Small Town Singers

The whole town came for the shindig. There are people from all parts. Old and young, rich and rural. Small towns support their own.

Port Saint Joe—the community Christmas concert is in the old movie theater. We’re talking old-old.

Eighty years ago, this place used to have a balcony, folding seats, velvet curtains, a silver screen. Today, there is a plywood stage where Clark Gable’s face used to be projected.

The whole town came for the shindig. There are people from all parts. Old and young, rich and rural.

Small towns support their own.

I’m in the back row. There’s an old man beside me. He wears plaid. There is a golf-ball-sized wad in his lower lip. He’s spitting into a plastic Coke bottle.

The opening act is a fiddle band. They’re pretty good. Gramps is singing along with the music—between spits.

“Love this song,” he shouts to me.

Gramps must’ve forgotten to change the batteries in his hearing aids.

The musicians sing several. One Christmas melody after another.

With each one, Gramps says, “Oh, I love this song.”

There aren’t many Gramps doesn’t like.

The local choir is next. Before they open their mouths, I see that they’re Baptists. I know this from the way they walk.

I grew up Southern Baptist. We have a special gait. We walk this way so that we can recognize our fellow Baptists in the liquor store and avoid them.

Gramps taps his foot. He spits on offbeats.

“Used to sing in church choir,” he says. “My wife’n I were in choir together back in Georgia. She had a purty voice.”

He’s singing along gently. People start looking.

My wife gives me the stink eye. She whispers through grit teeth, “Shut up or I’ll divorce you.”

“I’m NOT the one singing,” I point out.

“Then wipe that smile off your face.”


The next song: “O Holy Night.” I am powerless against this melody. The song takes me over. Now I am singing with the old man in a whisper.

Gramps is a perfect tenor. I sing bass.

And as it happens, we aren’t the only ones. You ought to hear this small-town theater come alive. There’s a light hum throughout the audience.

I’ll bet you won’t find humming like this in, say, New York City.

Afterward, Gramps is smiling. “Hey,” he says “You’n me oughta take our duet on the road.”

He laughs. I laugh.

He adds, “My wife and me used to sing duets when she was alive. Every Christmas we sang.”

Gramps’ eyes are glassy and red. I notice he’s wearing a wedding ring.

After the applause, he stands to leave. He shakes my hand.

“I got low blood sugar,” he explains. “Gotta eat or I’ll get the shakes. Don’t have my wife to look after me no more.”

My wife and I merry-Christmas him.

“Merry Christmas,” says Gramps. “You two enjoy yourselves tonight.”

He hobbles to the door. He doesn’t move fast. Gramps has no old woman to hook arms with, no children to squeeze, nobody to hug.

Nothing, but his snuff to warm him.

I follow him to the door, but I’m too late. He’s already gone. I’m left looking at the night, wondering about a man I don’t know.

Anyway, I had a marvelous Christmas this year. I hope you did, too. I hope you find yourself with a warm belly, a loving family, and happy children running loose in your house.

But tonight, if you find an extra minute, say a prayer for Gramps.

He’s missing his singing partner this year.


  1. Nancy - December 26, 2017 10:50 am

    Sean, how do you do that every time? You have me smiling and then laughing and at the very last minute make the tears roll down my cheeks. Merry Christmas!

  2. Cathi Russell - December 26, 2017 12:28 pm

    Sean, I got no clue as to how you get me every single time….but you do. I’m gonna be thinking about Gramps all day long. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  3. Marty from Alabama - December 26, 2017 1:04 pm

    Once again, you have made our minds start to wander down memory lane. Not a bad thing, but it sure gets the eye water running. Suddenly realized this year that I am the old generation in our family. Not exactly a much sought after position. But I just pray that I can be half the old one that my ancestors were. Hey, I would be Gramps (in my case Grandma) in the sing along – love to sing. Singing is the one thing that we will take with us to Heaven.
    Can’t wait to see what 2018 holds for us.

  4. Nancy Kane - December 26, 2017 1:59 pm

    The Southern Baptist jokes are getting a little old…js

    • Susie - January 22, 2023 10:06 pm

      It’s really, REALLY hard NOT to poke fun at narrow minds.

  5. Donna J. masmar - December 26, 2017 3:20 pm

    Love starting my day with your wonderful stories –from laughter to cleaning my eyes out, you have great story telling talents.

    Donna Masmar-Dec. 26

  6. Jack Darnell - December 26, 2017 3:53 pm

    Imma tell you dude, I coulda done without this one. I ain’t never had someone as tolerant to sit beside me when I sing. Since losing my hearing my ‘professional soprano’ has gone south. I get sore ribs for wrong verse or wrong gear, my wife’s attentions getter is the elbow!
    Glad you had a great Christmas!

  7. Patricia E. Huntley - December 26, 2017 4:08 pm

    Beautiful. May God fill the emptiness in Gramps’ heart this Christmas & days to follow. Merry Christmas! Thank you for this special gift!

  8. Marion Pitts - December 26, 2017 6:59 pm

    Prayers for gramps.

  9. theholtgirls - December 26, 2017 7:50 pm

    I’ve heard that when we become a Christian, we become a singer. (Psalm 96:1, Colossians 3:16…) Make a joyful noise, or make a noise joyfully! I’ll pray for Gramps every time my girls and I walk into the choir room. <3 Merry Christmas, Sean!

  10. Pamela McEachern - December 26, 2017 9:53 pm

    Consider it done, I am saying that prayer for anyone that is alone in this most sacred of seasons. I’m happy gramps found his way to be with ya’ll tonight. It was a very Merry Christmas.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  11. Sue Cronkite - December 27, 2017 2:58 pm



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