There are a lot of things I like about Tennessee, but I’ll start at the top: in Tennessee, they have MoonPies.

You can find them everywhere. Not just at gas stations and Walmarts. I found a MoonPie on my motel pillow.

I can remember eating a MoonPie with my father when we briefly lived in Tennessee as a boy. He was an ironworker, building the GM plant in Spring Hill. I was a redhead, missing teeth.

It was morning. He handed me a MoonPie and a Royal Crown Cola in a glass bottle. We sat on the curb outside the Shell station and ate in silence. Daddy read a newspaper. I chewed with my mouth open.

For the unbaptized, MoonPies are chocolate marshmallowy graham cracker snacks that Tennesseeans take seriously. Tennesseeans eat MoonPies at a variety of special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, real estate closings, holy communion, etc.

The pies come in different flavors. They have chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry and salted caramel. And once per year, just before the Tennessee-Florida game, they sell MoonPies made out of real University of Florida graduates.

Yesterday I was in Chattanooga, the spiritual birthplace of MoonPies. I had time to kill, so I stopped at a gas station to purchase a MoonPie and an RC Cola.

I sat on the curb to eat my vittles because I am haunted by an ironworker.

Outside, I met an man who moved to Tennessee from New York, back in the 1970s. He was wearing dirty construction clothes, spitting into a Mountain Dew bottle. Which, by the way, is also a Tennessee-invented product.

The Mountain Dew, not the spit.

“I moved here because Tennessee just FEELS good,” the man said. “Came here as a sheet-metal worker. I’ve lived all over the U.S. But nobody is as nice as they are in Tennessee.”

He spit.

“It’s the people that make Tennessee special. Nicest people in the nation, and you can quote me.”

He’s right. I’ve only been in Tennessee for 24 hours. But so far, two waitress have called me “sugar,” three people have held the door for me, and one guy on the street was thoughtful enough to sincerely try to save my soul from everlasting damnation.

After finishing my MoonPie, I drove across the Big Bend State following U.S. Route 11. I got stuck behind a church van traveling 32 mph in a 55-mph zone. Mount Zion Baptist, I’m looking at you.

But I was content to drive slow through the violently green Appalachians.

I passed Cleveland, Charleston, and bounded over the Hiwassee River. Pretty towns passed by my windows like faded memories. Calhoun. Riceville. Athens. Sweetwater.

In a way, Tennessee contains all the best parts of the America, crammed together into one giant, geometrical rhomboid. You have the Smoky Mountains Majesty, mirrored rivers, barbecue, Jack Daniels, and of course, Elvis.

There’s also a lot of good beer in Tennessee. As a journalist, it is my continuing mission to make sure the beer in each state is up to standard. So I pulled over for the night in Knoxville and ate supper at one of the craft breweries.

I sat at the bar beside a guy from Collierville. He was an eighth generation Tennesseean.

“Our state gets a bad rap on TV,” he said. “Whenever you see us on the news, or in movies, they make us look like shirtless hicks with three teeth. That’s not fair. I got all five of my teeth.”

Another man chimed in.

“If you’re talking Tennessee,” he said, “I got three words for you. Peyton Manning. ”

The man was not only wearing a Tennessee jersey, he had a portrait of Peyton Manning tattooed on his left shoulder blade. Although truthfully, the tat looked a lot more like Don Knotts after a very long night. But I didn’t say anything.

Namely, because Tennesseeans are crazy when it comes to football. This is a state where people skip their own mothers’ funerals to attend games.

A state where the university president once said, “We want a university our football team can be proud of.”

But the best part about Tennessee, hands down, is the morning time.

It happens every day at daybreak. When the sun raises itself above the Great Appalachian Valley, the world breaks out into a poem. The brightness peeks through the feathered quilts of heavy mountain mist. Spears of yellow light shoot across the forests. You smell foliage. Wet earth. Pinery. Grass.

I woke up early with the scent of dawn. I hit Route 11, bound for North Carolina. But before leaving Tennessee’s borders, I stopped at a Sunoco gas station. I pushed open the door. The bell dinged.

I found a MoonPie display. I bought one MoonPie, one RC Cola, and one copy of the Knoxville News, still warm. Then, I sat on the curb to consume all three in the Tennessee morning light.

Because, as I say, I am haunted.


  1. Steve Winfield (lifer) - July 14, 2022 7:23 am

    I lived in Tennessee for almost a year. Naval Air Station Millington. 30 min north of Memphis. Aviation Electronics Technician “A” School. (Boy did those guys know their trons)
    Drove home to B’ham most weekends but spent a lot of time in Memphis. Always great bands to see. I saw Thin Lizzie, Nazareth, Dixie Dregs, Styx, Heart, Cheap Trick. And those are just the ones I remember.
    Pretty fun year for a 19 yr old.

  2. Leasa Moore - July 14, 2022 9:54 am

    I would have to read this at 4:45am because I don’t sleep. Except I might get to gently cry myself too sleep this early morn. Thanks to a haunted little boy who will remember his Dad with love until the he does.

  3. Leasa Moore - July 14, 2022 9:59 am

    Guess I’m peeling onions this morning.

  4. Leasa Moore - July 14, 2022 10:04 am

    Good morning to a the gentle soul that I haven’t recognized in anybody in a long time.

  5. Ann Thompson - July 14, 2022 10:08 am

    Moon pie. Nice memory of your father…
    Continue to enjoy your journey. Nice story today. Made me smile.

  6. Vivian Holmes - July 14, 2022 10:27 am

    You should have stopped for fresh cheese in Sweetwater!

  7. Kristi D - July 14, 2022 10:37 am

    Love my home state. Passing thru next time also get yourself a Goo Goo.

  8. Dolores - July 14, 2022 10:45 am

    Keep coming north and you’ll find Virginia contains all the best parts of the America, crammed together into one giant, lumpy triangle. You have the Blue Ridge AND Appalachian Mountains Majesty, mirrored rivers PLUS the Chesapeake Bay AND Atlantic Ocean. Then there’s Virginia-crafted beverages have a deep history dating back to our country’s first settlers and all pork products including our ham. And I’ve saved the best for last, Patsy Cline.
    PS I’ve always wanted to visit Tennessee, now more so, that’s saying a lot being a homebody.

  9. Te - July 14, 2022 10:50 am

    Nobody ever mentions Tennessee — unless something bad happens, but I’ve always been proud to be born there. Mom was from Appalachia Tennessee. You have to say the two words together because it’s a unique area. Her family went to Nashville after the Great Depression hit. Most people crave the beach, but I long for the ancient mountains of Appalachia with the quilted morning mist (what a great description!) And the mysterious depths of unending forests. Blood tells.

  10. Ed (Bear) - July 14, 2022 11:00 am

    Sounds like you’re having a fun trip!

    Moon Pies are great! And sunrise is my favorite part of the day!

    According to cosmologists, we have several hundred billion years left to enjoy them!

    Of course, that depends on what our Big Boss’s ultimate plan is. We’re not privy to the details. But we ARE currently privy to the beauty of an Appalachian sunrise!

    You should travel the Blue Ridge Parkway too if you get a chance. Especially in the early morning!

  11. Donna McChristian - July 14, 2022 11:05 am

    When you write, you transport. You know, faded memories and all. Theoretically, we should all be able to write. We’ve all had these experiences, sights, smells, memories, and MoonPies. But you take us there, sitting next to you on the curb and we feel every part of it. It’s magic. If teleportation or time travel ever come to fruition, it will be a writer that is responsible.

    • Carol from GA - July 14, 2022 11:53 am

      Donna…. you are exactly right about Sean “transporting” us in time with his writings! I still say he can’t be so young…. he is way too wise?! I grew up in TN with many fond memories of RC cola’s and moon pies, and let’s not forget Stuckey’s pecan logs!

  12. Nancy - July 14, 2022 11:14 am

    You should have taken a detour and stopped at the Moonpie General Store and Book Warehouse in Pigeon Forge. They sell your books there too. The owner, Michael and his workers are awesome!

  13. Cheryl Newsome - July 14, 2022 11:15 am

    When you get back to Birmingham, we have Moon Pies here too–regular and mini…although the mini ones are just a teaser–making you want the REAL size pie. I prefer mine with ice water…but then, I’m weird.

  14. oldlibrariansshelf - July 14, 2022 11:18 am

    I spent the Fourth last week driving to, then enjoying a fireworks display in the knobs near Tellico. Those of us raised in Tennessee love that you have good memories of living amongst us. If Birmingham ever gets too crowded for you, the invitation to dwell here again is wide open.

  15. Ruth+Ann - July 14, 2022 11:33 am

    Yes, I agree Tennessee is a good place to visit. I go there fairly often. It’s nice to see how well they are getting along in that beautiful countryside and see that they’re still practicing good manners that just overflowed from their neighbors to the north. Do yourself a favor on your return trip and take a drive across the Bluegrass state. We have a university that makes our basketball team proud.

  16. Patty - July 14, 2022 11:37 am

    Thank you for this! The man from Collierville is correct. Media portrays us as backwards idiots. Glad you have had a taste of the true Tennessee. We’re not perfect, but we are some of the kindest folks you’ll ever meet! Heck, I got a free slice of watermelon last Saturday when I visited a roadside fruit and veggie stand because it was my birthday, and I turned down a free fried pie (watching my weight). The lady just couldn’t let me leave empty handed. That was some good watermelon, too! All of my 51 years have been spent here. No place like HOME! Love your writing, Sean. Keep it up!

  17. suzi - July 14, 2022 11:50 am

    “The world breaks out in a poem”

  18. Lily - July 14, 2022 12:04 pm

    You may not so much be haunted, but, “joined,” to whatever extent he is free to be able to share. Don’t forget: he has to live with his momentary, monumental decision along with the rest of you. Incoming love…

  19. Jean Sherrill - July 14, 2022 12:17 pm

    Tennessee….my home….Love it and Moon pies!!

  20. Chris - July 14, 2022 12:21 pm

    I’m a former Tennessean now living in Alabama. Reading this made me really miss my home state. I could literally visualize every thing you wrote. But……I’m from West Tennessee, Memphis to be exact, and while it’s pretty much flat and missing the gloriousness of the Smokies, Memphis does have the Mississippi River and it is truly majestic. Would love for you to drive through that part of the state sometime and get your take on the area. So different from the Eastern part.

    • Deb Canter - July 14, 2022 10:30 pm

      From another West Tennessean (northwest – Union City) – do you remember when the welcome signs on the Interstate used to say, “The 3 States of Tennessee Welcome You” – East, Middle, and West – all different, all beautiful in their own way. I grew up in the flats of West Tennessee where rows of corn and soybeans go as far as the eye can see, but I left my heart in the Smokies. Close proximity to those serene mountains helped me keep my sanity in graduate school. God bless the Volunteer State!

  21. robnrockin - July 14, 2022 12:28 pm

    I luv Moon Pies and may have to find one today…but i will have a Dr. Pepper instead of the R C Cola, which i like too. Maybe a Goo Goo bar while i’m at it. Thanks for the great columns Sean!

  22. Sean of the South: Tennessee | The Trussville Tribune - July 14, 2022 12:29 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  23. William Thomas Coombs - July 14, 2022 12:33 pm

    I have lived several times in the state described. I was born there while my parents attended UT. This stretch later extended to Kingsport and Bristol.

    My father’s work led our family to other valued locations, but indoctrination was imprinted, so I always planned to return. And I did.

    My childhood dream was always to attend UT, so walking in the dorm as a student, playing intramural sports, and occasionally attending class are cherished memories.

    I worked in university housing for a stretch, and later returned as a hall director. Life continued. Wife, children, dogs, work, and so forth. My heart never strayed. My mother lived in Oak Ridge, so we visited as often as we could. I was able to see her once or twice a month her last couple of years, and always honked my horn twice as I, or we, entered on I-81 from Virginia to hallowed ground.

    I am soon to retire from government service and the adventure that entailed. My last chapter will be returning, for good, to you know where.

    Our children can confirm of my failed attempts to bribe, cajole, and lure them – surely at least one of the – to my alma mater. They are grown now, or at least they think they are, so I have forwarded your article in the hope that it might resonate for a future generation of the family. Your wit, coupled with the accurate portrayal of the self-effacing modesty, sense of humor, kindness, and warmth of la familia Tennessee might be my last chance.

  24. Margaret - July 14, 2022 12:35 pm

    Loved imagining the Peyton Manning tattoo that looked like Don Knotts! I am a lifelong Tennessee girl, transplant to Knoxville 30+ years ago, and I have never understood the football hive mind that takes over Knoxville on game days. It has to be seen to be believed. I have a slight correction to offer–the Florida game day Moon Pies are not Really made of Florida graduates. The local Kroger, however, has sold alligator meat as a specialty item that weekend only.

    Another commenter is right, you should try a goo goo cluster (candy from Nashville). Another vote here for the Sweetwater cheese too.

  25. Kelley Hinsley - July 14, 2022 12:38 pm


  26. Deborah - July 14, 2022 12:46 pm

    Sean, if I had known you were driving up Hwy 11, I would have waved as you passed through Cleveland and Charleston. I’m glad you enjoyed our neck of the woods!

  27. Jennifer Sienes - July 14, 2022 1:04 pm

    Thank you so much for this testament to Tennessee. We love our state! I met you a couple years ago at an event (a n Alabama library) and appreciate your talent, humor, and stories. I am also an author, so I can really appreciate the challenge of coming up with something fresh every day. God bless you!

  28. Rob Crichton - July 14, 2022 1:10 pm


  29. Leigh Amiot - July 14, 2022 1:21 pm

    I’m feeling a little un-American as I don’t care for moon pies, never have, however, in this article is some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read: “When the sun raises itself above the Great Appalachian Valley, the world breaks out into a poem. The brightness peeks through the feathered quilts of heavy mountain mist. Spears of yellow light shoot across the forests. You smell foliage. Wet earth. Pinery. Grass.”

    • CherylW - July 14, 2022 1:56 pm

      Just getting ready to comment on that phrase. Pure poetry. Beautiful

  30. Ruth Mitchell - July 14, 2022 1:55 pm

    Put your Moon Pie on a plate, place in microwave, and zap about 10 seconds. Eat it with a fork (or spoon), and you have a Moon Pie dessert fit for royals!

  31. Karl Schweinfest - July 14, 2022 2:12 pm

    This is another of your stories that brought my childhood to mind. I grew up in New York and a Moon Pie was called a Scooter Pie sold in boxes of 12. It was almost identical to the southern Moon Pie and made by a company I believe was called “Burries”. Being one of five kids in a small house outside of New York city, snacks were not something enjoyed every day but ‘Scooter Pies’ were a favorite with all five of us. I migrated south when I was 23 and never returned to the North. I spent 40 years in Tennessee in the suburbs of Memphis. The state itself seemed to be divorced from the rest of the state, sometimes deserved and often not deserved. I’ve now lived in Alabama for almost three years and find the spirit of friendship present everywhere. Maybe if we all ate “Moon Pies” it would be a better world! Maybe we should ship a couple of cases to Congress – they need a strong dose of friendship!

  32. Cathy M - July 14, 2022 2:23 pm

    I am enjoying this trip vicariously and I wonder if you are listening to music as you ride through this beautiful countryside. I think your dad is riding on your shoulder so maybe a little Hank Williams ? Be safe. You are special to so many

  33. Peyton Lingle - July 14, 2022 2:31 pm

    When I moved to Nashville in 1970, I learned that RC Cola was the top-selling soda in Tennessee. The pairing with Moon Pies kept that standing for many years.

  34. Nancy Carnahan - July 14, 2022 2:36 pm

    I live in CA (and I know where to get Moon PIes.) but grew up in North Alabama about 25 miles from Tennessee. My dad said if you rolled Tennessee out flat it would be as big as Texas.

  35. suzfrew - July 14, 2022 2:37 pm

    Thank you, from this Tennessee girl…oh those mornings and those mountains…

  36. Pat Thomason - July 14, 2022 3:04 pm

    For some reason I enjoy the fact that as you drove on Highway 11 you drove past my “old home place.” It was on the right just as you entered Bradley County heading toward McDonald and Cleveland. Like most places, it no longer looks the same when it was sold and more than one new owner changed it. I now live in Cleveland. But your descriptions of the Tennessee I love is remarkably accurate. We do have kind and friendly people for the most part. Our East Tennessee geography is glorious and it’s mountains and our weird accents (we can’t help it) help define it. But nobody shares the beauty of Tennessee any better than you. Thank you for that.

  37. Kathy - July 14, 2022 3:14 pm

    Can’t wait to move back there

  38. Kim - July 14, 2022 3:34 pm

    So glad you visited our great Volunteer State. Because of your previous article, I have ordered some salted caramel moon pies, which I have never tried. Wish my hubs and I could have run into you. I love your articles. Stay safe on your travels and if you are ever near Roane County, Tennessee, give us a shout.

  39. Billy Moore - July 14, 2022 3:47 pm

    I visited that area of Tennessee at least once a year for most of my 77 – thus far – years and dearly love it: the land, the climate, and most of all, the people!

  40. Patricia Gibson - July 14, 2022 3:56 pm

    What a lovely description! I love moon pies too but not RC Cola🤣

  41. Ms Gail Guinn - July 14, 2022 4:07 pm

    I live in Athens, TN and you are right about the State’s beauty! I have never in my 83 years liked moon pies or RC Colas – give me a Coca-Coka anytime! Thank you for this adventure, Sean.

  42. Peggy M. Windham - July 14, 2022 4:11 pm

    Come to Mobile,Alabama on New Year’s Eve, Sean. We drop a big ole Moon pie!😀😀🌕🥧

  43. Rae - July 14, 2022 4:15 pm

    I tell people the story of my cousin’s wedding getting moved to 9 AM so the family could watch the vols-georgia game all the time, and they never believe we’re like this. This third-gen TN girl couldn’t have loved this more. Thank you for your sweet sweet words for our oft-overlooked state!

  44. REBECCA HEWITT - July 14, 2022 4:22 pm

    Tennessee also has Goo Goo Clusters. If you buy them in Nashville, they are so fresh you never want any other kind!

  45. Renee Tanner - July 14, 2022 4:53 pm

    I’ve never had a moon pie but now I must. In Tennessee. Your story took me back to the 70’s. Shave ice with ice cream at Matsumoto’s in Hale’iwa. There was a little bench in the front but we sat on the curb as well. Thanks for taking me to both places.

  46. Lisa Combs - July 14, 2022 5:11 pm

    Next trip to Tennessee, try a GooGoo Cluster candy bar. Right up there with Moon Pies and RC Cola!

  47. Susan - July 14, 2022 5:46 pm

    I am from Tennessee it is a great state with beautiful scenery, friendly people and VOL fans! We do like to run around with our shoes off to feel the grass between our toes and than God for his creation

  48. stephenpe - July 14, 2022 7:09 pm

    We love you , Sean. And Im betting that ghost you are chasing or running from loves you, too.

  49. Mike Rieley - July 14, 2022 7:19 pm

    Route 11 will take you to Marion, Virginia where Mountain Dew was developed.

  50. Linnea J Johnson - July 14, 2022 7:23 pm

    I needed this column today, so thanks. I’m a Tennessee girl (Calhoun, on the banks of the Hiwassee River) but moved to Alabama because my late husband was from down here and was homesick. Now I’m homesick for Tennessee. Guess it’s time to go see my sister’s new house in Chattanooga. I loved waking up to see the Hiwassee every morning with the Smokies in the background.

  51. AlaRedClayGirl - July 14, 2022 7:46 pm

    Thanks for taking us along on your trip!

  52. Linda Moon - July 14, 2022 9:48 pm

    Moon Pies and R.C. Cola from your Daddy…it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m glad you clarified what the Tennessee product was. Thank you for taking us along on your trip and for a “haunting” you once led this Moon to at Oak Hill Cemetery.

  53. Mary McNeil - July 14, 2022 9:57 pm

    “Tonight we shall water our horses in the Tennessee.” – Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston (in 1862)

  54. Karen - July 15, 2022 12:27 am

    I feel the same way about the folks in Tennessee. My heart is traveling with you on Route 11. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

  55. Ginger Smith - July 15, 2022 1:11 am

    Sean, you know RC Cola was invented and produced in Columbus, Georgia until about 1970. And Nehi. And others. Check it out. It would make an interesting story. Even President Jimmy Carter drank RCs. They were bigger and cost less than other soft drinks!

  56. Slimpicker - July 15, 2022 3:26 am

    If an 18 year old boy and 16 year old girl, both from Tennessee, sneak off to Kentucky and get married and then one day short of their first anniversary they get divorced, are they still considered brother and sister?

  57. DiAn - July 15, 2022 3:34 am

    Sean – Just to add to your trivia & Moonpie list – we had Moonpies at our Wedding Reception. For some they’re a necessary delicacy! An amazing taste – but not for those who are calorie counting or who may fear “empty” calories. Just regional fun eatin’.

  58. Rebecca Sickles - July 15, 2022 3:42 am

    MoonPie and Tennessee really tickled my funny bone! My best friend in FL grew up in Chattanooga. She was a preacher’s kid and later a principal in FL. The parents gave her Jack Daniel’s for Christmas! Another fun loving friend grew up in Jackson and returned to live there after retirement. I didn’t know TN had so much cotton and also has vineyards! Her friends and family even cheered when I won $90 in one dollar bills when the group when we played the Left-Right-Center dice game! After I had eaten a delicious home cooked meal in their home. We went to see Graceland and later drank mint juleps with floating plastic ducks at the Peabody. In my teens I kissed the first boy I ever loved at a youth leadership retreat at Camp NaCoMe wherever that is in the mountains of TN. Greatest biscuits with honey at every camp meal! I dearly love the Smokey Mountains but have mixed feeling about Andrew Jackson and his relationship with the Native Americans, But any Southern state that can nurture an Al Gore or a Jon Meacham has got to be celebrated for its political diversity – a rarity in the deep red South. I grew up in Alabama eating MoonPies and RC Colas like Sean’s dad. Sorry but I never knew they belonged to Tennessee.
    Keep on writing! Every day his story takes me back into my Southern past in some very special way.

  59. Ken M. - July 15, 2022 12:09 pm

    You are so spot on, sir. I was raised on a small family farm in middle Tennessee (the dot on the map is actual size) and can attest to Moon Pies, RC Cola and so much more. My grandparents owned a “service station” when I was little. It was the kind of place people stopped in to get gas, change their own oil, pluck out a pickled egg from a jar on the counter, and pick up a few fan belts for their tractors… or just to say howdy. I walked or rode my bike everywhere… played in the creeks and empty box cars on a nearby train track.

    My wife and I went to the Bahamas one time and stayed at an all-inclusive resort, where they don’t allow tipping. So, we did the next best thing… we took a bunch of boxes of Mini Moon Pies and “tipped” the staff, servers and bartenders with treats from our home.

    Tennessee is special. Tennessee is authentic. Tennessee is home.

  60. Cindy - July 15, 2022 12:13 pm

    Definitely pick up a Goo goo cluster on your return home! Cracker Barrel sells Little Goos by the bagful but fair warning-you cannot stop after just one!

  61. Mark - July 15, 2022 1:25 pm

    Tennessee….land that I love! and yes, football is VERY important:-)

  62. Charlotte - July 15, 2022 2:25 pm

    Thank you Sean! From a TN girl who LOVES her state & her TN football!! Hugs 🤗

  63. Karen - July 16, 2022 3:42 am

    This article was truly amazing! As a Tennessee born girl, but raised all over the world as an Air Force brat, then an Air Force wife, I’m glad to say, I’m proud of my home state, and I smiled when I was reading it!!!! Thanks, ya’ll!!!!

  64. Dee Thompson - July 16, 2022 11:33 am

    We moved to Knoxville when I was 8 years old and I lived there until I was 30. Beautiful state. Beautiful people. I am shocked you didn’t write about GooGoo Clusters, though. Next time you go to Knoxville eat at Calhoun’s on the river. Wonderful place.

  65. Pam - July 16, 2022 12:28 pm

    Ahruh Cee, that’s how we say it.

  66. Eve - July 16, 2022 3:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing your connection to our state.There’s a Tennessee spirit that grabs hold. And stays with you

  67. Lgries - July 17, 2022 6:51 pm

    The beauty of the dawn. behind the mountains is amazing.Truly the work of God’s paint brush. Thanks for sharing.

  68. Joe Mickler - July 18, 2022 8:49 pm

    What? No mention of old Rocky Top? Come on Sean!😅

  69. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - July 30, 2022 5:52 am



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