Small Towns

Truth be told, he was ashamed to be moving back—which is why he hadn’t told anyone. Not even his saintly mother. But there are no secrets in small towns.

I’m sitting on porch steps with my cousin. We are people-watching in a town about the size of an area rug.

A man is blowing leaves off his driveway. The leaf-blower is filling the neighborhood with noise. They say he’s addicted to yardwork. Poor man.

Miss Elvira is walking her Labrador, Webster, on the sidewalk. The dog is stronger than he looks. The leash looks like it’s about to snap in two. He’s pulling Elvira like Twenty-Mule-Team Borax.

She waves at us. I haven’t seen Miss Elvira since I was nine. My cousin and I picked pinecones in her yard long ago while singing an anthem by the Oak Ridge Boys about her.

Hi-ho, Silver, away.

Peter Stepnowski is poking in his garage. Peter has white hair, thick glasses, and wears tube socks with sandals.

Please Lord, no matter how old I get, don’t let me wear tube socks and sandals.

A delivery truck. A FedEx man jogs the sidewalk, up the steps to the Delanie’s porch. He’s carrying an odd-shaped box that makes every elderly busybody within a six-mile radius become curious.

Take my aunt, for instance, she is curious.

Four girls walk the sidewalk wearing soccer uniforms. School is out. They have backpacks on shoulders. They’re deep in conversation. Faces serious. They’re solving world problems.

One of the girls is Karin. I remember when her parents announced in Sunday school they were expecting a third baby.

Karin waves. She calls me “Mister Sean.” Those words sound ancient.

Life is moving slow today. That’s how it works in little places.

I was in the big city last week. I rode through Atlanta’s five-o’clock traffic, gripping my steering wheel so hard my knuckles popped—I’m lucky I survived.
I watched a transfer truck amputate a Nissan’s side-mirror. I saw two near-accidents, fifteen cop cars, and a whole bucket of middle fingers.

Big places aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

My good friend Tom just left the big city and moved back to his hometown in North Carolina. He has a two-year-old girl, and a five-year-old boy. His wife left him for a member of the country club.

Tom swore he’d never move back. Never. Long ago, he claimed he was through living in a place where everyone knew your business. Funny how time softens people.

Truth be told, he was ashamed to be moving back—which is why he hadn’t told anyone. Not even his saintly mother. But there are no secrets in small towns.

No way. No how.

Last week, his U-Haul rolled past the city-limit sign doing thirty-five. He drove over the old bridge. Over the train tracks. He parked at his rental house.

His kid pointed out the window, saying, “Who’re those guys?”

Eighteen of his high-school classmates sat in the driveway. They wore work clothes and work gloves. Their wives had casseroles in the kitchen. Their kids played in the backyard. The beer cooler was stocked.

Surprise, Tom.

Some folks can’t wait to get away from home. And that’s alright, I suppose. They have big places to go, and big things to do. Maybe they’re tired of hearing leaf blowers.

But whoever you are, I hope you know there are plenty of people who can’t wait for you to get back.


  1. Kelly - November 8, 2017 1:19 pm

    This essay was very much needed to soothe my soul this morning. Spent last night at a monthly meeting with my customers and the dinner conversation was filled with politics, terrible news, and aggressive opinions. I kept silent while choking down my meal and counted the minutes when it would finally be over.
    Needless to say, sleep was not peaceful and the morning has been hard to start.
    Your email came at just the right time.
    Thank you.

  2. Jean - November 8, 2017 1:21 pm

    Nice one!

  3. Cindy Bailey - November 8, 2017 1:34 pm

    This is good stuff Sean!

  4. Angie - November 8, 2017 2:00 pm

    I love this!! Nothing like a small town and friendly people amidst all of the turmoil in this world. I love getting your daily post in my email.

  5. Diane - November 8, 2017 2:35 pm

    Saw you at FBC in Montgomery last Thursday, Sean. So glad to match up a face and tan suit with your writing. I cannot believe you spoke for an hour and a half without so much as a glass of water. Holy moly! Great crowd for a great cause, thanks for coming out.

  6. Trina V - November 8, 2017 2:50 pm

    I grew up in a small town where everybody knew everybody, and I swore when I left, I would never live in a small town again. Ha! Famous last words. I live in a small town. Granted, the small town I live in now is bigger than my hometown, and since we live in town, we hear sirens on a regular basis, but it is still small town. I can’t wait for the day we can retire and move back closer to HOME and back to the country where the only sounds are nature.

  7. Brenda - November 8, 2017 2:52 pm

    I am loving this! I long for the slower life……..calm and peace. I covet it for my husband. His work is fast paced and of the world. We live in a fairly small town yet life tends to swoop down and carry you off into the fastness. If you choose to try to live in simplicity the world around you frowns, chuckles and pities you for your backward ways. It is my hearts desire for us to someday live that simple, slower paced life……….God willing. I would prefer somewhere in the Smoky Mountains but it is achievable where ever you live. It’s a matter of choice and heart.
    I am very glad I found your blog.

  8. Jim Luther - November 8, 2017 3:07 pm

    I read your post everyday. Keep on writing. It always makes my day!

  9. Jackie Darnell - November 8, 2017 3:13 pm

    Our sons are visiting. I ask if everyone has time for a short story, so I read your post. When I came to Elvira I said not many folk will sing Elvira in their mind unless they are old. Son Jack (who knows stuff) says, “That song isn’t old, probably not 40 years old.” Now he is singing the whole song, words I had forgotten. LOL Emphasising ‘Lips like Sherry Wine”, Sherry his mama’s name.
    Never having a home town myself, I enjoyed this. Thanks!

    • Deb Bettis - December 17, 2017 5:44 pm

      My sister’s name is Avilla. I adapted “Elvira”, so I could sing “A- vill- a” to her. Then I proceeded to teach my version to a neighbor’s grandkids, to my nieces, and years later, to my toddler son.
      I do not understand why my sister did not appreciate my efforts……Lol!

  10. Donna Dicks - November 8, 2017 3:26 pm

    This is EXACTLY why we live in a one-light town with less than 1,000 people in it. Some people find it confining and intrusive; we find it comforting and happy to call it HOME.

  11. Pammi Nevins - November 8, 2017 3:33 pm

    We recently moved back home. I didn’t think it would ever happen but so glad it did. I’ve missed my state, town, my people. So thankful.

  12. Judy Myers - November 8, 2017 3:37 pm

    Sean – You make my day – everyday. Thank you.

  13. Patricia Schmaltz - November 8, 2017 3:49 pm

    Ah…. so sweet! I was born in Pittsburgh, but raised in Tioga, Louisiana. Talk about small town! Even after I lived there for 12 years, I was still referred to as ‘the Yankee’. I love small towns, but I just never fit in. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them; they are just not as welcoming to outsiders… particularly Yankees. Maybe next lifetime…

  14. Marion Pitts - November 8, 2017 3:58 pm

    Small town life is beautiful! I liked reading the reminder! Thank you.

  15. Tammy Moody - November 8, 2017 4:24 pm

    Being raised in a small town (pop. <500) most of us decreed while in High School that we would never be back to live – just for Homecoming and family visits. My sweetheart is from the same small town. We lived 4 blocks apart, and that made us opposite sides of town!! When he joined the military and we married, Uncle Sam determined where we would live. But as soon as his 20 years were up, we took our 8 y/o and moved straight back to that small town. Perfect for raising a family in, and our son could grow up having strong relationships with both his GrandMommas. A lot of new people have moved in, and we don't know the whole town like we once did – being a paper boy helped my husband know everyone on his side, and I was related to practically everyone on my side! It was a great place to grow up, to raise our little family and will be a great place to grow older together. My Momma was from Elba, AL Sean, and your writing takes me back to every summer I spent there. Thank you! ♥

  16. Gloria Rose - November 8, 2017 5:21 pm

    We begin each morning the same way. We drink coffee and he listens to world events on MSNBC and I read your post. With my ears I hear of the latest hate, violence, intolerance. With my heart I read of love, compassion, good people. And then we start our day, but mine starts with a smile and a full heart. Thank you

  17. Lnda - November 8, 2017 6:37 pm

    All your stories are really great! Enjoying reading them everyday!

  18. Barbara J Schweck - November 8, 2017 8:06 pm

    That man has made the best decision he could ever make for his children and himself- getting out of Atlanta and burbs and returning home to family and friends and support or the family. Born and raised in Atlanta and lived there 68 years before I looked around and said, “hey, I have got to get out of here!” Moved to Opelika which we absolutely love!! Probably could have gone to a smaller town, but love, love, love it here. Been here one year and know everyone on my street, where they are from, how long they have lived here and all about their families. I could ask any of them for a favor if needed. If you knocked on a door in ATL, you would here the lock latch and the police wiould pull up immediately. It is just not what it used to be. Tell this man to be very proud of moving back to his small town

  19. Annie - November 8, 2017 9:38 pm


  20. Linda Allen - November 8, 2017 10:28 pm

    This story sure makes me yearn for a home town! I was raised as an Army’s so weird when folks ask where I am from. Guess it’s where I live now.
    So glad I found your Blog. I look forward to reading it every day! Thank you dear man.

  21. Debra - November 8, 2017 10:45 pm

    Great one! I am, in fact, moving to a small town in Alabama as soon as I can…. My last stop.

  22. Jack Quanstrum - November 9, 2017 12:36 am

    The flavor of this story has great taste!

  23. cbbyrd - November 9, 2017 10:21 am

    I grew up in a place like that. I didn’t fully appreciate it then. I visited a place like that this past week, a small town to which my best friend of 14 years had moved back to be near her aging parents. It seemed to be a place that I already knew, although I’d never been there before!

  24. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - November 10, 2017 10:17 am


  25. Laura - December 4, 2017 12:19 pm

    My husband uses his leaf blower every day. His dad was a long haul trucker when he was a boy, and his next door neighbor, an older man, taught my husband about keeping their yard and house nice and tidy so my husband’s mother didn’t have to do it. They didn’t have leaf blowers back then, but the boy my husband was felt a sense of pride and responsibility for helping around the house. I suspect that has something to do with why he has that leaf blower out every day, blowing every last leaf from our yard. So, rather than annoyance, I try to remember the boy that grew into my dear husband.

  26. C.F. David - December 4, 2017 12:40 pm

    Stepnowski and I are trying to start a fashion trend. Someday, well be famous.

  27. Denise Hammond - December 4, 2017 1:35 pm

    I grew up in a the country of small town Palatka, FLa, of course like all of us teenagers couldn’t wait to get out, now at 63 I would give anything to live there again, I envy my family, friends, school friend who never left and they know everyone in town. I guess you can never take the small town out of a girl or anyone who lived in a small town.

    • Gerald - December 4, 2017 2:27 pm

      We spend the first part of our lives trying to get away from our home (town) and the rest of it trying to get back!

  28. Carolyn Molyneux - January 10, 2020 3:53 am

    Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Didn’t Robert Frost say that, or was it somebody else?

  29. Kate - January 10, 2020 3:58 am

    Hello neighbor! We also live in Opelika. Seeing your comment have me a smile.

  30. Steve Winfield - January 10, 2020 5:20 am

    There were / is maybe 200 of us. As kids we had a tiny block post office. No one had mail boxes. Our address was “General Delivery, Shannon, Alabama”.
    You would go to the P.O. and say, “I want our mail, my Maw Maw’s mail & Mr. Cowarts”. If anyone else was there you’d stay & “jaw” for half an hour.
    My grandparents settled here in 1920. Other than 4 years Navy I’ve been here. The world is moving in all around us but this tiny town doesn’t change.
    Great story by the way. They always are.

  31. Karen - January 11, 2020 7:01 pm

    I’m leaving Nashville and moving home to Alabama. I don’t want to. My heart is breaking. I won’t get this kind of welcome but thanks for this today.


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