Southern Belles

Her words were a trip backward on the timeline. Suppers on church grounds, childhoods with calloused feet. Chicken pens, hog roasts, cotton-pickers, fish fries, front porches.

I played music and spoke to a room of white-haired women. It was a dark-lit bar, with decent onion rings and heavy burgers.

Ladies from all walks of life held glasses of beer and wine. A few had canes and walkers.

Eighty-two-year-old, Jo, approached me first. She wore a white blouse with houndstooth scarf. She asked if she could buy me a beer. I yes-ma’amed her.

“Don’t yes-ma’am me, boy,” she said. “I’m trying to hit on you. Ruins the excitement.”

We sat at the bar together. She lit a cigarette.

“Doctor says I shouldn’t smoke,” said Jo. “But I smoke two a day. One in the morning, one at night.”

Jo is an M-80 firecracker. She is from rural Alabama and she sounds like it. She is a writer, a poet, an artist, and a shameless flirt.

She told stories, of course.

Her words were a trip backward on the timeline. Suppers on church grounds, childhoods with calloused feet. Chicken pens, hog roasts, cotton-pickers, fish fries, front porches.

By the time her cigarette was a stub, she was talking about her husband.

“I miss him so much,” she said. “He was a precious man, the best thing in my life. You look a little like he did.”

There was another woman. Ella.

She was eighty-nine. She asked if the band would play “Tennessee Waltz.” We played it at an easy tempo.

She slow-danced with her son. He was careful with her. When he dipped her, she was nineteen again.

Ella’s husband died when she was forty. She never remarried.

“Always had me a few boyfriends,” she said. “Seems like I went dancing almost every weekend. My sister would watch my kids, us girls would go out jukin’.”


Ninety-nine-year-old Mary sat at a table with her eldest daughter. She could only move her feet to the music. Occasionally her head bobbed.

“I growed up in the Great Depression,” Mary said. “You ever hear of that?”

Once or twice.

“They was bad times,” she went on. “My daddy saved chicken bones for fish traps, then he saved fish bones for the chicken feed.”

Her mother died when she was fourteen. Mary became maternal head of her family. She could slaughter poultry, rock babies to sleep, and re-screen doors by age sixteen.

“I used’a mix ketchup and water for supper,” she said. “Called it tomato soup. Sometimes I made biscuits if we had flour. I kept my family alive.

“My brother stole chickens from a farm up the road. If we ever had extra money, I’d tell him, ‘Jeremiah, leave this here dollar on their porch, we ain’t thieves.’ We didn’t WANNA steal, you know. But we had to.”

She asked if my band would play “Little Brown Church in the Vale.”

We did.

At the end of the night my new friend, Jo, bid me goodbye. She asked if she could show me something.

She dug in her pocketbook.

She handed me crinkled black-and-white photo of a young woman holding a baby. A tall man, standing beside her.

“That’s me and Tom,” said Jo. “Before he died. Oh, I’s so pretty back then, wasn’t I?”

You were, ma’am.

But you’re absolutely breathtaking now.



  1. Bobbie - July 27, 2017 1:51 pm

    Dadgum it…you made me cry!

    • Bristol Haughton - September 13, 2017 2:51 pm

      Dadgum it…you made me cry! (sorry Bobbie-July 27, 2017. I just copied and pasted cause that was exactly what I thought when I finished reading.

  2. Sam Hunneman - July 27, 2017 1:54 pm

    Sean, you are just precious. And of course, so are Miss Jo, Miss Ella, Miss Mary and the rest. “Ruins the excitement”, indeed. What a hot sketch!

  3. Catherine - July 27, 2017 1:56 pm

    You, Sean of the South, are a beautiful man.

  4. Nona - July 27, 2017 1:58 pm

    You wrote that in such a way that I wanted to be there.
    Jo sounded like half my family . They are all just about gone to the other side …. but I loved nothing more than to spend time with my firecracker Aunts that would make everything they said come alive. Just like your stories.
    Thanks again.

  5. JANE L HUMPHREY - July 27, 2017 2:06 pm


  6. Laura Young - July 27, 2017 2:54 pm

    Made me cry thinking about my Mother. She’s 92 and her memory “ain’t worth crap”, as she says. I remember how she and daddy used to kick up their heels at square dances. She misses him but “has lots of boyfriends”. I plan to take her to lunch today at a favorite restaurant where the owner claims her as his girlfriend (he’s about 50). I called this morning to remind her since yesterday she forgot and had eaten before I went by to pick her up (so we postponed it till today). I asked her, “Do you remember what we are doing today?” She said “No, but I think we’re going to… (hesitancy)…you know, the place where my boyfriend lives.” 🙂 He will pet her, flirt with her and make her feel like she is the only person in his life .. …then he will look at me from behind her and mouth the words “How is she really doing?” He never met her before we started going to the restaurant years ago. We never see him outside the restaurant, but he loves her still and makes her happy. Flirting with younger men, dancing with your son, toe-tapping to music may be all the older folks have to take them back to happier times.

    • Melodie - July 28, 2017 12:16 am

      Thank you, Laura Young for sharing your story, as well.

    • Kay Reynolds - July 28, 2017 3:58 am

      This reminds me of my Aunt who is now way past 90 and near death. At age 84, she drove herself from Lake Placid , FL to Louisville , MS to visit us. She made the trip in one day. When she came to the door, I reached to hug her and she said, “Be gentle, I have a broken rib.” When I asked her how she broke her rib she said her boyfriend squeezed her too tight while they were dancing at the VFW. She always set a full table complete with cloth napkins and full place setting of silverware.

      Thanks for bringing back the memory, Sean!

  7. Sandra Marrar - July 27, 2017 3:01 pm

    You made me cry…again! Those precious women of that generation are few and far between. Thank you for giving them a voice.

  8. Maxine - July 27, 2017 3:24 pm

    What I wouldn’t give to be 90-something and a handsome 40-something fella tell me I’m breath taking! Who am I kidding? I’m 53, I’d love it now!

  9. Mary Anne - July 27, 2017 3:58 pm

    You, Sean, are a wonderful person and great storyteller. You take your readers right there with you, wherever you might be. God Bless You for having such patience with older folks. You kick us in the gut, make us smile, make us cry and brighten our day…no matter what age we are.

  10. HRC - July 27, 2017 4:14 pm

    Oh how I want to be “Jo”! Thanks for sharing your evening with her Sean

  11. Judy - July 27, 2017 6:00 pm

    You are amazing.

  12. Sharon - July 27, 2017 6:17 pm

    Your writings make the “ordinary” , “extraordinary.” We are the fortunate ones who get to read your words and realize that we all have a story to tell. Thank you.

  13. Carolyn Huggins - July 27, 2017 6:41 pm

    I don’t know why…..other than I have a deep soul, and a tender heart….but, almost every one of your posts bring tears to my eyes. I think that you must have a “Deep soul..and a tender heart,” too!

  14. Jack Quanstrum - July 27, 2017 8:56 pm

    Amen, Amen to the Tenth power. What a finish. Great stories, great one liners! Keep those stories a coming.

  15. Wendy - July 27, 2017 10:24 pm

    My ninety-six yr old father moved in an assisted living facility a couple of years ago with his ninety-five yr old “first wife”. They both have late onset dementia now. Pop was always a gifted whistler. Now he no longer remembers the words, but he will whistle the melodies perfectly.
    Recently another male resident asked Pop to stop that whistling! Still having spunk that saw him survive his Army Air Corp battles in the skies of Germany & France, he told the complainer to get lost.
    (My father died too young, but my mother had Alzheimers for fifteen years. I realized then that we often laugh to keep us from crying! I share that little bit of wisdom with relatives & friends so that it might help them better cope.
    We must treasure the elderly!

  16. Olivia Lawrence - July 27, 2017 10:44 pm

    I love the old stories. I love them and I’m finally the age to start telling them

  17. Pat Byers - July 27, 2017 11:31 pm

    and here I sit . again. crying with your words.
    you are one great writer.

  18. Melodie - July 28, 2017 12:12 am

    Brings tears and smiles, all at the same time. What a guy with a bunch of hearty gals. Amazing. Thank you. I’m an old musician and have lots of stories, too. I’ll have even more when, and if, I reach their age.

  19. Michael Hawke - July 28, 2017 2:34 am

    I know them. SW Georgia has those ladies too.

  20. Janis - July 28, 2017 3:25 am

    My eighty-something year old neighbor of 13 years who admires young men’s tushes and is a die-hard member of the Republican Party of Florida, has embarked down the path of dementia. She had to vacate her home next door when Hurricane Hermine downed a tree across her roof; and she never returned. Even if she had returned to her home, “she” would have never returned…not the same engaging, entertaining, Southern belle whose family roots are deeply mired and anchored in the heritage of the local founding Fathers and military leaders and politicians after whom local streets are named. I wish for her moments of flirtatious young waiters, and recollections of her privileged childhood, and selective memories of her favorite ex-husbands. And recognition of me when she and I talk. I miss her.

  21. Susan in Georgia - July 28, 2017 5:15 am

    Very simply, I loved this and appreciate you for sharing about these precious Southern Belles.

  22. Janet Mary Lee - July 28, 2017 5:20 am

    You are indeed a beautiful soul!

  23. Norma Williams - July 28, 2017 4:37 pm

    Bless your heart Darling! A Southern Belle always loves a Southern Gentleman who will tell us lies about our looks.

  24. Jeannie - July 29, 2017 12:53 pm

    Really enjoyed this!

  25. David - July 31, 2017 6:24 pm

    Great read, didn’t think that it would get me. And then that last line.
    “But you’re absolutely breathtaking now.”

  26. Fran Mitsch - August 11, 2017 12:30 pm

    Your love of the American South shines brightly through your writings and I relate and love every one of them. Your special understanding, heart and soul and expertise always has a way of grabbing me and making me cry. You’re special!

  27. Nancy - September 12, 2017 1:36 pm

    You made me tear up. You certainly have a way with words! Great writer, hope to meet you some day.

  28. Dale - September 12, 2017 1:55 pm

    Sean, I read your stories every day. Actually, twice a day because I get one on FB and the other by email. I hardly ever comment because I would just be repeating myself every day, on every story. I call them stories, but I know for certain that they are about real life. They are about people I know, relatives, friends already passed, my childhood, and even about me from time to time. Please don’t ever stop writing.

    • Retired and thankful - September 12, 2017 3:13 pm

      Absolutely, Dale. I have 2 a day also, and so look forward to them. I love to sit in the morning and read the Facebook one and the email one later in the day. It helps remind me of who I am and where I am from. So often I’d think I’d lost my Southerness and all the wonderfulness that encompasses. ‘Sean of the South’ is like reading about my childhood and relatives in a letter from a friend. It takes me home as a I sit in a place I love, but no longer want to be.

      I tell myself that when my husband retires in a few years that we’re moving back that way; I know in my heart it may never happen for several reasons, but I can dream it, and be there twice a day now that I have found Mr. Sean. Thanks for taking me home to my people, sir…and showing me that ALL my Southerness is still safe in my blood and in my heart.

  29. Shirley - September 12, 2017 9:59 pm

    A newcomer to your site and I love it. I just know that these precious ladies from Alabama are some of my family for sure. LOL

  30. Gale Smith - January 31, 2019 1:09 pm

    The Southern Belles in my family had white hair, twinkling eyes, and each ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. They had to be tough to survive depression, wars, being widowed, and even out-living some of their children. What was lacking in material goods was more than made up for by fierce love for their family. Three generations of feisty women helped make me who I am, and I see them in my daughter and granddaughters.

  31. Alesia - January 28, 2020 12:33 pm

    I feel I know this lady, talk with her on my weekly visits to the local nursing home. Ive made a many of friends there, The stories from yesterdays gone by. There’s so much knowledge and history inside those doors. Once they pass the history does to so those living history keepers will be gone. Along with a generation lost, you can’t get this out of a book it needs to be in person. Thank you for giving her the time, respect, kindness like so many deserve. Another jewel has been added to your crown in heaven.


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