The Real Florida

...This is Old Florida, a place where everybody knows everybody. Where the school principal graduated with your daddy's fishing-buddy's cousin. Where gossip flies across Facebook faster than a greased hog.

Calhoun County, Florida—a small world bordered by the mighty Apalachicola. A rural community, forty minutes south of the Georgia line. A place where you can get live crickets at supermarkets. Where you can still buy plug tobacco.

It’s a progressive area.

Here, for instance, they observe Goat Day—a holiday honoring goat-milking, banjos, hell-fire preaching, and greased pig chases.

It bears mention: I’ve chased a greased pig once—at a Baptist fair. I broke two ribs.

So welcome to Blountstown. It’s more than a small town. It’s Tonya Lawrence’s life. She grew up in these schools, played softball on this dirt, shopped at The Pig, birthed Calhoun-County babies.

One day, she went to the doctor for a routine visit. The doctor ordered lab work. The results were a punch to the face. Her kidneys were shutting down.

Tonya says, “It was devastating, I always considered myself a strong person, but once I started dialysis…”


Seven nights a week, she hooked to a machine, watching her strength run through little tubes.

Her condition isn’t just the kind that kills. It’s the sort that ruins your life first.

And there’s a problem: kidney-donor lists are more exclusive than US congressional barbecues. It takes a long time to locate an organ. Best case scenario: seven to fourteen years.

Tonya’s children will be filing for AARP by then.

Still, this is Old Florida, a place where everybody knows everybody. Where the school principal graduated with your daddy’s fishing-buddy’s cousin. Where gossip flies across Facebook faster than a greased hog.

Tonya’s friends put the word out for donors.

But sadly, this isn’t a fairytale. And drumming up vital organs isn’t as easy as holding canned-food drives at the sheriff’s station. Tonya waited.

In the meantime, she’s received affection. Lots of it.

She’s been fielding billions of phone calls, responding to texts, tapping out Facebook thank-yous. And I’m willing to bet she received enough gift baskets to compromise her porch’s structural stability.

These few years have been hell. But Tonya’s not breaking. She tells me her only option is trusting.

Thus, while the rest of the world points cameras at politicians and half-naked celebrities—the heroes which journalists think you should give a damn about—Tonya sits connected to a machine. Praying.

I asked Tonya if I could write about her.

“Me?” she says. “Sure, but can you give me a copy? For a keepsake?”

You bet. And if it’s okay, I’d like to drop it off Friday, with some poundcake my wife made.

“Sorry,” she says. “Friday won’t work, I’m gonna be busy.”

Busy. I guess so. This morning, the school principal is giving Tonya one of her kidneys.

Say what you will about small towns.

They own the patent on love.


  1. Cherryl Shiver - January 14, 2017 11:06 am

    WOO HOO !!! That’s all I can say……

  2. Kimberly Perkins - January 14, 2017 11:54 am

    That was amazing! God bless her! ❤

  3. Kathy Elder - January 14, 2017 12:30 pm

    Sean, I love your stories. I love your way with words and these are perfect…”watching her strength run through little tubes”. I used to take my mom for her dialysis. She’d go through those doors her laughing happy self and come out four hours later like a different woman. They could have been punching her around back there for the way she looked. She told me not to wait for her, to just come back later and pick her up, she hated being an inconvenience. She was pretty serious about it too. So I told her I left but I never did. Yes, I lied to my momma but I needed to be there so when she was finished I could take her home so she could get in bed to rest up to do it all again. She never complained about it, or anything, not even once. We miss her. A lot.

  4. Carol DeLater - January 14, 2017 1:51 pm

    Wonderful that Tonya found a match. My daughter put her info into whatever system they have to find matches. She wanted to give one of hers to someone she worked with’s daughter. No match. It’s a big gift, part of your body. Time off work with no pay. But her faith is solid that the Lord will provide. Did I tell you that my grandson is a youth minister at a Methodist church? Anyway, she’ll be ready if she is called. I admire and support that kind of faith.

    I ask anyone who will listen why politicians need to spend so much money on trying to grab power when that money can do so much for those in need. You can imagine some of the answers I get.

    WHY do they sell crickets in a supermarket? Fish bait? Probably.
    Thanks for posting.

  5. Judy - January 14, 2017 1:57 pm

    Does that supermarket also have a “Walt’s Worms” spot?
    Coming from the outskirts of a town of about 950 people, I can testify to the truth you speak of.
    I am sooooooo happy for Tonya!!!!!

    • Leslie - February 11, 2017 3:06 am

      No, but you can buy live earth worms to fish with that local, hard working, people go to the bait woods to grunt up. Yes, I said grunt. My grandfather made his living selling earth worms. People would ask him how you farm worms he would just look at them and say “no, I sell wild worms” and go on to explain to them how he paid people to go out to the woods to get the worms. Some people would look at him like he was crazy but all I every saw was a loving, honest, genuine, hardworking, giving man.

      • Gerald - April 3, 2018 1:16 pm

        Have grunted worms as a kid. Something I need to teach a couple of my grandkids. Once grunted up a yellow jackets nest. Ouch.

  6. Marthajane Cassidey - January 14, 2017 7:08 pm

    Wow! Another great story!

  7. Sandra Marrar - February 10, 2017 2:08 pm

    Beautiful…simply beautiful!

  8. Sue Thomas - February 10, 2017 4:59 pm

    What hair I have left on my head after methotrexate for arthritis is standing on end!!! Love your articles. I hope Tonya’s new kidney has her having to know where the bathroom is!!! Every older ladies regular every day stuff!

  9. Suzanne Wright - February 10, 2017 5:07 pm

    Prayers up fot Tonya and tears in my eyes! Praying for the previous donor too!9

  10. John Roberso - February 11, 2017 12:05 am

    Sean, you can write your butt off!! Great story!

  11. Bessielee - June 23, 2017 6:47 pm

    I sure am proud of our home town Blountstown where love is true and gossip is real but we have each other’s back where i come from only 53 years going strong going to church with Tonya and school with Pam it’s a Calhoun County thing ❤️

  12. Kathy Grey - April 3, 2018 12:46 pm


  13. Wade Smith - April 3, 2018 3:36 pm

    Enjoyed your story being on dialysis my self I can relate. Keep up the good work.

  14. Pam Glennie - April 4, 2018 12:26 am

    So proud to say BLOUNTSTOWN is the corporate home of my employer-Senior Dental Care! This love you speak of permeates our company.
    Much love to Tonya from a small town Oklahoma girl and mother of a double lung transplant recipient,

  15. Debbie - April 5, 2018 3:19 am

    This one got tears..and prayers that all works out well for both. God bless.

  16. Charaleen Wright - March 22, 2019 5:07 am


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