The Illegitimate Alabamian

I am an honorary Alabamian, even though Florida is my home state. It’s kind of a long story, but I promise, if you bear with me, this will be a complete waste of your time.

It started in a hotel lobby full of Alabama officials. It was sort of like spring break check-in at some fancy resort. Only these weren’t teenagers with suntans. These were white-haired people with sport coats and extremely low centers of gravity.

I went to the front desk and checked into my hotel room.

A guy behind me in line said, “So, you’re the keynote speaker for the Alabama Governor’s Conference?”


“Where in Alabama are you from?”

“I’m from Florida.”

“What? And YOU’RE our keynote speaker?”

“That’s right.”

To which he replied, “Huh!”

The enormous auditorium started to fill up. And I’m talking about a room the size of a rural school district. I kept having this feeling that I didn’t belong here. What was I doing? I’m not an Alabamian. I was starting to feel pretty dumb.

Another man shook my hand and said, “So, what part of Alabama are you from?”

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m from the Panhandle.”

He gave a confused look, then he said “Why on earth did they hire you?”

So things were off to a great start.

I took the stage. I tapped the microphone. I said, “Hello, is this thing on?” But it turned out that the sound system was screwed up. What everyone heard was:


And that’s how the next forty minutes went.

When I finished, nobody was aware that I had concluded my speech because my voice was still reverberating in the airplane-hangar-like room. For all I know my voice is still echoing in that auditorium to this day.

The thing is, I truly love Alabama. That’s probably why I was asked to speak. I write more columns about Alabama than I do about other topics such as my wife, my dogs, the dangers of gout, cornbread, Greenland, etc.

Because where I live, the line between Alabama and the Panhandle is blurry. There’s a good reason for this. A few hundred years ago, Florida and Alabama were once part of the same territory. Some scholars even claim that if Alabama would have waited only two more years to become a state, West Florida might have been part of it.

Thus, half of my friends are Alabamians, many of my memories take place in Alabama, I root for Alabama football, and I found my wife in Escambia County.

Furthermore, my current career—if that’s what you’d call it—would be nothing if it weren’t for the state of Alabama.

Years ago, when my first book was published, the first thing I did was order 150 copies to give away for Christmas. I announced this to a few friends. Word spread quick. The next day my email inbox was flooded with book requests from people in Alabama.

And the funny thing is, I didn’t get a single book request from a Floridian except for my cousin who says he used my book to fix a wobbly table.

So to summarize, the people in Alabama are dear to me. In fact, to show you how deep my connection goes, in Alabama my books are sometimes used in gastroenterologist’s offices as tranquilizers for routine colonoscopies.

I am not kidding about this. Yesterday, one Alabamian wrote me to say—and this is a verbatim quote—“Monday I’m going in for my first colonoscopy. I’m not allowed to have a cell phone, but I CAN BRING A BOOK so in a way you’ll be there with me.”

You wouldn’t get this kind of love in, for instance, Idaho.

Anyway, some years later I got another chance to speak at a big Alabama conference. When I arrived at the fancy hotel, it was the same scene as before. All the important state officials were wearing khakis and giving skeptical looks when they learned that a Florida man was their keynote speaker.

I took the podium to see several hundred uninterested faces. And I almost turned around and walked off the stage. When I finished my speech, I stepped into the hallway to get some air and to reconsider my career path.

There, I met an old man who was waiting for me. He was skinny, gray, unshaven, and his shirt was untucked. He said, “I was hoping I’d catch you, Sean.”

He had a warm smile, and he looked tired. We shook hands. Then he handed me a tattered book. I recognized it instantly. It was my book. A book I once gave away at Christmas, a lifetime ago.

He told me the book had once belonged to his wife. And before she died of breast cancer, she made him promise to get it signed. Even if he had to do it after she died.

The night of her funeral he read my book cover to cover—my piddly, ordinary, mediocre book. Then he read it again. And again. And a few more times. And now he simply wanted me to sign it.

So naturally, by the time he finished his story the two of us were crying like a couple of blithering idiots. I’m pretty sure I got snot all over his shirt. Then we went to lunch and we talked for hours.

Before we parted, he hugged me. And in a drawl so thick it belonged on cornbread, he said, “Sean, I love you. And I hereby proclaim you an honorary Alabamian, son.”

It’s been official ever since.

I want to wish a happy 200th birthday to the state of Alabama.


  1. Karen - December 14, 2019 7:19 am

    Alabama loves you, Sean. ❤️

  2. Glenda - December 14, 2019 11:17 am

    Goosebumps here, Love you, Sean!

  3. Steve - December 14, 2019 11:58 am

    We will gladly take you, and you can still reside in your current house; because Alabamians are loving people.

  4. George - December 14, 2019 12:07 pm

    Georgia loves you, too, Sean! You are just a good, ole country boy who starts my day off with a good read everyday.

  5. Cynthia Harmon - December 14, 2019 12:26 pm

    Thank you, Sean! My daughter, Rebecca and her life-long friend Samara visited all 67 counties of our state using the Passport. They are in Montgomery today for the big birthday celebration. As Governor Ivey says, it’s our people that make our state great.

  6. Ginger Smith - December 14, 2019 12:29 pm

    Okay, Sean, we can still give the Florida panhandle west of the Apalachicola to Alabama! It makes a lot of sense!

  7. Harriet - December 14, 2019 12:42 pm

    I’m from Georgia too. We love you in Georgia. I like the color picture of you. Good story today! Go DAWGS!!

  8. Harriet - December 14, 2019 12:45 pm

    You live in Fla. but your heart is in Alabama. ❤️❤️❤️🇺🇸

  9. Nan Williams - December 14, 2019 12:48 pm

    Thank you for remembering our birthday, Sean. I knew it was coming up, but having moved to Tennessee this year after 73 years in Alabama, the actual day slipped my mind – as lots of things do these days. Thank you for focusing on Alabama in “Stars of Alabama” and thank you for all the wonderful memories you bring forth in your columns about your times in Alabama. Every morning as my children were leaving home for school, I would say to them, “Go, be a blessing.” I hope that they were and I hope that they still are. I know that you, Sean, are a blessing to me – daily. Best wishes for continued success – the State of Alabama welcomes you, not as an illegitimate, but as an Honorary Alabamian.

  10. Al - December 14, 2019 1:07 pm

    It’s never too late to move here for good! From the beach to the mountains to the lakes, we have it all!!

  11. Sue - December 14, 2019 1:12 pm

    I am an Alabamian by birth and you are my favorite writer. So proud you are an Honorary Alabamian!

  12. Stephanie Grahn Krantz - December 14, 2019 1:26 pm

    You touch so many people’s lives in a positive manner. Thank you from the bottom of my heart – Florida still loves you.

  13. Perry Stowe - December 14, 2019 1:38 pm

    Sean- thanks for your comments this morning regarding Alabama! Alabama does not always get positive reviews in the press; however, I think it is a great place to live and work. The Alabamians that read your column and have seen you in person appreciate you and are glad to claim you as one of us! I am a fairly recent follower of you, but have been to your gatherings in Columbiana and Talladega and look forward to reading your pearls of wisdom every morning with my coffee. Your stories about church dinners on the ground bring back fond memories of these events in my young life attending Fayetteville UMC with my grandmother. Keep up the good work and the stories coming!!!
    War Eagle!


  14. Amanda - December 14, 2019 1:54 pm

    Today’s column is wonderful, but the colored self-portrait is even better! A nice surprise! If you are this good with portraits, you have yet another “career” ahead of you!

  15. Susan Self - December 14, 2019 2:03 pm

    Sean, You share with us the hurt and happiness of just being human. Yes Alabama loves you. You are one of us. Thank you.

  16. Celia - December 14, 2019 2:10 pm

    Sean, I also was reared in Escambia County, in Canoe, in fact, but now am a resident of Georgia for many years. However, I will forever think of Alabama as my home, and always rejoice when good things happen there. And I do love when you write about places there because I know so many of those places, and I can envision myself there. You often make me homesick for a time gone by in my old home state. Thank you!

  17. Debbie Galleher - December 14, 2019 2:19 pm

    I love this story.
    It’s the small things in life that we can do for others that make a difference ♥️
    I declared myself an Alabamian as well!!
    I was born in California (hate to admit) but I was conceived in Alabama , so that makes it official in my mind!!

  18. Jan - December 14, 2019 2:28 pm

    I am a lifelong Alabamian – born and lived all my life here except for one terrible year living (if you can call it that) just outside of Washington, D.C. I know an Alabamian when I meet one and you are definitely an Alabamian! We love you, Sean!

  19. Melissa Westberry - December 14, 2019 2:28 pm

    Cottonwood, Alabama salutes you! We’re 5 minutes north of the Florida line, just north of Marianna. Love you, Sean!

  20. Rachael Counselman - December 14, 2019 2:29 pm

    I think you should be declared an honorary Mobilian. You are truly loved. You keep the past alive while commemorating the present.

  21. LeAnne - December 14, 2019 2:41 pm

    Sean, I’m from Georgia. Please bring your show here, and my husband and I will make you honorary Georgians. Heck, you already root for the Braves! You’re practically one of us already.

  22. Dee Cullen - December 14, 2019 2:49 pm


  23. Susan Gregory - December 14, 2019 2:54 pm

    Alabama AND I Luv the story and U!

  24. Connie Havard Ryland - December 14, 2019 3:25 pm

    Alabama gets so much bad press that it I am always happy that you share positive, loving things about our state. I’ve lived most of my 65 years in Alabama. We have our share of problems but we have a good amount of good. Thank you for highlighting that. Love and hugs.

  25. jack - December 14, 2019 3:53 pm

    Before my mama died she got Illegitimate and legitimate mixed up. She was telling my sister there are so many legitimate children now. When she was a child in 1904 she only knew one legitimate child, she was Zoomer. My sister promptly told mama, “Mama Jackie and me are legitimate!” To which mama said, “YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”
    I enjoyed the read, and am glat to know you are some kind of ‘gitimate.’ I wish I were. LOL
    Good one dude. I like the old man.
    Sherry & jack

  26. Linda Moon - December 14, 2019 4:26 pm

    Thank you for the Birthday Wish for my home state, Alabama. If you ever return to Alabama and get lost somewhere….say, for example, Talladega…. I’ll locate you and provide some not-so-official tours of other wonderful places. This Alabamian loves you back, with or without your presence in the colonoscopy waiting room! You never waste my time at home or in waiting rooms….of which I have many!!.

  27. Charlotte Hall - December 14, 2019 4:45 pm

    Home is where your heart is! And I definitely feel your heart is in Alabama, not matter where your physical location places you. Thank you for writing about our state and our people so kindly. Happy 200th Birthday, Alabama. And add one more to the official census count.

  28. Jess - December 14, 2019 6:01 pm

    Sean, you should be proud that you’re a Floridian. I’m a fourth generation Floridian and when I was born Florida was still considered a Southern state. I left Sarasota in 1966 when I enlisted in the Army. I served for twenty-six years and wanted to retire in Florida, but it had gotten so crowded and packed with people not originally from there, that I changed my mind and retired in Athens, GA. Athens is a wonderful place and I’m as happy as a clam here. Good column by the way.

  29. Sharon Hand - December 14, 2019 6:37 pm

    All that is needed is the state song “Sweet Home Alabama” playing in the background. Anyone with the knowledge of Southern rock and Lynard Skynard knows that none of those fellows were from Alabama. So they were officially adopted as Alabamians , too.

  30. Janice - December 14, 2019 6:48 pm

    I’m an Alabamian living in Florida because I married a Floridian. The state of Alabama gets a lot of hard knocks, but I’m proud of my Alabama roots. I’ve had many people who had never been to Alabama until the last 10 or 15 years tell me how they had met the friendliest people ever in Alabama.

  31. Shelton A. - December 14, 2019 8:26 pm

    We Floridians wonder if you’re fickle. *Snicker*

  32. Lita - December 14, 2019 8:53 pm

    Your awesome, heartwarming words fly straight across the Atlantic Ocean to our tiny patch of land in the South of England. You belong everywhere.

  33. Darla - December 14, 2019 9:15 pm

    Sean you are a bonafide incredible human being. Any State would be fortunate to have you! Thank you for making the South proud everyday. Every. Single. Day.

  34. Pecos Kate - December 14, 2019 9:31 pm

    What a great story and an OUTSTANDING picture above!

  35. Melanie - December 14, 2019 9:49 pm

    In the words of the cast of Hee Haw “Sal – Loot!”

  36. grantburris - December 14, 2019 10:05 pm

    Now there’s another one. I really liked this one, Sean.

  37. fromthetexascoast - December 14, 2019 10:17 pm

    Very nice.

  38. Nancy M - December 15, 2019 2:36 am

    Thank you for your kind birthday wishes, on behalf of Alabama. We are proud to call you an honorary Alabamian!

  39. Dolores - December 15, 2019 4:36 am

    I moved to Alabama from NJ over 40 years ago. Wasn’t so sure I was going to like it, but I wouldn’t move back for anything. I’m home now, even if I am a damn Yankee!

  40. Jeff H - December 15, 2019 8:41 pm

    I, native Alabamian, kept seeing references to your articles. So I came to this site to see what part of Alabama you’re from. Fortuitous to find this recent entry. Glad to have you. I’ll be back.

  41. Sue Riddle Cronkite - December 17, 2019 3:58 pm

    I’ve been hearing some rendition of the Panhandle belonging to Alabama story all my life. I was born 100 yards inside the Alabama-Florida line. Grew up in Florida. Wrote a book set mostly in Alabama. Message me your address and I’ll send you a free copy of Louette’s Wake by Sue Riddle Cronkite.

  42. John Allen Berry - January 4, 2020 2:57 am

    I was born and raised here in the great state of Alabama, spent two years figthing my way back from Georgia to be here, and on behalf of every Alabamian I know, we’re glad to have you as an Honorary Alabamian. 🙂

    Yours truly,



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