A breakfast joint, filled with smells of bacon and coffee. I was visiting my hometown in Florida. I heard the sound of people conversing. People laughing. Forks clinking. I was eating my eggs when I got the text.
I glanced at my phone and lost my appetite. An old friend died.
He was seventy-six. He used to be a singer. And I’ll never forget the story I heard about him.
Once, a nine-year-old girl from church asked him to sing for her dog’s funeral. He wore a necktie and the whole nine yards. He sang “Beulah Land.” That’s the kind of guy he was.
I was interrupted from my thoughts. It was another old friend who came through the doors. Lisa, a girl I grew up with.
I hugged her neck and asked how her father was doing.
Lisa smiled. “He’s okay, Mom hired a personal trainer to kick his butt, he whines about it.”
I’ll never forget her father. He once took me to a father-son church retreat at Blue Lake Methodist Camp, along with his own son. He did this because I had no father and he didn’t want me to be left out.
I stood to leave the restaurant. That’s when I saw another friend. James is his name. James and I used to have a summer job together, parking cars. He’s a mess.
Back then, James would try to procure the phone number of any female unfortunate enough to make eye-contact with him.
I exited the restaurant and saw two more friends in the parking lot. Samantha and her husband, Wade.
We hugged. It was nice seeing them. We were once in a Sunday school class together.
Long ago, our class took a trip to Nashville. Wade brought a Mason jar full of something his Episcopalian uncle had brewed in a bathtub.
Consequently, Wade doesn’t remember much about that trip.
After saying goodbye, I drove across town to the grocery store. I walked around Publix in search of a few items my wife told me to get: lip gloss, baby wipes, grape tomatoes, and collards.
In the produce aisle, I saw an old woman named Barbara, who used to cut my hair. I haven’t thought about her in years.
We embraced. She kissed my cheek. We had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes. She told me my hair was looking shaggy in front.
Then, in the checkout lane, I saw a man whose yard I used to mow when I worked in landscaping.
In the parking lot I saw a man who I used to work with, a woman whose wedding I attended, and a guy who used to do my taxes.
I left the store and drove to the post office where I stood in line to mail a few packages. There, I saw three friends I went to college with.
Three at once. What are the odds?
We all shook hands in the post-office line, then talked about what we’re doing with our lives. It was good seeing them, and I’m grateful I don’t look nearly as old as they do.
I went to the gas station next. And I think you know where this is going.
It was the cashier, he recognized me. He said, “Hey! Remember me? It’s Allen! I lived down the road from you!”
Allen? My God. Allen used to give me rides in his brother’s Camaro—which I later found out was a stolen vehicle connected with a Circle-K robbery.
I drove home. I pulled into the driveway and I saw my elderly neighbor, walking his dog, Buster. We shook hands. I asked how Buster’s recent surgery went.
“Well,” he said. “Buster’s still pretty mad at me for taking away his man card.”
Buster looked at me with disgust.
I bid him goodbye, and I was left in my front yard, staring at the sky.
For some reason, I felt so good that my cheeks hurt and my voice was hoarse.
Listen, I don’t know a thing about life, I know even less about what happens when it’s over. But maybe, just maybe, when we depart we arrive in a big place that smells an awful lot like a kitchen.
Maybe there’s coffee, the smell of bacon, and the sounds of happy conversation. Perhaps it’s a place where everyone stands in line to hug your neck.
Where old friends shake your hand and old mothers kiss your cheek. Where people you once loved are waiting at the banister. Where old men who sang at funerals find rest for their souls. Where my late father resides.
A place so beautiful it makes you homesick. A place where no sad goodbyes are spoken. Where time won’t matter anymore. Someday, perhaps, on thee I’ll stand.
Sweet Beulah Land.
oldlibrariansshelf - September 1, 2022 7:16 am
Yes! Hallelujah and amen.
Ed (Bear) - September 1, 2022 7:36 am
Thank you Sean and thank you to your readers for their always caring comments. And thank you for your “Alone” piece the other day! You have a wonderful family in your readership! Searching for and experiencing GOOD is worth any effort. The reward is love! I am loved and you all are loved!!! None of us are alone. It just feels that way sometimes. Your writings fix that.
PMc - September 1, 2022 7:57 am
Yes Sean and Bear kindred spirts are the best!
Peace and Love from Birmingham 🙏🌻
KC - September 1, 2022 8:51 am
Yup, sometimes it like heaven here on earth!!
Crysti - September 1, 2022 9:45 am
Beautiful, Sean! 😭❤
WayneGina Yount - September 1, 2022 10:25 am
One of my very favorite! I’m kinda homesick, for a country to which I’ve never been. Just a few more days to tarry… ❤️🙏❤️
Anne Arthur - September 1, 2022 10:25 am
I didn’t mean to write a comment today but then I thought, “let me see what the other are saying.”
“The others”… I realized we are a community. Sean’s community of commenters who enjoy his writings as much as reading what we have to say.
Sean, you are a community builder. No wonder every time you go out you meet so many people who enjoy seeing you.
It’s good to feel being part of your crowd.
Becky - September 1, 2022 10:38 am
You live by the 2 most important commandments. Love God, love your neighbor. It lasts longer than a lifetime. Good memories.
Ann Thompson - September 1, 2022 11:09 am
Some! Day….is today. Enjoy it.
You certainly have a great way with words, and the thoughts behind them. Thank you.
sjhl7 - September 1, 2022 11:16 am
Your Beulah Land sounds delightful! Love this description of a wonderful Home Town.
Patricia Collins - September 1, 2022 12:04 pm
You were very blessed to see so many old friends. I think when we leave this ole world it will be as you described and so much more !
Fran - September 1, 2022 12:15 pm
I’ll have to give it some more thought but, while reading a book last night, a quote gave me pause and something to think about. It read, ” The purpose of life is to enjoy yourself and be nice to those around you”. Interesting concept, but what if it’s true! Wow! How much better off would everyone be!
Brenda - September 1, 2022 1:39 pm
Sounds like a wonderful book–I think I would like to read it. Can you post the title
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 1, 2022 12:23 pm
Amen and amen!
Suellen - September 1, 2022 12:48 pm
The older I get the more loved ones are over there than remain here. Looking forward to a joyful reunion one day.
Sean of the South: Sweet Beulah Land | The Trussville Tribune - September 1, 2022 1:03 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Leslie Anne Tarabella - September 1, 2022 1:17 pm
You can’t ever shake NWFL and it won’t shake you.
Donna Bandy - September 1, 2022 1:18 pm
Sea, your writing gives me such good feelings. We need this desperately in this world! Thank you, friend!
AL - September 1, 2022 1:33 pm
Ed’s Truck Stop is my place. It’s not really a truck stop but a community of folks who go there for good food and fellowship. I started going there about 9 years ago after my wife’s funeral in the family plot. I live outside of Atlanta and drive down several times a year to visit her grave and have many “if only” conversations with her. My first visit to Ed’s was so special. I saw friends I had not seen in 60+ years. We went to high school together. They recognized me and I recognized them and we shook hands, hugged and reminisced. I continue to go there each time I visit my little hometown. I believe that if I sat in a booth at Ed’s, eventually everyone I went to school with would come thru the door (assuming they are alive). Yes you can go home again!!!! I did and I will again….good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!!
Brenda Lynch - September 1, 2022 1:35 pm
Ahhhh, such sweet memories. I love seeing old friends. I used to love going places with my Daddy cause he knew somebody everyone where we went. He was a funeral director and could tell you where most of their families were buried, cause he helped with those families. Now my husband and I are some of the few originals left where we grew up and went to high school together. We have new friends here-I guess they are the “silver” because the old friends are definitely the “gold”–as in the Girl Scout song. But you have once again made my eyes leak-cause Beulah Land is one of our favorites and my husband has requested that it be sung at his “service”–If he leaves me here, I will make sure that takes place. Thank you for softening my heart everyday!!
David Britnell - September 1, 2022 2:19 pm
Friends and family! They make life beautiful! Beulah Land. The song I get asked to play the most at funerals. Beautiful!!
RichardC - September 1, 2022 2:24 pm
Joel Megginson - September 1, 2022 2:28 pm
Sweet words and a great way to think of our “graduation day” to the Sweet By-and-B
y. Love your columns and keep meaning to send a comment and thank you for writing them. Here you go.
Donnie - September 1, 2022 2:31 pm
As always, Sean, just beautiful. Nothing like going home and seeing all the sweet faces and being greeted with such love and fondness. Love starting my day with a smile and maybe a tear, courtesy of you and your keen observation of life.
Belinda Graham - September 1, 2022 2:38 pm
I smiled while reading this……literally a big hurt face kind of smile. I know how this feels…..a trip to Walmart that takes two hours instead of 20 minutes cuz you see people who’s necks you just need to hug. Life is great that way. Let’s us feel we are not alone in a very big world. And I believe heaven will feel a zillion times better than that. Cuz with all those hugs we will have glorious music tooooooo…….isn’t that just the coolest thought? Thx for my smiles today.
donna masmar - September 1, 2022 2:43 pm
once again–a great way to start my day–old friends from the old days are what keeps us going. I can say this as in two days I will hit the ninety mark; can’t believe where last decade disappeared to so quickly.
Paul - September 1, 2022 2:49 pm
“I’m living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky, PRAISE GOD!” I’m the rebellious Methodist PK who’d lead my buddies in shouting PRAISE GOD when we’d sing “Dwelling in Beulah Land” during Sunday night hymn sings. In my 80s now, and haven’t sung it for too many years. No more Sunday night hymn sings.
Gloria Van Nostrand - September 1, 2022 3:34 pm
I miss those old hymn sings!
Diane Bailey - September 1, 2022 2:50 pm
I grew up going to Blue Lake… I was not fond of it, but I went. If you ever went to Emmaus Walk in the Methodist Church, I think heaven is like the last Day – rows and rows of people hugging you just because you are you, and you are next to them.
Dee Thompson - September 1, 2022 3:03 pm
I have unfortunately moved around too many times in my life to have an experience such as that. My grandfather grew up in Canton Georgia and the last 30 years of his life he lived in midtown Atlanta. When he needed something from a hardware store, or he needed honey, he always drove up to Canton and spent the afternoon going to the stores up there so he could visit with old friends. Community is so important to us all.
Steve McCaleb - September 1, 2022 3:08 pm
It’s just the truth….there’s no place like home. This one here on earth and the one you just laid out so perfectly that waits just across the river. What was it John Denver sang about so many years ago? “Coming Home to a place he’d never been before”? Perfect….
Gloria Van Nostrand - September 1, 2022 3:32 pm
This does my heart good! It’s always such a good feeling to run into people you haven’t seen for a while and that they’re SO glad to see you. People from Church, school, the neighborhood, the town. Ones who knew you growing up and ones who knew you as an adult. I got the same thrill for you that I would have for myself. So happy you had such affirmation! ❤️
Katie - September 1, 2022 3:55 pm
Andy Gartman - September 1, 2022 4:06 pm
Beulah Land, I’m longing for you. And Trisha and I are longing to see you and Jamie. I hope we can find a way to make that happen sometime soon.
Patricia Gibson - September 1, 2022 4:47 pm
I totally believe you are right🙏❤️
Patricia Taylor - September 1, 2022 5:14 pm
I love the song Beaula Land although I cry every time I hear it. It was sung at our 18 year old son’s funeral by a fellow church member and friend of his,only a couple of years older than him. I love this story…you bring things to life that you tell…thank you so much for sharing your heart with all of us. We can so relate to all you write about. You are a special man…thank you!
Dolores S Fort - September 1, 2022 5:29 pm
I am sure of it, Sean!
Rebecca Souders - September 1, 2022 5:39 pm
Lucky you, Sean Dietrich: friends all over the place!
Christina - September 1, 2022 5:47 pm
Where Sean will tell endless stories while Jamie makes mouthwatering biscuits
Carol - September 1, 2022 7:12 pm
Susan Zaffiro - September 1, 2022 8:14 pm
I was reading your column while my students were writing on the topic “What do you want to be remembered for?” When they were finished, I read them this story after teaching them the word “apropos.” Thank you!
1018le - September 1, 2022 8:34 pm
Sean, I know it is difficult to imagine what it will be like in heaven; it’s a little scary, too…because of the “what if’s”, somewhat like the title of a book, “Would-a, Should-a, Could-a”. But from what I have read…you WILL be greeted by some awesome people whose lives you touched, and took the time to write about them. As difficult as life has been at times, you have pulled some golden threads out of the chaos and I hope you continue to do so…for my benefit and others! Thanks! 🙂
Kris - September 1, 2022 8:47 pm
H. J. Patterson - September 1, 2022 10:54 pm
The best version of Beulah Land I’ve ever heard and by the one and only T. Graham Brown.
Paul - September 2, 2022 12:11 am
“Sweet Beulah Land” and “Dwelling in Beulah Land” — two totally different style songs, but about the same great place.
M Jean Mulolins - September 1, 2022 11:08 pm
Sean I hope Heaven is just like you hope it is. I’m just waiting for the receiving line and its getting closer for me everyday. When your time comes I’ll be waiting to hug your neck and say your heart was blessed more times than you know. Much love, Miss Jean
Karen - September 1, 2022 11:22 pm
It is so special to have the privilege of running to so many folks you have known in the past and present.
MAM - September 2, 2022 12:16 am
I haven’t been “home” in more than 15 years, but most of my friends also moved away, so I’m not sure I would see many I knew any more. We’ve been in this town for 23 years and I know lots of folks, and just today I went to a meeting and there was a fellow I hadn’t seen in at least 5 or more years. He was smoking, so we didn’t hug, but we shook hands. We were never quite on hugging terms anyway. We cannot survive without friends, and I agree with whoever mentioned community of Sean readers above. I love reading the comments almost as much as your excellent writing, Sean.
Tara Spain - September 2, 2022 12:40 am
My dad and I use to listen to hymns on the radio on Sunday nights and my absolute favorite was Beulah Land sung by Squire Parsons. To this day, it is still my favorite and definitely one I want played at my funeral too. Love your writing, keep up the great work!
Billie - September 2, 2022 7:10 am
Tomorrow, we’re heading to South Georgia for our family reunion. It’s been three years since we gathered. COVID. This is #66. Prior to this lapse of convening, there had been only one cancellation. Hurricanes. Yes, hurricanes with an “s.” I think there were five either coming…just left…or rumbling around down there, wherever they tend to be birthed. Since a number of the family live in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina…along the east coast, we took precautions and canceled that year. First and only time.
We never thought it would be so long before we would see each other and be able to gather together again. We have a lot of hugs, laughter, smiles, tears, stories, singing stored up. And we will do some of all during the next two days.
But first, Friday night, we will hold a memorial service. To remember the 11 that won’t be packing tonight for the trip “back home.” We have never lost so many in one interim. So we felt a memorial service is appropriate. A different “opening ceremony.” Remembering them…and reminding ourselves that life is short.
COVID did not take all.
But it ravaged its way through the family. First, one, here. Two, there. A whole family, often. For two of the 11, COVID was typed on “that” certificate. For several others, it was that other “C” word.
Anyway, we’ll gather Saturday in a huge room smelling of fried chicken, ham, pulled pork, peas, chicken ‘n dumplings, mashed potatoes, collards, squash, deviled eggs, Mac n cheese. Not to mention the sweet-smelling aromas coming from the dessert tables! That “kitchen smell” you talked about!
At the end of the day, our faces will ache from smiling…our jaws, from talking and eating…and we’ll sing our family anthem, “Glad Reunion Day.” A prayer will go with us as we leave, hopefully to return next year—all of us.
Nancy - September 2, 2022 1:52 pm
I forward your blog every day to my cousin in Oregon. It’s a wonderful way we keep in touch. Here is her response to today’s blog.
Just a few comments about Beulah Land.
Seeing old friends and family, reminiscing about good times with them – being reminded of things that happened, memories triggered just by the mere sight of them – a feeling of belonging, comfort and contentedness – those are all the reasons I’m excited about “going home”. I couldn’t express myself very well about “going home” until I read this – he spells it out so perfectly. I lived in so many neighborhoods over the years and I want to show my boys each and every place and relate a story or two about each one. My history. They don’t know the half of it and I don’t know why for sure but I want them to know all of it.
This is a seriously great story from Sean today.
Thanks Sean, Thanks Nan 🙂 🙂
Bettye - September 2, 2022 2:28 pm
Beautiful! Can’t wait to see my mom. Her name is Beulah. I’m longing for her!
Richard - September 2, 2022 4:10 pm
Even before I read this column, I told Alexa to play Sweet Beulah Land by Squire Parsons. It’s the best version ever. It made me cry just as it always does. Tears for a dear Mother taken from me when I was 9 years old. Tears for a Grandmother taken from me when I was 16 years old. Tears for a wife of 39 years taken from me just 4 years ago. Tears for a brother taken from me last April. Tears for many other relatives and friends taken from me all too soon. You are correct. All those people, and a few dogs, are waiting for me on the shores of Beulah Land.There’s just a few more days to labor before I take my heavenly flight to join them. Meanwhile, thanks for the great column reminding me of the importance of those gone ahead and those who remain here. Keep up the good work. You tend to write what I think. Which should scare us both.
Carole J Byars - September 3, 2022 12:09 am
“Beulah Land” is one of my favorite songs to sing or just to hear. I hope it will be played at my memorial service.
Charlotte Halford - September 3, 2022 1:21 pm
Awesome writing today…
Maddie - September 4, 2022 4:09 am
I am crying. Again. This is beautiful. Thank you!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 9, 2022 3:08 am
Carmen - September 15, 2022 1:37 pm
I enjoy reading your posts but deleted the one for today 9/15/22. You gave the name of a book your dad enjoyed reading. What was it again? Od like to read it. Thanks. Carmen
Linda Moon - November 1, 2022 9:29 pm
I hear it now, the song, as I read the title and new post. I’ll know all those names of cats and dogs I’ve loved when I see them in Heaven, Sean. And you will will too…but not mine, yours.