 20, 2019 12:06 pm

    I feel like I am with you in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I can see the red leaves and feel the cool air. Thank you for your lovely stories each day.

    Reply
  10. MermaidGrammy - October 20, 2019 12:06 pm

    Beautiful! Rolllll Tide

    Reply
  11. Sarah Hunt - October 20, 2019 12:24 pm

    Mr Sean I love your stories and they always make me laugh or cry, sometImes both ! If you ever come South Texas way which is as hot and humid as Florida I would be honored to treat you and your wife to best local seafood , Mexican food or barbeque that our area offers. Thank you for brightening my day with your observations and stories. Sincerely, Sarah Hunt

    Reply
  12. June Gibson - October 20, 2019 12:45 pm

    Yes..I LOVE YOU said in truth & sincerity says it all. The world desperately needs more of it.

    Reply
  13. Bobby - October 20, 2019 12:52 pm

    Roll Tide Roll! Another great column to savor with my morning coffee.

    Reply
  14. Connie Havard Ryland - October 20, 2019 12:58 pm

    Another great one. I agree. Driving across this country brings me joy. I’ve still got so much to see. Rural Pennsylvania is right up there on my list. I’ve seen most of the western states. Your appreciation of all you see and experience, and your ability to make us see it through your eyes, fills my heart up. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  15. Catherine from Augusta - October 20, 2019 12:59 pm

    Love thy neighbor??
    I’d write Roll Tide but I’m from Georgia. Go Dawgs!!

    Reply
  16. Susieq - October 20, 2019 1:10 pm

    “What the world needs now
    Is love, sweet love.
    That’s the only thing that
    There’s just too little of…”

    Reply
  17. Gloria Knight - October 20, 2019 2:08 pm

    We all should say those 3 little words more often. One of your best columns! And sorry, Sean: WAR EAGLE!!

    Reply
  18. Edna B. - October 20, 2019 2:40 pm

    How wonderful that you are getting to see so much of this beautiful country of ours. I’ve seen a few of the states, and they are all beautiful. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  19. Marilyn - October 20, 2019 2:47 pm

    I’m from mid western Ohio and we do have some beautiful fall color though not nearly as much as many other spots in this USA. It’s also fairly flat in my area. Not too far from here there are those who ride in a buggy and have no electric. Good people are everywhere to be found. It’s a shame the media doesn’t focus on more good. So glad you write positive stories for us so we can start our days out in the right frame of mind. I’m going with “Love thy neighbor”. God bless one and all…

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - October 20, 2019 3:01 pm

    Roll Tide means something a little different in my house, but I won’t go there. Autumn colors of Appalachia, however, speak those words loudly. Autumnal Halloweens can SCARE and also SCAR, depending on the creepiness factor. But most of all, American Road Trips are the best of any and all means to see this awesome country! Texas with family, A Hard Rain with Bob Dylan in Little Rock, and the Grand Canyon with two fabulous grandsons are three adventurous places we’ve traveled on. Those three words back to you, Fellow Traveler!!

    Reply
  21. Dawn Bratcher - October 20, 2019 3:09 pm

    You are right – “Thank you God”, are the only words I would need!

    Reply
  22. The Rev Frances Metcalf - October 20, 2019 5:48 pm

    So glad you came to our part of America. My husband says Western Pennsylvania is where the Rust Belt meets Appalachia … and it’s true. And it’s beautiful. And we love it … and we love you too … even though our Football Cry is … wait for it … WAR EAGLE!

    Reply
  23. Mark 3:26 - October 20, 2019 5:49 pm

    Sean,
    I am reading “Pennsylvania” after an emotionally draining weekend. My only daughter married her childhood sweetheart yesterday and it was sweet and bittersweet. I have been to Lancaster, PA a few times. But I really should have gone to York just once and I should probably tell you why.
    The wedding was bittersweet because her mother and I are not married. We have been divorced longer than we were married so the bride was young and her brother even younger when we told them we were separating. I can feel the pain of that day as if it happened yesterday. Watching her say, “I do” brought it back, stronger than the 94 proof Elijah Craig Bourbon from the little plastic bottles they gave away at the reception. “To Sarah & Austin !”
    So two nights in an AirBNB with little to no sleep and I come home to read “Pennsylvania” and another wound opens that is related to that state and mistakes. Brett from York Pennsylvania was my first USAF roommate in tech school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi. Brett is no longer with us in this world. He passed away from a rare cancer a few years ago. I could not change that. But his wife called me out of the blue and tearfully told me that he was dying in a hospital and he had told her that I was one of the good guys that he’d like to see.
    Sean, I really wish that I could say that I went but I did not, for reasons that I now cannot even fully recall. At that time, they appeared overwhelming to me. But I do recall many of our intimate conversations in that shared dorm room at Keesler and all the music we shared and when we drank a 5th of bourbon and went to see Bob Seeger at Gulf Coast Coliseum. We developed the 35MM film I shot and we saw fun we couldn’t even remember. And the time that he drove me to my hometown when I got out of the Air Force and he stayed with my family for a few days before driving back to “Pennsylvania.”
    So I am an emotional train-wreck right here in Kentucky, wishing to be forgiven for what feels unforgivable when I write it down and share it now. I could write a book about it but I feel so ashamed that I did not go and tell this dying dear friend of mine “I love you and I’ll miss you.” And if I had known how much, I would have walked there that Thanksgiving weekend, if for no other reason than to make you laugh once again and to take away this pain I feel.

    Reply
  24. Susie - October 20, 2019 8:52 pm

    Mark, stop beating yourself up about not going to see your friend Brett. He’s out of pain and wouldn’t want you to feel bad about not coming to see him. We ALL have regrets about life and not saying or doing something. Just leave it at the cross and let Him take the pain. He loves you.

    Reply
  25. Jack Darnell - October 20, 2019 9:38 pm

    Okay, Sheila from Opp, pointed me this way a year of so ago. I enjoy the read. But I don’t care if you end everything like she does, something like Roll Tide, The only three words Imma thinking is when I said I would ‘LOVE HONOR AND OBEY, Sherry’, I think that is the way she had the Justice say it. So quit hiding ’em three words, I’m getting worried! “Sherry thinks it is something like LOve love love.”
    Anyway, we love Penn. great state. We walked thru it once.
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  26. Ronnie - October 20, 2019 9:38 pm

    You don’t need to hang out in Pennsylvania too long my friend, those folks can be a little strange. I was once married to a girl from there, and got home from work one day and she said we were going to her Mom and Dad’s for dinner. I asked what we were having and she said, “mac and cheese.” I replied, “mac and cheese and what?” Just mac and cheese. I said, “girl, this is the south, there’s always meat for dinner.” We went anyway, and the mac and cheese was homemade, and it was delicious. But where was the meat? Just sayin…….

    Reply
  27. Steve Winfield - October 21, 2019 1:33 pm

    We all love you right back! I know you know it but don’t we love to hear it? 🙂

    Reply
  28. Ann Bird - October 21, 2019 9:45 pm

    I love you!

    Reply
  29. Robert Chiles - October 22, 2019 12:13 am

    Before you’re done, take Jamie and go see the sequoyahs in California. They are the most remarkable things in the world.

    Reply
  30. Alesia - November 14, 2019 1:28 pm

    ROLL TIDE! From the heart of Dixie a little corner of the world Gantt Alabama.. Always laugh cause this computer always underlines Gantt Like I don’t know how to spell my home town. We really enjoy reading what you write. Have a blessed day!

    Reply

Leave a Comment