We sit on blankets, we listen to the band. And I have to pinch myself. Where am I? Does it get any better than this?

The weather is perfect. Families sit on blankets, eating fried chicken that was cooked in iron skillets. A band plays music on a miniature stage. Guitar, fiddle, and mandolin.

This is the church my friend’s mother attends. It’s tiny. Most of the congregation is late-sixties or mid-seventies. But there are plenty of young families, too.

Tonight, they are having a picnic.

The chapel is the only structure around for miles, surrounded by farmland and hayfields. Behind the all-brick building is an outhouse. It’s not operational anymore, but it’s maintained for historical purposes.

“It’s a two-seater,” says Brother Williams, a deacon. “When I was a boy, I did my business out there a lot.”

How nice.

The fiddle, guitar, and mandolin are playing the song “Precious Memories.” And I can’t think of a better tune for tonight because the memories are getting thick.

These are Baptists, but not the hardshell kind. These are the sort who go to college football games toting soft coolers.

Even so, no matter what kind they are, you can’t get Baptists together without having food. It’s in our DNA. Scripture says, “Wherever two or three are gathered, a chicken must be brutally murdered.”

There is some serious fried chicken here tonight. The real kind. Homemade. Church ladies place this food on a table that’s covered in gingham. The tablecloth is clipped with clothespins to keep it from blowing away.

In the pasture behind the church, children are playing a game of Tag.

I see an old man with a dog. He’s wearing an Auburn University cap—the man, not the dog. The dog follows the man everywhere he goes, begging for food from strangers.

I meet a woman who moved to the area from the big city.

“I used to have a good job in Birmingham,” she says. “I was in marketing, worked with some pretty big names, but I hated it.”

I ask why.

“Oh, the stress, the traffic, you can’t even buy groceries in Birmingham without having a nervous breakdown. We moved here so we could breathe.”

I stand in the buffet line with a boy who wears a baseball uniform. He is holding a paper plate, and it looks like he is about to burst from excitement.

There is nothing as wonderful as a table filled with fried chicken. Nothing.

The boy loads his plate purely with casserole. A rookie mistake. If you fill your plate with casserole, you won’t have room for drumsticks. Then you’ll be forced to get a second plate for fried chicken, and everyone will think you’re greedy.

Baptists tolerate some things. But greed from boys in baseball uniforms is not one of them. I know this.

I sit on a blanket, I listen to the band. And I have to pinch myself. Where am I? Does it get any better than this?

The world isn’t like this anymore. Every day another shopping complex is built. Another Dick’s Sporting Goods, another KFC.

The tiny downtowns from long ago are now graveyards. You can walk down any Mainstreet U.S.A. and see vacant shop windows where mannequins once advertised summer fashion, and little hardware stores offered a pound of nails for a dollar.

Churches are different, too. Some of the modern churches are named after verbs, and have their own marketing teams.

Also, music has changed. I read an article saying that fewer children play musical instruments today than ever before. The rise of computers has eliminated the need for piano lessons.

That’s a shame. I grew up playing the accordion, watching Lawrence Welk with my parents. Do kids even know who Myron Floren was? Would they care about Peggy Lee, or Kitty Wells?

What will happen in fifty years? Will people still get together on church lawns? Will there be guitars and fiddles? Or will there be DJs with verbs for first names, and marketing teams.

Will people still make fried chicken, or will they buy it from a store? Will this little chapel still be around, or will it be bulldozed to make room for an Old Navy?

I like the old world, and I don’t want it to disappear forever. And I’m starting to feel sad about it all because I’m pretty sure the old world is gone for good.

Until I see a little boy playing Tag. The little boy runs so fast he is almost invisible. He laughs out loud. His sister is chasing him. He is happy. And I’m feeling better inside.

He sprints past people who are eating. Past the old man in the fedora. Past the hay pasture. Past the buffet, past the kids climbing trees, and past musicians onstage who play:

“Precious memories,
“How they linger,
“How they ever flood my soul…”

Nights like this are medicine to me. The older I get, the harder these places are to find. But no matter how far away they seem, no matter how imaginary they become, all I have to do is hear a fiddle, a dog, or a child laughing.

And I know that church ladies are still out there, frying chicken in iron skillets.

And all is not lost.


  1. Wanda Wilson - July 17, 2019 6:37 am

    I share the same memories and sentiments. This is a pleasure read, a keeper. Thanks, Sean. God bless you. I so appreciate your talent.

  2. Estelle - July 17, 2019 8:55 am

    First of all you have to get off the interstate. Then you go to small towns in rural areas. They haven’t gotten into all the new stuff. Times have passed slower here. But the young people are going to the cities to find jobs. Small farms can hardly make it any more. But there are people who love the land where they grew up. So they find a job at a factory or a lumber company, a car dealership or a grocery store and then come home to work their farm in the late afternoon and evening. But these too are slowly disappearing. ??

  3. Deb Canter - July 17, 2019 12:02 pm

    Oh Sean! You make me cry almost very morning – but in a GOOD way! Thanks for this “precious memory”!

  4. Jo Ann - July 17, 2019 12:11 pm

    Luckily, these places still exist. You didn’t mention this, but apparently, no one was looking at their phones!! People have to get away from electronics for awhile sometimes-log off the phone, be outside & listen to the world around them. Kids need playtime away from tablets. These folks sound like they have it right. Bless them & bless you, Sean.

  5. Carolyn - July 17, 2019 12:14 pm

    Thank you Sean, for the precious memories.
    You are loved.

  6. Jean - July 17, 2019 12:14 pm

    My hometown still feels like tiny town, USA. We have one traffic light smack in the middle of town at the intersection of two state highways. It has been there since I remember and I am 76 years old. Little else has changed and that is a good thing. You graced us once with your presence in Chatom, Alabama. Hope you will come back soon.

  7. June Gibson - July 17, 2019 12:18 pm

    Things are definitely changing, most for the worse. But some things I don’t think will ever change, at least in the South. Your “Church dinners on.the grounds” is one I think is here to stay. Homecoming days will always be celebrated with food , friend, family and strangers at our little church’s all over the South. God bless you, Sean, you are a special person, put here for exactly what you are doing….loving, encouraging, and helping people hungry for a kind word , or maybe a subtle push to keep them going. Thank you for you.

  8. Dianne - July 17, 2019 12:26 pm

    Your story today reminds me of when I grew up years ago and used to go to family reunions of the family of one of my grandfathers. These reunions were held at my great-grandfather’s house on Sand Mountain, AL. This house sat off a dusty dirt road with the barn and pig pen across the road from the house, a field of cotton on one side and a field for veggies on the other side of the house, a cast iron “stove” in the kitchen that as children we were warned “not to get too close to it”, along with a pump used to pump water into the sink or your glass. There was also a pump on the wrap around porch near the kitchen back door that held a dipper for water. There were always 75-100 family members present at these reunions, and the food was out of this world. The sad thing was once my grandfather’s brothers and sisters died, these reunions ceased. However, I have two landscape-pictures of two of these reunions that hang in my house today. A treasure for me with thousands of memories in these two pictures. I, too, hope that these wonderful experiences of America will never disappear.

    • Cindy Morgan - July 17, 2019 12:43 pm

      This bring back memories of how I grew up-dinner on the ground we called it-it was really on a table!! Lots of fried chicken and fresh green beans. These churches are hard to find- now it’s about entertainment, not a worship hour as I knew it. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. turtlekid - July 17, 2019 12:48 pm

    Oddly, I never experienced these things until I married a Southern man from Mississippi. Grew up in big cities and had no clue about the simple rural life. Now I live it, and would never want to live in big civilizations again. Hearing cow bells, or roosters crowing, listening to birds chirping and the wind in the trees is like being one step closer to Heaven. Church socials are nice too. Food is incidental when you are with friends.

  10. Phyllis F Stallings - July 17, 2019 12:53 pm

    I’m 65. I know exactly what you’re talking about. We were Baptist. The hard core kind. I was afraid of our preacher. But as children we played tag, hide and seek. We rode our bikes and metal roller skates. The kind you strap on your shoes. There was an A&P near by and drug store. We would find drink bottles and cash them in for candy money. Cooked potatoes in the woods in a hole we dug. My children have not grown up like that and my grandchildren have no idea. Yes, fried chicken from an iron skillet is awesome.

  11. Ann - July 17, 2019 1:09 pm

    These are wonderful “grounding “ moments in this fast paced world… I hope everyone will take advantage of these during the year…. beautiful!

  12. T.C. - July 17, 2019 1:16 pm

    I have said many times, that frying chicken at home is a lost art and soon to be never done. Way too easy to go buy any store and buy. On the grill, that will always be, but frying in grease in your kitchen, not these days.
    If the south can stay southern, and that’s fading away too, there will be little old ladies at those church picnics serving their chicken and casseroles. And I love it !

  13. Janet Mary Lee - July 17, 2019 1:30 pm

    Amen and Amen!!

  14. Gordon - July 17, 2019 2:01 pm

    I am with you, Sean. The “little things” are just about gone and forgotten. But I do have my “precious memories “. By the way, I am enjoying your new novel “Stars of Alabama”.

  15. Teresa Tindle - July 17, 2019 2:01 pm

    Oh my Sean, I’m crying right now. Tears of remembrance. For these are the things I remember most. My long gone momma and daddy. I grew up blessed. I lived just 2 houses from both sets of my grandparents. We were in and out of their houses everyday. I remember my brother, cousins and neighborhood children. What fun we had. Life was good. Not easy, we were poor. But what precious memories. I can only hope and pray these good ole days never change. Love you Sean.

  16. Edna B. - July 17, 2019 2:23 pm

    I have to agree. Those yesterdays were so wonderful before progress started taking over. Children today will never know a childhood like mine. That’s sad. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  17. Linda Heman - July 17, 2019 3:08 pm

    Amen, Brother Sean, amen.

  18. Jeanne Butler - July 17, 2019 3:16 pm

    The old world is forever gone here in the North. So sad. If I were not so old with a sick husband I would move down South to a small country town and enjoy my few remaining years. Love you Sean

  19. Linda Moon - July 17, 2019 3:48 pm

    Long ago I had a pastor – Brother Williams. I was gravely ill at age seven. He drove to our house and took me to the hospital. He baptized me in a church that had no verbs in its name. The only marketer who compelled us to go there was Jesus. Amazing grace — found, and no longer lost. A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, and I’m glad you had a good medicinal night!

  20. Tina Harman - July 17, 2019 4:10 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for this beautiful memory piece. You have such a gift with words that I can picture the table full of fried chicken and the kids playing tag. I can also see you sitting on a blanket with your plate. Thank you so much, and please keep writing.

  21. Ken Dunn - July 17, 2019 5:28 pm

    If you think the last few years have brought about changes, just imagine what the next 10 years will bring !

  22. Gayle - July 17, 2019 10:07 pm

    Some things are worth saving and savoring. I read your article and smiled, as I fry chicken and wait on the peach pound cake to finish cooking to take to Wednesday night supper at the First Baptist Church.

  23. Robbie Rainer - July 17, 2019 10:10 pm

    Precious memories! One of my daddy’s favorite songs. A friend sang it at his funeral in 1971. I was 14. Precious memories indeed.

  24. Shelton A. - July 18, 2019 2:28 am

    Those times are very precious…keep them and keep writing about them.

  25. That's jack - July 18, 2019 3:08 am

    Oh yeah, my daddy was a preacher I attended a lot of those picnics and home comings, loved every one of them. But yes they are fading.
    Good one
    Sherry & jack

  26. Robert Chiles - July 22, 2019 5:34 pm

    I’m feelin better inside.

  27. Janet Reiter - July 23, 2019 1:53 pm

    What a beautiful picture you painted here Sean! This hit me hard. Right in my ticker. Thank you from the southern Alaskan.

  28. Lou - August 14, 2019 3:48 pm

    Wonderful story, Sean. My grandparents took us to all day hymn singing with dinner “on the grounds”, which was actually in the church basement. Tiny church in the country with an outhouse out back. The hymns were started with a pitch pipe and sung a cappella and some were shape note sung “in the round”. I always looked forward to these yearly gatherings and the homemade banana pudding was my favorite dish.


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